Fiona is reaping the rewards of advocacy

By Shane Scanlan

According to long-term resident Fiona McLeod, CBD living is so good, it is worth fighting for.

After 20 years in the city, McLeod can’t envisage living anywhere else in Melbourne.  She just loves it.  But that doesn’t mean she loves everything about it.

As all CBD residents will attest to, being in the middle of the metropolis brings myriad rewards.  On the other side of the coin is noise.

When the equation is in balance, life is sweet.  But, as Ms McLeod has found, it is residents alone who must constantly fight for an appropriate level of peace and quiet.

The former Equal Opportunity Commissioner and Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman moved to the city in 1995.

“I was really excited by the Postcode 3000 campaign and the idea of living in a converted warehouse in the heart of the action,” she said.

After four years of research and searching, she finally settled on her dream home in the Hardware Precinct.

“What clinched it for me was when I asked the owner of the café downstairs when he emptied his bottles and he said 9am,” Ms McLeod said.  “He was a little perplexed by my question, but his answer was music to my ears.”

Of course, nothing stays the same.  And Ms McLeod responded to a growing presence of ill-disciplined bars and nightclubs in the precinct with double-glazing and moving her bedroom to the back of the premises.

As convenor of the Hardware Precinct Residents and Tenants Association she has dedicated countless hours working with locals battling various challenges to the liveability of the precinct.

The unification of the local community has brought the greatest rewards.

“The sense of community in the Hardware Precinct is amazing,” she said. “I’ve never known so many local friends and neighbours.”

“I can’t walk down the street without running into people I know for a chat.”

Ms McLeod said there were many times in the past when she was almost ready to leave, but the community had always managed to work together to overcome even the most intractable issue.

“Residents have worked really hard over many, many years to get to where we are today,” she said.  “Vigilance will be required to keep the correct balance between the rights of businesses and residential amenity.”

She said night-time disturbance was no longer a major issue in the precinct, but overshadowing had become the pre-eminent problem.

“I am aghast at the previous planning minister’s unconscionable behaviour in approving very tall, 50-storey plus, towers in the CBD,” she said.

She said the standard for measuring shadow of proposed developments needed to be moved from September to mid-winter.

“This weird legal principle has to change,” she said. “I bet there are scores of people who don’t even know that towers have been approved to the north of them which will rob them of all their winter sun.”

“We are in real danger of becoming a city of wind tunnels and shade.  You can already see it in some streets.”

On reflection, Ms McLeod said the Postcode 3000 program had been a success.  But, she said, it hadn’t been thought through.

“Here we were, being invited and encouraged to move here, but the ground work had not been done,” she said.

She pointed to the nightly garbage collection stampede of mechanised monsters as a policy failure, which should have been solved before residents were invited to co-exist with it.

“They really need to rethink the provision of services before embarking on Postcode 3000,” she said.

“But, all things considered, how could you possibly live anywhere else in Melbourne after experiencing this?” she asked.

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