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June 15, 2011  |  Second Reading

Victorian Urban Development Authority Amendment (Urban Renewal Authority Victoria) Bill 2011

I am pleased to speak on the Victorian Urban Development Authority Amendment (Urban Renewal Authority Victoria) Bill 2011. As with a number of other bills on which I have recently spoken, I think it is important to make sure that we are relating our comments back to what is important to the aspirations and desires of the people in our electorates.

I would like to talk about VicUrban and the proposal put forward in this amendment bill from the government in relation to some of the work VicUrban has been doing — and hopefully its successor will be doing — in my electorate, particularly in the Heidelberg West area and the Bell Street Mall.

When I was a councillor at the City of Banyule we did some work on an urban design framework for the mall in Heidelberg West, thanks to some extra funding from the previous Bracks and Brumby Labor governments. Members would be familiar with the mall in my electorate in Heidelberg West. It covers about 3.41 hectares, has some 56 properties, 62 shops and 44 property owners. The adjacent supermarket has 5 shops, all of which have the same owner. The council land at the mall includes three important parking sites covering 1.2 hectares. This is particularly important, because when the mall was built back in the 1950s, it was one of the first to be built in Victoria.

It was part of the government’s investment at the time in the Melbourne Olympics and is now the site of significant public housing. Over six decades the mall has developed a history of its own.

Efforts to renew some of these areas get back to the work of VicUrban and the work of what will be this new authority, which is perhaps a significant change in name only. The previous Labor government did work to invest in an urban design framework and provided money to the Banyule City Council to do that work. The urban design framework was completed some time ago. It was created with various stakeholders, including local residents, traders and property owners. It provides the big picture for the future, guiding the mix and the siting of the new buildings and spaces, and it highlights the need for a catalyst project to help revitalise the centre. Originally we had a $75 000 feasibility study for a new library at Heidelberg West to be the drawcard and a community hub in a redeveloped Bell Street Mall.

This background is important to my contribution concerning our work with VicUrban and, hopefully, with its successor as proposed by the government.

The study revealed opportunities for a multipurpose library. There was consultation and the Bell Street Mall site was preferred. We looked at a range of aspects to do with the library and determining whether that would be a library as we know libraries today or a range of other community spaces that could be used. That work has been done. We then did further consultations and looked at the first stage of the frontage on Bell Street. We looked at a site for the library and for a public square that would enable land use and other developments. This was done in consultation with the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT), which is a significant education provider situated adjacent to the mall. We have had developments already at the Aldi site in the mall, which was the first Aldi site in Victoria.

All this work was done to put us in a position where we could renew and revitalise parts of Heidelberg West, in particular for the traders and to add value for local residents.

As a Banyule councillor I was pleased to chair the community consultative committee on the master plan work on the mall. That was completed and adopted by the council a couple of years ago now. We then entered into discussions with VicUrban to encourage it to be a key stakeholder and driver of the opportunities to help us renew and revitalise the mall in what is not only an area of social and economic disadvantage but also an area that, being only 8 or 9 kilometres from the city, is changing. With this project we can respond to the needs of the local community, provide the sorts of services that residents desire and aspire to have, add value to their properties and their suburb, and provide economic enhancement to the local area.

We managed to get VicUrban to come out to the area early in 2010. The then CEO of VicUrban and some senior staff came to Banyule City Council, met with the Bell Street Mall Traders Association and looked over the urban design framework and the master plan. It was all done and approved by the council with the support of the community and the key stakeholder groups. In a lot of cases we had done all the work.

The work was there for VicUrban to take this project and run with it, given that the government is the largest land-holder in the 3081 postcode area, whether that be through the Office of Housing, the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital or education facilities, including NMIT and others in the area. Banyule City Council is the largest land-holder on the mall site, with the car parks and some of the associated buildings. This provided a great opportunity for flexibility for VicUrban to then have a role in helping to renew or redevelop the site.

After the VicUrban representatives had used the opportunity to look around the site, meet with the traders and look at the council’s work on the project, they said they would get back to the council sometime in the middle of June last year with a proposal to redevelop the mall or with a recommendation for how they thought it could be done so that the council could potentially put it out for community consultation with amendments and give it a further a stamp of approval.

We could then have got moving on having an organisation like VicUrban go out and consult with private developers and other organisations to see whether we could get a ready project up and running to redevelop and invest in the mall in Heidelberg West.

Unfortunately to date Banyule City Council has heard nothing back from VicUrban. I met with the council’s chief executive officer and mayor only in the past week. I do not speak for them, but they are as frustrated as I am about why we have not heard anything back from VicUrban about its plans and proposals. Its representatives came out, they looked, they saw and they said, ‘We will come back and tell you what we think’ — and we have not heard anything. There has been a state election, but since then we have had another six or seven months for VicUrban to come back and outline its plans and proposals to help redevelop the mall in Heidelberg West.

We provided the urban design framework and the master plan, and we have done all the consultations — all the work has been done. The council is very keen. I am sure the Minister for Planning, as a local upper house member for the area, is also keen to see the redevelopment of the mall. This is a project that would have widespread support. It needs further consultation with members of the community to make sure they are with us all the way. VicUrban has had the opportunity to be involved in this process. It has chosen to be involved, but it has not reported back, and that is disappointing.

As I understand it, this project will be taken to the board in the next week or so to continue work with the council or with traders on the redevelopment of Heidelberg West and the mall, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen. This delay and silence causes opportunities for exaggeration and for mistruths to be put about.

It again leaves the people of Heidelberg West feeling that people have come in, breezed around, raised a bit of dust and dirt in the air but then have not delivered. The people of Heidelberg West are very sceptical when these things happen. My electorate office is in the Bell Street Mall in Heidelberg West, and I talk to the traders regularly. They want some certainty about the investment on their site and what involvement they will have — and the key landowners on the site also want to make sure that they can plan for the future.

I have been wondering why there has been such a delay in hearing anything back from VicUrban and a delay in action from them in the redevelopment of the mall. Perhaps it is because the government has been making plans to rebadge the authority, give it some different direction and therefore there has been some inertia at VicUrban in making decisions and pushing forward. The last 12 months have provided no certainty for the people of Heidelberg West, and I just want to provide them with assurances.

Proposals have been put forward in this place today with regard to rebadging VicUrban as something else. Ultimately we all know that it is time for VicUrban to stop taking the easy options on greenfield sites and do the hard work in the inner city suburbs — Heidelberg West is 8 kilometres from town — and to take on these tough areas that need to be redeveloped and renewed. In particular it needs to do that where the councils and local community have done all the work, are ready to go and in a situation where it has invited itself. We are waiting to hear from the agency. We still have not heard anything, and people have been left in limbo. This affects people’s livelihoods, and it is just not good enough.

There is a view that this bill will enable the government through the minister to have more control over VicUrban in driving projects. That is well and good, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I will continue to want to work with the government and the minister to try to get some action on the Bell Street Mall site and some certainty for traders under this bill.