By Sean Car
The City of Melbourne has finally adopted the charter for its new public open space at Queen Victoria Market (QVM) after a majority of councillors voted in favour of the initiative.
The governing document provides the framework that will inform the space’s design and guide its future management and operations. The park will also be given an indigenous place name following strong community support for honouring the area’s Aboriginal heritage.
The news marks a significant milestone in the long-running saga that is the $250 million QVM renewal program, with the future open space on what is currently the market’s car park having become the project’s battleground.
The adoption of the charter represents the beginning of the end of that battle, despite the best efforts of opponents of the open space who have long argued that the current car park is essential to the viability of the market.
The calls to retain the existing car park come in spite of the council having already committed to incorporating 500 new car parks within the Munro development on Queen St, as well as a further 500 in the future Southern development site on Franklin St.
The charter follows an extensive community consultation period and provides for a “diversity of uses” through the application of a range of “flexible” place management and curation principles, while reflecting on Aboriginal custodianship of the land.
While it was expected to be adopted at the May 26 council meeting, it was deferred to the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on June 2 to allow more time for the community to have its say.
A petition signed by 18 of the 40-member People’s Panel – an initiative established by Lord Mayor Sally Capp in 2018 to bring consensus to the market’s renewal – had been presented to the council ahead of the May 26 meeting calling on it to withdraw the charter.
Led by lobby group Friends of Queen Victoria Market, signatories of the petition had accused the council of “blatant misrepresentation” stating that its recommendations for the Market Square space had not been fully considered.
While the bid to transform the carpark into a new civic space for the market and the burgeoning City North population has overwhelming support within the community, “a loud minority” on June 2 reaffirmed their calls to retain the current car park.
Cr Rohan Leppert said that he “regretted” that some members of the People’s Panel had made recommendations outside of its scope of market infrastructure to “re-prosecute” car parking in the precinct.
Under a deal with the state government in 2014 which saw land to the south of the market on Franklin St transferred to the council to help fund the market’s renewal, the current car park was required to be rezoned and converted to park.
Cr Leppert reminded opponents that not doing so would have resulted in the council’s rate payers picking up an associated $10 million penalty clause.
“I want to get rid of an idea and that is that every time we can consider a QVM related matter we can re-prosecute the idea of whether or not the market space can have a car park,” he said.
“When the People’s Panel was commissioned, they were asked to look at market infrastructure, not parking, but trader services. They knew parking was out of scope and I regret they decided to make recommendations that were out of scope.”
“We’re not going to subject our ratepayers to a $10 million poison pill. We’re also not going to subject our rate payers to a new process when we’ve consulted with our rate payers time and time again. And we know that the public open space is overwhelmingly supported by the locals, by the broader Melbourne community, and by traders.”
While QVM is listed on the state and national heritage registers, some submissions had tried to claim that the car park itself, which lies on top of what was Melbourne’s first cemetery, was heritage.
As the council’s chair of heritage, Cr Leppert provided a sobering assessment of such theories.
“There’s nothing heritage about carparking. If there was, it would be in the citation. It’s not,” he said.
“No part of the heritage citations suggests in any way that either the carpark or the bitumen, which is the heritage fabric that our state legislature actually measures and serves to decide the extent of demolition to be permitted, is heritage. The reason the land is in there [Heritage Register] is because of the cemetery beneath.”
With the closure of the current car park, many traders have questioned how trucks and larger vehicles will be able to access the market via Franklin and Queen streets, which are expected to see increased congestion.
While it’s understood the new Northern Shed on Queen St will accommodate smaller trucks, larger trucks would be expected drop off in the early hours of market trading days. Large vehicle access is also expected to be looked at as part of the future Southern development.
Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said he sympathised with some traders, with market amenities, car parking and large vehicle access having been proposed to go underneath the market’s sheds in council’s original proposal knocked back by Heritage Victoria in 2018.
“I continue to have sympathy on the issue,” he said. “Particularly truck parking and logistics being right there underneath the market and unfortunately that’s an issue that we’ve had to deal with by some of the very people who are saying let’s keep the carpark where it is.”
“I want to make the point that we would have been able to avoid all of these things, deliver the open space, which is one of the most critical parts of this entire renewal and I think it will be a fantastic thing for the market going forward.”
Cr Nicholas Reece cited some of Europe’s most renowned markets, which he said had all transformed car parks into new civic space for the market and broader community with great success.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the charter was all about providing “flexibility” to respect as many market stakeholders as possible.
“What I fear about this debate and about some of the submissions is that it’s almost set up like a trader versus the rest and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. We’re trying to create a space in which there is benefit for everyone,” Cr Capp said.
The charter will be reviewed when the name for the market is established following consultation with key indigenous advisory groups, as well as when the design process for the space is complete.
In opposing the motion put forward to councillors by management, Cr Jackie Watts foreshadowed an alternative motion, which was supported by Cr Beverley Pinder-Mortimer •