Helen Halliday and former Port Phillip councillor David Brand, from the Fishermans Bend Network group, outside contaminated land in South Melbourne. They want better planning for the new area. Photo: Luis Ascui
Toxic groundwater will be investigated in the industrial area of Fishermans Bend – which is to be redeveloped as four new residential suburbs – almost three years after a secret state government report detailed soil and water-table contamination.
The report, kept confidential until recently, was completed just before the now Opposition Leader Matthew Guy announced the rezoning of the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area.
The rezoning doubled or even tripled land values overnight, but failed to set aside infrastructure like parks that could cost taxpayers hundreds of million of dollars.
An aerial view of the land that will form the new suburbs of Fishermans Bend.
Now, the Environment Protection Authority has launched an investigation into toxic groundwater across the massive site, used since the mid-1800s for some of Melbourne’s most intensive industrial activity.
Abbatoirs, rendering works, bone mills, manure and glue factories, and soap and candle makers were all based in the area.
The EPA investigation comes ahead of new plans expected to be announced by the Andrews government for the Fishermans Bend area, which encompasses 240 hectares of Port Melbourne and South Melbourne.
Former premier Denis Napthine (right) and now Opposition Leader Matthew Guy unveil the initial plans for Fishermans Bend in 2013. Photo: Penny Stephens
The area was rezoned in July 2012 by Mr Guy as planning minister, from a mix of industrial and commercial uses, to a capital city zone that he controlled.
Mr Guy went on to approve 11 apartment towers – all taller than 30 storeys – and to propose a new underground rail line through the area.
But in a sign of how rushed the plan was, the EPA has now commissioned a study to better understand the potential risk of contaminated groundwater.
It follows a preliminary land contamination study by engineers Golder Associates, completed in mid-2012, that used only “drive by” assessments of individual sites.
It warned of a variety of contaminants including heavy metals, petroleum waste, large quantities of solvents such as kerosene and turpentine, and acids from animal product processing.
And it identified 20 “high-risk” sites that would likely cost more than $6 million per hectare to clean up. Two of these sites, the report said, “had an approximate contamination cost in excess of $10 million per hectare”.
There are a dozen outstanding permit applications for high-rise towers in the Fishermans Bend area.
No major residential project in the area has been approved since late last year.
Some planning applications, like those submitted for 60 Johnson Street in Port Melbourne, have been awaiting approval for two years.
The planning minister’s spokeswoman said there were many unresolved issues at Fishermans Bend.
She said the government was preparing its promised review of Fishermans Bend plans, to give greater certainty to residents, businesses and developers.
Helen Halliday is convenor of community group the Fishermans Bend Network. It has been lobbying for better and more transparent planning for the new suburb.
Ms Halliday said planning of the new suburb for 80,000 people had been a “developer’s paradise”, but that community input had been locked out.
“In 2012, we went from a draft vision that had a lot of good intentions … straight to high-rise podium developments, most in excess of 30 storeys, in areas that were designated for eight or 16 storeys,” she said.
She said the contamination identified in 2012 by the previous report didn’t seem to have been acted on despite many planning applications having been approved.
She said the Andrews government’s promised review would hopefully improve how the area was developed. “Nothing could be worse than what we’ve got, because it has been a developer driven planning process,” she said