What to do with the extra Port of Melbourne proceeds? A wishlist

What to do with the extra Port of Melbourne proceeds? A wishlist
Alastair TaylorSeptember 19, 2016

Victoria's treasury after October 31st will have a large injection of cash with the announcement on Monday that the Port of Melbourne has been leased to the Lonsdale Consortium on a 50-year term.

The lease that the Lonsdale Consortium, comprised of organisations QIC, GIP, OMERS and the Future Fund, has signed is worth more than $9.7 billion to the state and to top it off, more money on top of the sale value is expected to flow to the Victorian Government through the Federal Government's asset recycling programme.

The Department of Treasury and Finance has published a FAQ which provides more detail on terms of the lease.

The Victorian Government has already made it clear where it intends to spend the money - it was an election promise to use the proceeds to pay for the level crossing removal programme - and Monday's announcement has expanded on this.

$970 million will be spent on regional and rural infrastructure projects and a new $200 million Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund has also been established to drive growth in the regions, a Victorian Government media release states.

The windfall offers up the opportunity for the state government tinker with existing infrastructure projects - perhaps bringing some forward - yet also provides the Victorian Government with cash to unleash teams of people to assess the worthiness of projects in the pipeline.

Soon after the announcement on Monday, calls to support every project imaginable were posted on social media and the various comment threads all around the internet. In aggregate, the volume of comments, ideas and impassioned calls speak to the interest the community has in infrastructure currently available to them and the new infrastructure which could be in the pipeline.

Rather than call on the state government to get behind building any particular project, we'd prefer to see the government invest more money in sorting the good from the bad in the known pipeline of projects, and in limited cases use the cash from the Port of Melbourne windfall to buy something tangible.

Here's a wishlist.

Assess and then commit funds to buy/invest in something tangible

Schools, schools, schools

The state government has shown it is not afraid of becoming an active player in the inner-city property market with the recent announcement that it had entered into a contract to buy the General Motors-Holden site; the Victorian Government should continue to be an active player by funding and tasking Infrastructure Victoria to identify suitable sites in order for the Department of Education to build new public schools in the high-growth inner-city development zones.

For a Labor government, there's bound to be a desire to invest in public education facilities more broadly across the state. However assessing the need and at the very least buying the land to build new schools in the inner-city - which will see rapid change over the coming decades - should be done with a matter of urgency in next year's budget.

Arden and Fishermans Bend are two inner-city development zones which have active structure planning processes underway and sites for new schools, which double as community hubs, should be identified and purchased as soon as possible.

Affordable housing initiatives

In one respect up until this point, the Andrews Government planning policy can, broadly, be characterised by reigning in the excesses of the previous government's policy (or lack thereof depending on your viewpoint). The implementation of tighter controls in the Capital City Zone, the draft design guidelines on apartments, the refresh of planning in Fishermans Bend; these are but a few highly visible results which fit this narrative.

Affordable housing - the market affordable kind, and the social housing kind - is a policy area where the government's cards are being played very close to the chest. Yes, there was the transfer of housing stock to Aboriginal Housing Victoria, however there is no overarching direction from government on how we might diversify both buying and renting opportunities for those on lower incomes in established areas.

Inclusionary zoning, direct investment from public authorities in private developments, stimulating housing co-operative models; what tickles the fancy of the Victorian Government? It's time to pick the winners and use some of the cash from the Port of Melbourne lease to start experimenting.

Assess and ensure transport infrastructure debates are well informed

It's all very well to call for money to be thrown directly into building infrastructure, whether it's for transport, for education, public housing or the justice system. But you look like a dill if you haven't got proper evidence to cite when decisions to invest are perceived to have been made without a proper process, as the current state government is finding out with the "Sky Rail" backlash and how the previous state government found out with the East-West link fiasco & its ousting after one term.

Therefore, it would be prudent to fund and task Infrastructure Victoria with appraising many of the transport project initiatives that have made it into the public domain.

There's also a government hackathon-like opportunity for Infrastructure Victoria where some of the tools used by those who assess & design transport solutions are brought into the public domain in order to facilitate a culture of deeper community engagement. Any ensuing community crowd-sourced transport ideas & solutions will be naturally filtered when those who propose them have access to the right tools.

The known pipeline

Lastly, it would be good to see in 2017 or 2018's budget some money set aside to conduct full-scale assessments of the business cases for projects that have had at least one government mention.

The major road transport project that springs to mind is the North East Link: a limited access road / freeway link between the Metropolitan Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway. Let's see the business case and let's see if it stacks up compared to other high-cost transport projects.

Likewise, the laundry list of heavy rail projects in the city - ascertained through the joining of the dots in the Melbourne Metro Rail project business case - would wet many urbanists appetites, but like the North East Link, let's see how it all stacks up.

"Metro 2" from Clifton Hill to Newport, rail (heavy, light or both) to the airport, electrification of the Melton line and reconfiguration of the existing rail network into sectors (and the heavy-hitting work on reconfiguring the city loop tunnels that this would require) are all in this same category.

Lead image credit: Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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