By Niccola Anthony
A fire in the Batman Park precinct has rocked local residents and businesses, who complain that rubbish in the area has become a public health and safety hazard.
The fire broke out around 9pm on November 5 in the car park underneath the Flinders St viaduct. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade was able to contain the blaze in a number of minutes and has since referred the matter to Victoria Police.
Residents say the fire is just the latest safety concern in a precinct that has become synonymous with anti-social behaviour, including the dumping of rubbish, graffiti and drug use.
The precinct was established in 2010 following the development of Northbank Place, an 11-storey three-tower project by Hong Kong-based development company Far East Consortium (FEC).
The area includes Rebecca Walk, a strip of mostly abandoned bright orange sheds situated under the viaduct, that back onto the car park where the fire broke out.
In April 2016, plans were announced for a full-scale regeneration of the area by Melbourne businessman Arthur Zurcas, who envisioned opening city’s “newest explosive food and entertainment hot spot”.
Although planning applications were submitted to City of Melbourne in 2016 and a permit was approved for the area’s redevelopment in August last year, construction is yet to commence.
Local resident Janet Podbury said rubbish was frequently dumped over the cyclone fence between the Rebecca Walk shed shopfronts and the car park.
Ms Podbury has raised the rubbish dumping and graffiti issues with City of Melbourne on multiple occasions, but says she has been told that the area underneath the viaduct is the responsibility of Public Transport Victoria (PTV).
An October 2018 email to PTV requesting a clean up of the area was met with the response that the area under the rail bridge is the responsibility of City of Melbourne and had been referred to the council for action.
In a subsequent email from the City of Melbourne, Ms Podbury was told by a council officer that the city was looking into the complaint and was seeking clarification on whose responsibility the rubbish was.
“The problem should be dealt with and not hand-balled from council to PTV and back again. I find that no one’s wanting to take any responsibility and it seems like no one’s interested in our beautiful Batman Park,” Ms Podbury said. “It should be a really lovely area for tourists to walk through and for the local community to use and no one seems to be caring about it. It’s very sad.”
Ms Podbury’s concerns are echoed by Lynne Mitchell, a resident of Northbank Place who claims that the graffiti has increased significantly over the last 12 to 18 months.
Ms Mitchell has witnessed the degeneration of the area into a “public urinal” and cesspool of rat infestation.
She would like to see the area transformed into the cultural and dining precinct proposed by Mr Zurcas, but said that progress on the project is moving slowly.
“I really hope that Sally Capp sticks by her promise to do a high-line above the railway lines, I think that would improve the area enormously,” Ms Mitchell said, referring to a pre-election promise made by the Lord Mayor earlier this year.
“This area could be magnificent, but at the moment it’s not. I just hope she doesn’t let go of it because I think it would be a boon for this area.”