By Sean Car
There was no shortage of news to come out of the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) since the April edition of CBD News, with new market infrastructure, proposed food court designs and a new five-year market strategy all making headlines.
The news began ahead of the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on April 13, with the council revealing a revamped design of the market’s food court in conjunction with the approval of new Trader and Northern Sheds on Queen St.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the new trader and customer facilities and a “revitalised Food Hall” would create up to 400 construction jobs as part of a near $40 million investment in the next stage of the market’s $268 million renewal program.
But while the council moves ahead with its incremental changes to the market, which it continues to reaffirm came out of of the People’s Panel process in 2018, opposition to its vision doesn’t seem to waver.
Is it a case of a noisy minority as some suggest? It’s hard to truly know.
While the council and QVM CEO Stan Liacos have consistently maintained that the vision has the support of the majority of the market floor, those on the other side, led largely by the Friends of Queen Victoria Market lobby group, tell a different story.
The Lord Mayor told submitters last month that she was “not aware of withholding any plans about the renewal” as opponents continued to voice concerns regarding the council’s transparency in revealing details.
A consistent feature of any QVM-related matter at a council meeting is when councillors refer objectors back to the People’s Panel recommendations, as Cr Leppert demonstrated on April 13 in relation to “Recommendation 6” – to improve food court infrastructure and amenities.
But while the council’s plans to construct new infrastructure and upgrade existing facilities are no secret, the conversation among opponents has seemingly moved well beyond physical changes.
That is, how all these significant changes will impact the future operations of the market and those that make it what it is – the traders. And if “international market expert” Dr Jane Stanley’s submission to the council on its new Trader and Northern Sheds is anything to go by, there is still much to be desired.
An international market consultant to the United Nations, Dr Stanley said the council’s renewal for QVM lacked any economic and social impact assessments and modelling on the traders themselves and encouraged a more “collaborative” approach.
However, in acknowledging that there was “still a lot of concern about renewal as a whole”, Cr Leppert said the feedback expressed by the likes of Dr Stanley on the night would indeed have its place in time.
“There’s still a lot of concern about renewal as a whole. The review of the retail plan, the business case and any subsequent changes to the master plan, etc. are matters for decisions that will come,” he said.
And those sentiments more or less summed up the narrative of the April 13 FMC meeting, which saw the council issue planning permits to itself for the new Trader and Northern Sheds on Queen St following recent approvals from Heritage Victoria.
The council’s chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece issued a word of caution to submitters speaking to the two motions on the night that the council was merely considering two planning applications and whether they complied with the Melbourne Planning Scheme.
However, nearly every submission went on to focus on broader issues summed up by Dr Stanley, with other organisations such as Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA) group and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) adding that it was improper to be approving permits without first considering the impacts of such “radical changes” on traders.
The creation of a new Northern Shed in the centre of Queen St was clearly the more contentious of the two new pieces of infrastructure, with the new Trader Shed largely focused on providing new trader amenities, services, storage facilities and new public toilets.
Both councillors Reece and Leppert rejoiced at NH Architecture’s “use of brick” in the Trader Shed design for complementing the heritage fabric of the market, with the new facility to present as two storeys above Queen St, with three levels of underground services.
Meanwhile, the approval of a permit for the controversial Northern Shed was much less straight forward, with the new facility set to completely overhaul the way current operations are currently conducted at QVM.
In an attempt to limit the use of forklifts and provide fixed market stalls and storage, the Northern Shed will see all deliveries, waste management and services provided by vehicle done after market hours during the late night and early morning.
Under the new plans, vehicles will travel north along Queen St, make their deliveries, and exit via Victoria St, before Queen St is closed to vehicles and returned to a flexible space for customers and market events.
Waste management services at the market will all be moved underground as part of what Cr Leppert referred to as the “Northern Facilities”, after Heritage Victoria removed the plan’s roof, as well as a proposed retail pod, due to heritage concerns.
With the question around weather protection for the new facilities left unanswered, the council proceeded to issue a permit without a roof.
While Cr Reece said it would improve loading and waste management without detracting from market character, Cr Leppert said the northern facilities had “not been well explained”.
“The council needs to ensure that this bespoke operation is going to work. This is a very significant change to the public realm.”
But submitters continued to prosecute the case for more transparency as to how the facilities would work in practice, with fruit and veg trader Tony Ansaldo bemused as to how his business was going to make its deliveries work from Epping every day without 24-hour access.
Food Court becomes a “Food Hall”
In what Cr Roshena Campbell described as turning the food court into “a compelling reason to visit the market”, councillors also endorsed a $4.5 redesign of the QVM food court on April 13.
The concept plans, which have now proceeded to lodgement of heritage and planning permit applications, will see the space pivot from Food Court to “Food Hall” by “championing food theatre within the dining area and improved shopfronts.
“Traders have told us that the existing Food Court, which was built in the mid-1990s, is outdated and limits the potential to grow their businesses,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.
“This upgrade will include an improved dining area including more seating, flexible layout, cooking demonstration area, greenery, new flooring and roof.”
The council said that construction of the Food Hall, Trader Shed and Northern Shed was expected to begin in early 2022.
A five-plan for the market
And last, but not least, QVM Pty Ltd released an “ambitious” five-year strategy to “bring Melburnians back” to the market and support longer-term revitalisation on April 14.
With a significant drop in foot traffic in 2020, the market and its traders were among the hardest hit by the pandemic due to their CBD location and status as a top tourist and events destination.
According to QVM Pty Ltd, the strategy was informed by extensive data, research, insights and trader/customer feedback, including recent market research to understand the preferences of current, lapsed and potential customers largely in Melbourne.
QVM CEO Stan Liacos said the draft Future Market Strategy preserved the heritage and what people loved about the market, while enhancing the retail offer and experience, in particular the core inner-city catchment and a younger demographic.
Highlights of Queen Victoria Market’s proposed future offer and experience include:
New specialty shopping and services precincts: local needs, “Melbourne Makers” and a business incubator for new traders.
Expanded fresh produce offerings: more seasonal local produce, dry goods and convenient semi-prepared and ready-to-eat items, and take-home meals.
More hospitality options: evening dining/bars, quick/casual food and produce sampling/grazing.
Over time, some parts of the market to open in the evening and on non-Market days (hospitality/events focus).
Enhanced retail configurations and more placemaking, seating, weather protection and pedestrian-friendly spaces.
More events and activations: to support existing traders and bring different people into the precinct throughout the day, week and year.
Mr Liacos said the market had to adapt to recover from the pandemic and ensure its future viability.
“Critical to the future of our market is ensuring we are relevant to more Melburnians, particularly those in our core inner-city catchment and younger people,” he said.
“Our draft strategy builds on the fundamental elements that we know people love about the market and focuses on making it an even better place to visit, shop and trade.”
“It has been one of the most challenging 12 months in the market’s history and this draft strategy will support our recovery so we can re-emerge stronger than ever.”
Market management is seeking feedback on the draft strategy from traders, customers, community and others with an interest in the market.
For more information: qvm.com.au/news/future-market-strategy