From November 2010 through to March 2013, Victoria had Ted Baillieu, an architect, as Premier. This post is part three of a four part interview with Mr Baillieu discussing a broad range of built environment issues.
Part 3 Melbourne’s Infrastructure projects
TB – Well I think it’s inevitable in the long term that the port will move out of its current location. So we need to have a strategic approach to the future of the port. I think the notion that you can just have a spill over port for anything that happens to be spill over in the future is not going to work.
At the moment, I simply make the observation that there is no freight and logistics strategy for the port or for our major freight task. The previous government had a view about that they were going to go to Hastings and that was leading us in a certain direction. I don’t have a problem with selling the port in principle but I think the timing is wrong currently. I wouldn’t be selling the port until such time that there is an agreed freight logistics strategy for including the port. We’ve got vague ideas that it might go to Hastings, it might go to Bay West, or it might just be accommodated within. 10 years ago no one was saying that it could be accommodated within. Now I think there’s perhaps too much focus on let’s just do it within the current arrangement. Ultimately I think the port will move out of the city. There aren’t too many ports that close to the central business district left in the world.
R+BA – I started writing this blog in 2012 and you were around the middle of your premiership at that point, and I think the architecture community were going “yes, we’ve got an architect premier, he understands these issues.” There was a good relationship, as I understand it, between yourself and the Australian Institute of Architects. After you left the premiership, the built environment issues and the things that we were excited about, they seemed to take hit after hit. The OVGA was aligned out of the Premier’s office and so forth.
TB – All I’ll say about the OVGA, I had a very strong view about it, when we got there. We wanted to give them more independence, more tenure, more resources, more authority. And we did all of that. Geoffrey London was doing a great job, and I was incredibly disappointed when it was shifted and it lost some funding and I actually pursued that and I was assured the funding wasn’t removed. Then it turned out it had been. All I’ll say is I was disappointed about that.
R+BA – I suppose there are other issues too. The government then pursued the East West Link
TB – Now I read your blog about East West Link, so I’ll simply say you and I would disagree very strongly. The East West Link has been completely misrepresented in the broader community. In my view it’s inevitable. It will happen. The question from the community is what it will look like when it does happen. The principle complaint about East West to date has been the price. It was only the price it was because we chose to put it in the tunnel to protect Parkville and Carlton and the gardens.
R+BA – Absolutely the alternative would be to put it above ground and it would have had an even worse effect.
TB – Perhaps we should have offered the community the alternative and they could have chosen.
R+BA – I would argue though that whilst certainly the middle sections of the proposal, where it was underground, except for perhaps the issue of the unfiltered smoke stacks near schools, it was reasonable. The built environment’s not taking a hit. However I would also argue that at either end, such as West Parkville where it came up through Royal Park and Ross Straw Field, it created substantial issues. The connection with the Melbourne gateway for example, I thought was really compromised.
TB – I know it well because we looked at a range of alternatives there and I think it was the appropriate solution. It’s inevitable, it will happen. To resist because you don’t want there to be a connection there, I mean I talked to someone, perhaps it was you I talked to about the west end. I think you suggested to me an alternative arrangement, and I did pass that on. But there was a lot of effort that went in to that, but it is inevitable, it will happen, and I just trust and hope that the new-found enthusiasm the current government has for elevated rail lines helps people understand what the best way of doing it is.
R+BA – So talking about infrastructure procurement generally, is part of the problem with the way we go about it that politicians need to spend significant political capital prior to having a true understanding of the costs or the benefits of a project, and by the time that analysis and design work has been done, it’s too late for a politician to turn around and say well actually, the business case doesn’t stack up, or the environmental impacts are too great.
TB – Well the so called business case that didn’t stack up was the draft business case and the opponents of East West never looked, never publicized the more detailed or looked at the environmental cost component
R+BA – Well it wasn’t available
TB – Well it’s still to this day the focus on the original draft, and you have to factor in there, ok, there’s the project, and there’s the very significant environmental cost added on there to protect Parkville and Carlton, they’re effectively two projects. What I say is that in this country, the cost of construction is pricing us out of infrastructure for the future and we’re not, in this country, getting ahead, we’re not even keeping up.
R+BA – Everyone would be in fierce agreement over the need for more infrastructure.
TB – We’re struggling to catch up regarding infrastructure. In this state, we have an economy that thrives on population growth. To some extent that’s a bit of a population Ponzi scheme. Supply never catches up to growing demand. If you look at the economic growth rates and population growth rates, inflation rates, we are putting pressure on infrastructure. And when we come to price it, it’s a struggle. We looked very carefully at Metro, we inherited a project that was, I’ll be very polite and say it was very immature. There was a sum of money set aside to look at it in detail and we did that. We looked at it in great detail. While I was there it became evident that it was almost impossible to build for what was proposed. And then having it revealed to us that there was no South Yarra station even though it was brought to us as South Yarra to Footscray, and with Chapel Street in South Yarra developing faster than anywhere, you’ve got to make that connection somehow. So we put it back in. I left before the final decisions were made about that, but the cost of that project is very very significant. We’re talking 5 stations at about 2.5 billion dollars per station effectively.
R+BA – But the benefit of that is the loop capacity.
TB – It takes some load out of the loop and hence adds capacity.
