CBD a winner in council budget

By David Schout

Streetscape, heritage and open space works in the CBD headline the latest City of Melbourne budget

The 2019-20 draft budget includes a $166 million investment in capital works – its biggest ever.

Residents will be subject to a “modest” rate rise of 2.5 per cent (in line with the state government’s rate cap) but unlike last year, won’t see a rise in on-street parking.

The budget includes plans to revitalise the southern end of Elizabeth St, between Flinders St and Flinders Lane.

Once dubbed “ugly” and “ratty” by former Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, the entire block will receive a $2.1 million upgrade that includes new bluestone paving, street furniture, lighting and street trees, with works expected to begin early next year.

The draft budget also includes significant efforts to preserve CBD heritage, including restoration and refurbishment works on Melbourne Town Hall, Regent Theatre and Queen Victoria Market.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the Town Hall was “our city’s architectural jewel”, and announced a $4.5 million investment in the 148-year-old building. 

This includes a new public forum on the ground floor, designed to increase public involvement in key issues.

“What we would like to see is a new public forum for our key decision-making meetings to allow more people to attend and participate in the democratic process,” Cr Capp said.

The council has also put aside $1.6 million for a refurbishment of the 90-year-old Regent Theatre, and contributed $6.5 million to on-site restoration of the Queen Victoria Market’s heritage sheds in the next year.

Those works form part of the wider $250 million renewal of the market.

The heritage investment in this year’s budget comes after Planning Minister Richard Wynne provided protection for 65 key CBD sites late last year following the council’s submission of the Hoddle Grid Heritage Review.

The council also committed $3.4 million to the new Market Street Park – the first new CBD park in 40 years.

“This will be the first park created in the central city since City Square was developed in the 1970s,” Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said.

“The new park will provide open space in an area of Collins St that is used by 40,000 pedestrians each day.”

That commitment is part of the council’s wider goal of adding “12 MCGs worth of public open space” across the municipality in the next 15 years.

Other notable budget nuggets for the CBD include an additional $1.7 million for the Munro Community Hub development and $1.4 million for the Bourke St Precinct Redevelopment.

More immediately, a $115,000 allocation for 80 new red aluminium lanterns in the heart of Chinatown has been made

The council announced an underlying surplus of $15.03 million, which it said was “the result of responsible, careful and sound financial management”.

It said revenue from parking fines was down by $690,000, likely due to new technologies such a pay-by-phone parking, as well as more people sticking to the rules as a result of effective messaging.

Notably, a city-wide fine of $100 has been introduced to anyone caught feeding wild birds.  

“We know that people love their animals in the city and that’s lovely, but feeding birds is neither good for the city – you end up with bird waste all over the city – nor is it good for the birds,” Cr Wood said.

The draft budget is available for public comment until June 7, after which a final draft will be put before council.

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