Recap of meeting on December 7th

Public Meeting 7th December.
The meeting was fairly sparsely attended, probably unsurprisingly due to the time of day and time of year. Defend the Yarra was only able to manage one attendee, who had to arrive a little late, due to work commitments. Below is their account:

I arrived a bit late, and possibly some people had already left. It was difficult to identify the Salta representatives, the architect’s representatives and any council officers, as they weren’t wearing name badges.  However, there were a number of fairly outspoken questioners, who received differing and sometimes contradictory answers. I mainly walked around and listened to the questions being asked and the answers given.
In some cases the representatives appeared to have less knowledge than the questioners, and appeared to have taken the minimum amount of time and effort to consider any issues that might seem to be obvious with such a sensitive site. They seemed to display complete confidence that the approval will be granted. I think serious questions need to be asked as to why this would be so.

– Questions asked about Walmer Street:
– the access or lack of for the public;
– if Salta has the right to use public land;
– how this public land has been acquired;
– how the tunnels will affect cycle and pedestrian use;
– safety for the public;
– extra traffic congestion caused in Victoria Street;
– why the parking that used to be available in Walmer Street has been taken up by plastic bollards and who they belong to;
– why the existing (PUBLIC) bicycle and disabled access ramp from the Walmer Street footbridge is excised from the developer’s plans and replaced with a very large solid cement/stone(?) jetty, and no ramp.
ANSWERS (various):
– There seemed to be a lot of jargon used when answering questions about public access, and phrases like paved shared zone and pedestrian access – but most of the answers appeared to relate to the residents of the proposed development, rather than members of the public. It was stated that the tunnels will be underground, but the access will be from above-ground in Walmer Street. Obviously there is a question of safety for pedestrians and cyclists, but I was unable to hear an answer to this.
– The developer/architect? did admit to one questioner that the traffic flow from Victoria Street into Walmer Street would greatly increase, and the intersection of Walmer/Burnley/Victoria Streets would face a great increase in traffic, especially as there is another, larger development planned for the other side of Walmer Street.
– The bollards and plastic barriers that presently prevent parking in Walmer Street belong to the developer. Why Vic Roads or Council has allowed this was not addressed.
– The disappearance of the public cycle/disabled ramp from the Walmer Street footbridge and the appearance of a very large stone(/) jetty was a subject for some confusion, as one person questioned did not appear to know that there was presently a ramp in place. A persistent gentleman kept asking the question, but I did not hear an answer, other than the plans are an artist’s impression.  (It would seem reasonable that major development plans should be a bit more detailed, accurate, and specific than an artist’s impression).
– The right of Salta to appropriate the public land was answered in several contradictory ways.
1. Salta already has permission through ministerial intervention in the approval of the former development. Council has already agreed to the road discontinuance, but Vic Roads may not have.
2. Salta actually needs to purchase the public land. If the land is for sale, why is Salta the only possible buyer? Why has the land not been advertised for public sale, if it is for sale?
3. The development cannot proceed without the public land as access and car parking conditions cannot be met. Former Planning Minister Justin Madden gave the land to Salta, but other departments have not signed off on it.

-Questions about public land shown used for large cement/stone? jetty.
ANSWERS: (various):
– The jetty is not yet approved, but will be as part of the “upgrading” of “Walmer Plaza”
– The riverbank and the right to build on it was part of Planning Minister Justin Madden’s handout to Salta.
– The jetty is an artist’s representation. (So? Got a bit tired of this explanation…)
– Yes, the jetty is shown on public river bank now, but it isn’t going to be(?) It was unclear whether this is because Salta will be able to acquire the riverbank land.
– The jetty will not affect wildlife such as water dragons and turtles, because no formal study shows they exist here, in spite of widely held public knowledge that they do.
(The answers to these questions were confusing, and contradictory).

