By Shane Scanlan
Lord Mayor Sally Capp has brought the City of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market (QVM) project back from the brink.
Cr Capp last year danced close to the precipice by instigating a “people’s panel” process to advise on critical infrastructure requirements and the project looked doomed when the panel last year recommended keeping the existing car park.
This recommendation, however, has been conveniently ignored and councillors unanimously endorsed a new plan on April 2, which repurposes the car park as public open space, which the council is now calling “Market Square”.
Excising the 1.5 ha car park for other uses has always been the council’s prime motivation for stumping up $250 million to “renew” the market. It has also been the major source of opposition from market traders, fearing a downturn in business without it.
“Box hire” traders too have been behind organised opposition to the city’s ambition, and this is likely to intensify as the council pursues storage options at previously temporary stalls under heritage open sheds.
That the council is back on track to take the car park is a credit to the Lord Mayor’s political prowess. She has successfully outmanoeuvred project critics and brought a divided council back inline behind her.
In a half-hour Future Melbourne Committee debate, little was said about losing the car park.
In a brief acknowledgment, Cr Capp noted that the council’s alternative parking location – underground in the yet-to-be-developed “southern site” – was 55 metres further away than the current car park.
“I’m sure than in the operations of the market we can find ways to overcome some of those needs of people who want to be closer to the traders in terms of ‘click and collect’ and other means,” she said.
Cr Rohan Leppert, who has been influential in Cr Capp’s strategic direction, said Market Square had always been “sacrosanct” to him.
He noted that the people’s panel has been a “circuit breaker”. “I think that it’s paid off now,” he said.
“It’s not a duplication of Flagstaff Gardens. This is a multipurpose space that’s going to absolutely enhance and attract people to the market and allow those different market uses to spill out and completely new uses that complement the functions of the market,” Cr Leppert said.
“This space has the potential to be something that is absolutely wonderful and really, really helps the market go in lots of new and exciting directions and I think it’s a much better way to respect the dead [in reference to the remains of 6000 people under the car park].”
Market trader Leah Moore had earlier asked the committee: “Why are you moving the current car park from where it is and make it hard for the customers and the producers to come and drop off their stuff?”
“Every other large retail precinct is increasing its car parking but you’re taking the car parking away,” she said.
Trader Marshall Waters remarked on the irony that earlier opposition to a council plan to develop a car park under Sheds A, B, C and D would have been better for traders.
“It was the best solution and it was stopped by unreasonable opposition with within the market and outside the market and from Heritage Victoria,” Mr Waters said. “If everyone had have got behind that proposal, I’m sure Heritage Victoria would have found a way to make it work for them and for us.”
Market CEO Stan Liacos also took a shot at project opponents saying: “We take actions on behalf of the ENTIRE market community for the COMMON good of the market.”
He said: “No change at QVM is not an option.”