R+BA – So every other line theoretically benefits from that
TB – Everyone was in furious agreement about that. And it was ‘ok, here’s your budget, when we were in structural deficit. With debt projected to rise dramatically’ and you have to say ok, what’s it going to cost, what can we do that’s most effective doing this? And it’s a real challenge. Lots of people think you just make an immediate decision to do something and then you just do it. In my view, that’s not the way you proceed. Maybe I was too much the architect, I wanted the answers step by step and we got a lot of that. We’ve done it on East West. We tested a lot of alternatives on East West and I insisted I wanted all the alternatives tested so that we can make a good decision. And we did likewise on Metro. What I understand of Metro now is that they’ve come up with an entirely different approach to construction. This changed dramatically in the last nine months. In fact, when the government first announced they were going back to it they said they were going back to the original scheme and they released the video of the single tunnel etc. and the details of where it’s going to go. That’s all changed, we now have a split tunnel and the way it’s going to operate has changed
R+BA – There seems to have been some real innovation recently on that project.
TB – Yes, but the core design has changed and that’s partly because of the difficulties that we faced and looking at alternatives to that, and the sheer cost of it.
R+BA – I suppose that’s a parable for how important design is.
TB – 12 months ago the government announced we were going back to the original but within a few months they’d made changes and we’ve had more changes since. It’s gone to the twin tunnels and now it’s going deeper not shallower. All the things that we were facing. It’s an interesting project in itself, it’s just about how you do it, and how you get the egress and the access for construction. What do you do with the CBD while it’s under construction. They’re effectively going to do pinhole surgery to build it now. We’ll see how it goes.
R+BA – Another of the big challenges facing Melbourne is the whole Fishermans Bend precinct. As you’d be aware, in the final throes of the Napthine era, the whole area was rezoned essentially overnight to capital city zone. There’s been some strong criticism of that in terms of not having a structural plan for how the community will develop. Where’s going to be the public spaces, where’s going to be the transport infrastructure and so on. Instead of doing that first and then rezoning piecemeal or whatever suits.
TB – Well I can’t say I have any knowledge of that because I was out of the decision making.
R+BA – Have you followed that issue and do you have a reflection on it?
TB – I would have preferred to see a bit more value capture, but I don’t have a problem with Fishermans Bend developing as such. My view is that I don’t want to see any more painted matchboxes. Too much architecture has been reduced to painted matchboxes and I would’ve like to have seen the apartment code in place before permits were issued.
There’s a significant difference between a building envelope and the interior of a building. We tend to give permits for envelopes and then the interior is changed dramatically. In tower development it can be a real issue because you’re focused on the envelope and you end up getting shoeboxes. I actually think there is a role for the envelope permit, but I think the best role for that is in bespoke architecture so that the building gets an envelope approval and then the plates become adaptable. Hopefully if you’ve got an apartment code you get a baseline and then that architecture starts to aim up rather than aim down. I had a number of cases in in my patch where I had developers in and I was saying hey guys, this is a pretty good area, but you’re pitching a building to the council and the community which is really low grade. You’re actually taking the standard of the area down. The response I was getting was that’s what the real estate agents tell us we can sell. We’re benchmarking from the real estate agents. I said well that’s your mistake, you should be benchmarking with the aspirations. Whether it’s Hawthorn, Camberwell, Northcote, Brunswick, wherever, you can actually build the community if your aspirations exceed current benchmarks. If you’re simply trying to get the minimum standards you end up with the wrong mix of apartments and you get the wrong mix of services and you get the worst of everything. We look at what’s happened in Abbotsford, and this is my opinion so no one can shoot me, it’s just what I think, but the developments down there are just appalling. They were approved 8 or 9 years ago, some 4,000 apartments. No community facilities at all.
R+BA – Getting back to the Fishermans Bend story, are you concerned about the way that that’s progressing at the moment and the directions that it’s taking? We agree that it needs to develop it, but is how it’s proceeding an issue?
TB – Well I can’t say that I’m intimately engaged with Fishermans Bend. Most of it took place after I left and I think there’s a bit of finger pointing going down and I don’t intend to join the finger pointing. There’s fingers being pointed at both governments. Bottom line is it’s the ground level that matters for most people and the community, you have to get that right and you have to get the community facilities right. Whether it’s parks and gardens, whether it’s schools, whether it’s childcare, medical facilities, retail, etc. When it comes to whatever goes in the envelopes I want to see a code, even if it’s retrospective and I want to see the aspiration being upward rather than down.
R+BA – So how would you like to see greater Melbourne evolve over the coming decades. We’ve talked a lot about apartment design codes, but is there an idea for what that middle ring of donut needs to do or anything else?
TB – Well it needs to have inserted in to it mature, sophisticated, aspirational apartment building that is combined with retail office below and above. The planners all say we have to thicken the fabric in the inner city, my view is that if you thicken it with bad stuff you’ll destroy it, so you’ve got to get some quality back in the city and you won’t do that unless we address the code, construction costs, get the design review panels involved, and get councils the capacity to be a bit more selective about their permits and back them up by saying we’re not going to surprise anybody. I’ve talked to a few developers about bespoke apartments and I’m pretty comfortable that will end up happening. So people will purchase a floorplate and then they can be mature about it. At the moment they might want to go somewhere good and pay a lot for the apartment but the apartment doesn’t actually meet their needs. It’s got pokey rooms, so they might just want to open it up all together.
R+BA – There is a growing trend of the more wealthy buying two apartments and then put them back together.
TB – I am aware of one case where the purchaser bought three apartments, two side by side and one underneath so he bought and paid for something that didn’t work and he’s reconfigured it.
R+BA – That’s an expensive way to go but the end product is often fantastic.
TB – Yes, so if you give them the plate [for the owner to design] in the first place you might get a better result.
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