– Questions about re-vegetating the remaining area of riverbank after development is completed
Referred to pictures of trees, shrubs and groundcover native to area. Trees and shrubs obviously far too large for a 10 meter area.
Pictures showed:
Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum) grows to between 30 and 45 meters high (Boland, 1984; Brooker et al., 2002). Although these trees are native to the area they are difficult to get to maturity as much of the wildlife chooses to eat/nest/burrow etc around them, and there are too few left to provide sufficient spread of resources.
Acacia dealbata (silver or blue wattle) Tree to 30 m; leaves mostly 5–12 cm long; highly perfumed; has allergic properties for some people.
“Castillemon sieberi” (sic) – probably refers to callistemon sieberi (river bottlebrush)  grows to between 4-7 meters with high canopy density.
All of the above plants are too large for the amount of land left by the development – 10 meters of sloping land above the footpath – and are extremely unlikely to be planted as they will obscure the “passive surveillance” of the future residents.
Bolboschoenus caldwellii  (marsh club rush) needs to be adjacent to permanent or semi-pemanent water. There is already substantial rush growth in the river at this point. There is no point to including this plant, as the developer will not be called upon to plant it, unless the existing rushes are to be removed, which would also remove the habitat of existing frogs and birds.
Carex appressa (sedge) grows to one meter; As above^
Juncus australis (austral rush). As above^
Other plants are ornamental natives, and refer to planters etc inside the development.
It really appears that someone just googled “good plants for a riverbank”,  without even looking at the development site. Before any decisions are made Council needs to engage an independent environmental consultant.

Questions about how the development will affect the existing wildlife;
– effects on the wildlife corridor;
– will the brown tree frog colony which has emerged in the standing water on the development site be safely and carefully re-located by qualified environmental experts.
– No wildlife will be affected, because, in spite of the widespread knowledge of river users, there is no formal study that in this area there are water dragons, eastern snake necked turtles, water hens, ducks, river rats, possums, tawny frogmouth owls, tiger snakes, both blotched and eastern blue tongue lizards, kookaburras, or any of the myriad of wildlife that people who use the river see and hear all the time.

-The wildlife corridor is on the other side of the river. (???) There is no habitat to be destroyed. (This is sadly true, as all the vegetation except one gum and rushes in the river has recently been removed on the Abbotsford side).
– There is no knowledge/evidence of a frog colony. In spite of the experience of daily users of the footbridge and Walmer Street.

– The developers should be required to fund a thorough independent environmental study of this area. At the very least, Council should fund a study before considering any development.

– Question about noise.
ANSWER: The noise study done shows that people on Victoria Street and the residents of the development won’t be affected by noise. No comment on effects on residents in Kew, or recreational users of the river and path.

– Questions about the flood levels. The flood level is at the same height as the footbridge, meaning the three basement levels and at least two of the levels will be below the flood controls. How can this development be approved by Melbourne Water?
ANSWERS (various):
1. It doesn’t flood on the Abbotsford side of the river. (A somewhat unusual assertion.  Also patently false, as anyone who has used the bike track knows how easily it floods).
2. Melbourne Water hasn’t yet approved development or jetty, but will in due course. (Insider knowledge?)
2. Something to do with the (public) stairs beside the footbridge providing an escape if the lower levels flood. (Could not make sense of this answer)

3. No answer for whether residents could obtain flood insurance.
– There was a discussion between several people about the fact that residents of other high rise developments along the Yarra Riverbank have been throwing things at rowers, as they do not like the noise. This will be a particular issue in this area as school teams row early in the mornings, and the building is so close to the river, and so high, that serious injury could result. I did not hear any answer given.
– This will be an issue for cyclists also, as many people use the footbridge to commute as early as five am, and some noise is unavoidable.  The onus also should not be on public users to mitigate noise for an unsuitable development. There have already been serious problems on Yarra Boulevard with tacks being laid on the road for cyclists.  Will cyclists have to contend with hostility when using this recognised route?

In conclusion:

The results of the meeting were very unsatisfactory. It was difficult to escape the impression that some inappropriate and questionable decisions and some extremely unusual accommodations have been made for this developer, and that they have the full expectation that this will continue.


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