The “phoney war” over the Queen Victoria Market redevelopment continues with proponents and opponents trading blows but Planning Minister Richard Wynne is still refusing to fire the starter’s gun.
Planning Scheme Amendment C245 has been sitting on Mr Wynne’s desk for about 10 months. With broad agreement about its content, Mr Wynne’s inactivity is looking more and more like a delaying tactic aimed at frustrating the City of Melbourne’s plans for the market.
Until the amendment is proclaimed, the council can’t do much. It is prevented from seeking planning permission for its Munro site ambitions, much less taking down any sheds and bringing in the diggers.
The Minister would argue that, until the heritage aspects are assessed and permitted, everything else is premature anyway.
This didn’t stop the council last month approving its own planning application to proceed with a temporary pavilion for traders during the proposed five-year construction period.
Judging its own planning application is not a good look, but the council must think it was the next strategic move in what has become a mostly political debate.
The application, which came before the Future Melbourne Committee on May 2, was interesting as it showed solidarity of new councillors for the project.
Even more significant is the unwavering support of Greens councillors. If this support translates through at the state level Greens, Mr Wynne will have far less to fear as he defends his seat of Richmond at next year’s state government election.
Cr Rohan Leppert said: “I don’t think it’s fair that council’s being blamed for assessing this application when, actually, it’s the delay from the Minister’s end.”
“If the Planning Minister had signed off on C245 in whatever form it is, and I know there’s controversial aspects of C245, particularly around building heights on the Munro site and elsewhere, but if the minister had signed off on that under the Act, then he would be the responsible authority rather than the City of Melbourne.”
Admittedly, Cr Jackie Watts was absent, but councillors unanimously approved the pavilion with a choreographed performance.
Also interesting was the absence of a rowdy public gallery which, on previous occasions, had clearly shown discontent among market traders. Opposing the application were the Friends of the Queen Victoria Market (FoQVM) and a couple of former traders. Two current traders spoke in support of the temporary pavilion.
One conclusion is that market management is making good progress in steering the discussion towards the facts among the people who matter the most.
Conversely, however, there is still a vast amount of misinformation being peddled by some of the redevelopment’s opponents.
A rally at the market on April 28 looked, sounded and felt at times like it was being driven by a bunch of people disaffected with the general social order who have latched onto this issue to further their program.
The ghost of (former Builders Labourers Federation boss) Norm Gallagher was evoked and his son was introduced to the couple of hundred people in attendance. Jack Mundey sent his regards. What the?
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle finds himself at the centre of a class war – a situation he has encouraged and seems incapable or unwilling to defuse.
Cr Doyle is combative. He attacks contrary views as well as those who hold them.
When it was his turn to speak on the temporary pavilion application on May 2, he said: “I get the public passion about it (the redevelopment) but when facts are not facts and presumptions are made that are not accurate, I do get a little impatient about the opposition to it.”
And, true to his word, he did become impatient with FoQVM co-convenor Miriam Faine at the end of the meeting during public question time.
He said: “A logistics report for the planning application? Really? I’ve never seen such a thing. Oh, please Miriam!”
She replied: “If I put even a shed on my property, I have to explain to my local council where people are going to park and where building materials will be brought in and out and I have to indicate …”
Cutting across her, and having earlier said the information she sought would be supplied when it became available, the Lord Mayor said: “I think you’ll find that it’s all part of the planning application.”
She replied: “Well it’s not here.” He said: “Miriam, I suspect we can’t make you happy.” She said: “I suspect you can’t make me happy because this is a completely unworkable application. What you’ve got designed here is a joke.”
Closing her down, Cr Doyle said: “I’m sorry. This is now an insulting tirade and I don’t think that does the debate any value at all.”
Earlier, in response to another opponent. he said: “That is a really cheap slur from someone who doesn’t know.”
His pugnacious instincts and excellent debating skills seem to be actually working against the council on this issue because no one is honestly articulating why the project is necessary in the first place.
Cr Doyle has made himself the issue. His born-to-rule mannerisms and approach give credence to the “developer mates” myths.
He may have the numbers in the council, but the outcome may well be determined elsewhere – firstly, in the realm of public opinion and, ultimately, at the state level.
He could listen to the advice of newcomer Cr Nicholas Frances Gilley who said: “There is lots of capacity for conversation. But we won’t be having that conversation if we are positioned and we are not in the facts.”
“For those of us who do care, and that’s all of us, we’ve got to get better about being truthful about what we are dealing with and recognise that, just because our position is here, and its strong, it doesn’t make it the right one or the only one and we need to stop pretending that it is.”