Contributed by Joe Montero
Last Saturday (16 December 2017), opponents to the Melbourne City Council’s proposed redevelopment of the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, gathered there. Speeches were made, and messages read out from high profile supporters like Barry Humphries and Paul Kelly. There was a call to step up resistance to the project, including the building of as large and ongoing community blockade, to prevent construction.
Speakers included Phil Cleary and Mary-Lou Howie from Friends of Queen Victoria Market. Phil Cleary, who ran against Lord Mayor Robert Doyle last year, condemned the redevelopment plans as an act of vandalism. Actor Michael Caton was there to say his bit as were fellow actor Sigrid Thorton. Father Bob Maguire was there too. Five of the traders gave the reasons why they are opposed to the development – the loss of livelihood and the community that has been built over many years.
The Council’s plan is to replace the existing market with a $550 million project dominated by a modern style shopping complex akin to those operated by Westfields and a high residential tower. Family stallholders, many of who have been there for generations, will be pressured out and replaced by the retail chains. A semblance of a market will be relocated underground, near the new underground parking area. Above ground will be dominated by the usual fast food chains and some event venues.
The Queen Victoria Market with its Victorian era ambience and community, which makes the place unique and the principle tourist attraction in the city, will be gone.
Opponents suggest that this redevelopment is a land grab for developer mates. Details of the deal have not been made public. The developer is a company called PDG Corporation, a Melbourne based privately owned business, which has become a major developer of luxury apartments in the city over a very short time.
There is currently a long list of PDG Corporation projects under way within the municipality, also connected to the building of apartment towers. This is curious, when up to 10 percent of apartments are unoccupied. This suggests that there is already an over-supply and the ease by which applications ge through, gives rise to accusations that the Council is far too close to this and other developers.
For its part, The Council claims that the change will create jobs. It may create some during the construction period, but it will destroy those that already exist and a new complex of retail chains, will employ fewer people than the more than 400 existing stalls.
The Council also clams that the market as it presently exists does not generate enough income. The evidence is that its revenue generation has steadily increased in recent years. The problem is that the council itself has received less, due to a blow out on expenditure on administration. Critics point out that behind this there is an explosion in consultant fees and poor management. The Council says the loss is $2.3 million and the costs of the consultant fees alone $2.2 million.
The Stall holders are calling for changes to the Board that oversees the management of the market, instead of the proposed development.