Uncertainty rises despite improvements

By Sean Car

The City of Melbourne’s latest renewal plans detailing the provision of new infrastructure at Queen Victoria Market (QVM) have failed to ease growing trader concerns of a day market on the decline.

Councillors unanimously endorsed $38.9 million plans for new market infrastructure on September 17 in what Cr Rohan Leppert described as “putting the meat on the bones” of the council’s $250 million renewal project.

Key features of the plan include a new “Northern Shed” on Queen St, complete with centralised waste management facilities, the “Queen’s Corner Building” for operational and events storage and new refrigeration for fresh produce traders. 

A new “trader shed,” or G-Shed, complete with three levels of basement storage, two levels of operational space and new trader amenities, such as a lunch room and lockers, was the fourth major component of the plan. 

The council’s program director of QVM’s renewal Joanne Wandel was quick to highlight at the September 17 meeting that the plans had emanated from the 40-member People’s Panel process, which consisted of traders, customers, residents and key stakeholders. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said that everyone involved in the process had “the same goals.”

“We want a thriving market,” Cr Capp said. 

“The plan will deliver dedicated loading and recycling facilities on Queen St to improve safety and logistics for traders, and to make the market function better for everyone who works and shops there.” 

While noting that the revised proposal was an improvement to the “original grandiose overdevelopment put forward by [former Lord Mayor] Robert Doyle”, Friends of QVM’s Mary-Lou Howie said there still “many issues” with the “process for change.”

“I’ve never heard of the term ‘Northern Shed’,” she told the meeting. 

“Much mention was made of the People’s Panel and its recommendations, but that process was far from perfect.”

“There is a gaping disconnect between what I read from council and QVM management, and what I hear from the market floor.” 

“Disturbed” by the disconnect, Cr Beverley Pinder-Mortimer asked QVM CEO Stan Liacos at the meeting what “percentage of acceptance” the plans had among traders. 

“Of nearly 600 day traders and nearly 150 night traders that’s a difficult question to answer,” Mr Liacos replied. “My guess is that the vast majority would be saying that it’s a very sound scheme.”

In August, QVM management announced a new partnership with online shopping and delivery service YourGrocer, allowing locals to order fresh produce from the market and have it delivered to their home. 

This move, in addition to the latest plans for fixed refrigeration and storage, as well as new opening hours (effective from October 29), is all about “adapting to the changing retail landscape”, according to Mr Liacos.

While further work will now be carried out with traders to co-design storage and refrigeration facilities to use at their stalls, Friends of QVM’s Miriam Faine said stockpiling produce would lead to the market’s demise. 

With the Night Market attracting more than 1.2 million visitors to QVM every year, management has placed a strong emphasis on the event in recent times, complemented by the opening of String Bean Alley with 26 new retailers in shipping containers in July. 

Trader Leah Moore told the meeting that the current plans had “very little benefit” for general merchandise day traders. 

“We are weary, and businesses are struggling, and we may not make it until 2021 unless there is some serious injection of energy to make the market a viable proposition for all traders,” she said. 

The latest staged infrastructure plans follow April’s council meeting, which saw the overall precinct renewal program endorsed by councillors. The transformation of the current car park into a new 1.5-hectare public “Market Square”, continues to divide traders.  

While 500 new underground car parks are currently being installed as part of the Munro development on Queen St, a further 500 are understood to be included as part of council’s next “southern development” on Franklin St. 

The council has moved to shorten Franklin and Queen streets to free up land for the development; a decision being questioned by many local residents and traders.  

Jo Wandel said the renewal program’s four key priorities from now were to restore the heritage sheds, provide better weather protection, move forward with the southern development site and investigate the provision of 500 new car parks. 

Ms Wandel said that as part of its public consultation process, a charter for the creation of the new Market Square would be prepared in the next few months, which Cr Leppert said would provide for “an extraordinary” new public space. 

“Let’s get right what Federation Square got wrong. I’m so excited about this project,” Cr Leppert said.  

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