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The Age

The wall ... and why it came down

Author: Royce Millar Deborah Gough With Ben Preiss
Date: 03/04/2013
Words: 1045
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 1
A SIGN spruiking the latest mega-development for the landmark CUB site on Swanston Street appears to have been a key factor in the collapse of the wall that killed three passers-by last week.

The tragedy is made all the worse by the fact that, like so many grand visions for this bombsite, Daniel Grollo's $800 million Swanston Square has struggled to get off the ground.

The loss of three lives has raised questions about how a prized city site could have been left to wither over almost 30 years - and about the dangers that come with some neglect.

Anxiety about such issues took root in Spring Street on Tuesday with Planning Minister Matthew Guy announcing an audit of similar structures across the state.

"The government has asked today the Building Commission to write to all councils, and indeed every builder in the state of Victoria, to be a part of identifying any other similar structures that may need to be checked as soon as possible," he told the ABC on Tuesday night.

His announcement came after the French consulate named the third person who died as a result of the wall collapse.

The woman's name is Marie-Faith Fiawoo, 33, a post-doctorate fellow in the engineering faculty at Monash University. Her parents were notified on Friday and are now en route to Melbourne.

Bridget Jones and her brother Alexander, of Melbourne, also died in the incident, which is being investigated by the Coroner as well as by the Melbourne City Council, Worksafe and Victoria Police.

As investigations get under way, it was confirmed that a focus of the inquiries would be the advertising board that had been attached to the wall. It is unclear that the hoarding had any purpose other than advertising Grocon's Swanston Square precinct.

When Grocon bought the site from RMIT University in 2006, chief executive Daniel Grollo said construction would start the following year. Almost seven years later, only demolition and archaeological work has been done. RMIT University has since built a design hub on the south-east corner of the site, which it had retained.

For the investigators, there is growing interest in the advertising board and its sail-like effect in a high wind. On Thursday, a freak and powerful gust of wind hit inner Melbourne around the time of the wall collapse.

Building union officials who occupy a building opposite the site say the board advertising the website www.SwanstonSquare.com.au was as much as one metre taller than the brick wall, which was about 2.5 metres. A Carlton architect familiar with the site estimated the board to be about 45 centimetres higher.

Engineers Australia structural college chairman Richard Eckhaus said that if a hoarding was significantly higher than the wall it was attached to, it could interfere with the wall's safety.

"If you attach something to it to make it significantly higher, then it could lead to a collapse," Mr Eckhaus said. "If you erect a sign that is higher than the wall it is attached to, it acts exactly like a sail."

What remains unclear is how planning approval was granted for such a hoarding - if it was - and why no checks were made.

Engineer and former Melbourne lord mayor Trevor Huggard has had an association with the site since 1980s, when CUB decided to consolidate its brewery operations in Abbotsford.

He raised doubts about the legality of the brick wall, which appears to have been built in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The wall was not heritage-registered.

Mr Huggard said that a building regulation dating back to the 1930s, but still in place, dictates that such external walls must not be more than 6 feet, or 1.8 metres, high.

The wall was two brick courses thick with a cavity in between, a standard approach for an external building wall.

Mr Huggard has studied the photographs and concluded that the wall had been poorly constructed with a grossly inadequate number of metal ties holding the two courses of bricks together. He said there appeared to be little, if any, buttress or other supports.

"It appears to contravene every rule in the book," he said.

Over three decades the site has been bought and sold like a Monopoly board property, with smart developers and real estate agents making millions along the way.

Visions of casinos, corporate headquarters, bank offices, student housing and even internal winter gardens have come and gone without a brick being laid, while heritage structures such as the Malthouse on Swanston Street and CUB's original bluestone building have deteriorated.

In recent weeks property industry insiders have raised doubts about Grocon's capacity to realise its vision for the site.

But on Tuesday night Grocon insisted that work on the Swanston Square apartments would begin no later than April 8.

The company said in a statement: "Our thoughts remain with the families of the three young people who died."

CUB WALL SITE A TROUBLED HISTORY

1854

Victoria Parade Brewery is established in Melbourne to become CUB site bounded

by Swanston, Queensberry & Bouverie Streets, and Victoria Parade

1987

CUB closes its brewery in Bouverie Street, Carlton. Current site in Abbotsford

becomes the sole brewing house

1989

Site largely cleared as Elders IXL (Fosters) boss John Elliott and partner developer Hudson Conway propose ill-fated $400 million Fosters global headquarters including 37-level glass tower. A second plan for a 17-level tower also fails with demise of Elders ambitious international expansion plans

1992

Site proposed unsuccessfully by developer Hudson Conway for Victorias first

casino

1993

Valuer general puts value of site at just $9.5 million

1994

Then phosphaterich Republic of Nauru buys site from Hudson Conway for $25

million, part of a doomed property splurge in central Melbourne

1995

A celebrated $230 million twin tower development dubbed Pacific Central approved

by state government. Designed by architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall, the

design is welcomed by the National Trust

1998

RMIT pays $25 million for site and proposes to build a $300 million mini student city

that would include a hotel, food outlets and sporting facilitites

2006

RMIT finally forced to sell more than half the site to developer Grocon for $39 million, retains south east corner where design hub building now stands

2007

Grocon chief Daniel Grollo says work will start in 2007 on $800 million off ice and retail project

2013

Wall collapses on Swanston Street killing three pedestrians. Cloud hangs

over Grocon plan for site

 
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