Fishermans Bend rail re-routing runs into tower projects

The Age: Fishermans Bend rail re-routing runs into tower projects. November 6, 2014. Royce Millar, Clay Lucas, Chris Vedelago

The Napthine government’s rushed re-routing of the new underground rail line to Fishermans Bend is disrupting plans for billions of dollars of residential and commercial projects in Docklands and South Melbourne.

Developers and landowners along the proposed route between Southern Cross station and South Yarra have been notified – in some cases on the basis of strict secrecy – that the $11 billion rail route may affect major new high-rise developments, whose foundations sink deep underground.

Among them are Lend Lease’s $1.5 billion Batman’s Hill and a planned high rise tower at Normanby Road, South Melbourne, near the proposed Montague rail station. The station is designed to serve the 80,000 residents at the Fishermans Bend redevelopment.

Photo: Ron Tandberg

Project architect Kim Lowman confirmed the discussions with government. He said planning approval appeared to have been delayed because of the tower’s proximity to the tunnel and proposed Montague station site.

Mr Lowman said he did not believe the tunnel would “prohibit” the tower’s construction but that “some structural acrobatics” would be required to avoid a clash between the tower and tunnel.

He said information on the tunnel had been scant, and little had been heard since an early briefing. “We’ve been waiting for them to get back.”

In May, the government binned five years’ work on the so-called Melbourne Metro, Labor’s rail project, which was to run from Footscray under Swanston Street to South Yarra, which was replaced by the Melbourne Rail Link, to run from Melbourne Airport via the new Fishermans Bend to South Yarra, avoiding the central city.

The revised tunnel had no final business case, and was announced after bureaucrats were given less than three months to work on the $11 billion scheme.

Such was the rush, it appears the government had not considered the disruption its own scheme would cause.

One of the major projects that may be affected is Lend Lease’s $1.5 billion Batman’s Hill residential and commercial project in Docklands.

It involves decking over Docklands’ major through-road, Wurundjeri Way, under which the tunnel is expected to run en route to Fishermans Bend. The masterplan shows four large office buildings fronting Collins Street, the tallest two soaring 160 metres.

The Age is aware that the government recently notified Lend Lease of possible impacts to the Batmans Hills project. Lend Lease would not comment and referred The Age to the government.

A development agreement for Batman’s Hill has been signed by government but insiders believe the project may have to be re-designed to allow for the tunnel.

The construction giant – which last month signed a $5.3 billion contract with the Napthine government to build the East West Link – was on Tuesday in the High Court fighting the state in relation to its role in building Docklands.

The government has also held discussions with the owners and managers of South Wharf, the retail, entertainment and convention centre precinct on south bank of the Yarra.

In October the government announced $350 million backing for an expansion of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition and Centre – known as Jeff’s Shed – including construction of a new hotel.

Centre chairman Bob Annells confirmed discussions had been held about the possibility of the tunnel running directly under the precinct and affecting the expansion plans. He said it was too early to tell what the impacts on the convention centre would be.

Earlier this year Premier Denis Napthine ordered that the nine-kilometre rail tunnel be redrawn to avoid ripping up Swanston Street, which the government said would have been an unacceptable disruption to the CBD.

Boosting the Fishermans Bend was another reason for the re-routing of the tunnel.

Senior government sources say the transport bureaucracy has now in effect stopped work on the realigned tunnel scheme, hoping for the return of a Labor to government at the forthcoming poll so they can return to the earlier tunnel plan.

The tunnel would be an extension of the Coalition’s promised airport rail line and would run from Southern Cross station under Wurundjeri Way and the Yarra River. It would continue on to a station known as Montague at the eastern end of the proposed Fishermans Bend residential precinct.

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