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The future of heritage piers

Central Pier in Docklands will soon be demolished.

Sheds 14 and 9 on Central Pier resting on their insecure foundations will soon be demolished

The pier was first closed, mid function in one of the venues, in 2019. Since then the pier has been fenced off and secured to prevent public access. Deterioration of the pier has accelerated. It poses an unacceptable safety risk. The western tip of the Pier has already been demolished. It is now only a third of its original extent.

Central Pier was constructed to create more berth space in Victoria Harbour which was created out of the West Melbourne wetlands.

Central Pier in its heyday, , Port of Melbourne Quarterly

The timber piles, while selected for their resistance to marine borer all those years ago, are decaying and breaking up. The concrete is spalling, disintegrating into ever smaller pieces and compromising the structure. Prolonged exposure to salt water has contributed to the deterioration.

Development Victoria applied to Heritage Victoria for a permit to demolish the pier on the basis of engineering advice and inspections over many years that it was unsafe and that the deterioration was accelerating. Heritage Victoria was satisfied that it was not feasible for the pier to be restored or retained and issued a permit for demolition. The risk to public safety could not be accepted.

What next for Central Pier?

Central Pier is, well, central to Victoria Harbour. It creates a focal point along the Harbour Esplanade in Docklands.

Consultation over its future in the form of online engagement took place over December. A report from that engagement will be prepared.

Sean Car, editor of Docklands News, departed from his usual mild, detached manner in a recent article. To get Central Pier wrong, he wrote, would be ‘seismic’. The site of Central Pier offers the opportunity to right the perceived planning wrongs of Docklands, or to condemn Docklands to the validity of that reputation.

The Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) describe Victoria Harbour as ‘a vast aquatic amphitheatre’. MMHN propose a Melbourne Maritime Experience Centre which it suggests would give Docklands a legitimacy it has hitherto been lacking. It would embrace Melbourne as a waterside city. Such a Centre would not be a museum, MMHN insists, but incorporate past, present and future experiences. Other suggestions include a Fish Market, an idea that was once proposed for the former Commonewealth Marine Engineering Works in Port Melbourne.

Heritage Victoria require that Development Victoria prepare an interpretation strategy as a condition of the permit for demolition.

In the meantime, Port Phillip Ferries have brought life to Docklands Harbour Esplanade. The arrival and departure of the Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer bring energy and activation. However, there is nothing to draw the crowds from Marvel Stadium down to the water after a game or a performance.

What’s next for Station Pier?

In July last year, the Victorian Government released the Victorian Commerical Ports Strategy, Navigating our Ports future. The strategy includes a section on the future of cruise shipping and Station Pier.

It includes these words:

“The work completed to date has confirmed that Station Pier is a heritage asset that requires a high level of specialised maintenance to continue operating as a port facility in its current form.”

That has a Central Pier kind of ring to it.

The action concludes that ‘a key aspect is ensuring the valued heritage of Station Pier is protected for future generations’.

MMHN advocate for an immigration museum at Station Pier, recognising its role in post war migration. Our Ellis Island.

Ports Victoria will prepare a business case for government consideration.

Are the futures of Central Pier and Station Pier in competition with each other? How will the capital and operating costs of the various proposals be funded?

Station Pier is enjoying a bumper season with cruise ships in Port nearly every day. Watching passengers make the long hike from the ship to the tram is to be reminded of the shortcomings of the precinct.

As you can see, the cruise ships dwarf Station Pier. You can be sure those mighty vessels are not tethered to a timber pile!

With two major developments in the Waterfront Place precinct, perhaps this is the time to bring all stakeholders together, not forgetting the community, to resolve the long standing issues with the poor functioning of the precinct which have been the subject of discussion for several decades.

Heritage Victoria Victoria Dock, Docklands (H1720) Central Pier Heritage permit for demolition of Central Pier Q & A

Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network

Sean Car, Docklands News Development Victoria “very happy” with tepid response to Central Pier consultation 1 February 2023

Victorian Commercial Ports Strategy Navigating our Ports future (July 2022)


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