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Sunday Age

Anger grows over city 'bombsites'

Author: CLAY LUCAS
Date: 30/04/2006
Words: 815
Source: SAG
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: News
Page: 4
Pressure is growing for local councils to do something about several ugly, derelict sites blighting the Melbourne landscape. Clay Lucas reports.

THEY are Melbourne's worst eyesores - blights on the city landscape that have remained unchanged for years.

Now a backlash against owners of Melbourne's "bombsites" is growing, as councils come under pressure to get rid of them.

Despite more than a decade of boom times, hundreds of sites remain ugly blights on the landscape.

"There are so many old industrial sites around that were sold cheaply because there's so much work to be done on them," City of Melbourne councillor Fraser Brindley said. "There's a lot of speculation being done by developers, who then sit on them for years. We have to push them into doing something - to strangle this sort of speculation."

The backlash has seen a renewed call for RMIT University to develop the old Carlton and United Brewery site in Swanston Street. The Melbourne City Council has waived more than $700,000 of rates on the site since 1998, under provisions of the Local Government Act that allow councils to forgo rates on educational facilities.

But councils across Melbourne are watching closely a Moreland City Council plan to quadruple rates on more than 1000 derelict and unsafe sites. Moreland wants to encourage redevelopment or clean-ups.

"Councils keep writing to owners of sites telling them to clean them up and they do nothing," Moreland Mayor Anthony Helou said. "It's time to make the owners look after their properties. This is the first time we've had something to fight back with."

Melbourne City Council major projects chairman Peter Clarke said the city was investigating ways to promote redevelopment of CBD "bombsites".

Former Melbourne councillor Kevin Chamberlin said it was a disgrace that RMIT had "enjoyed a rate holiday". "Ratepayers have subsidised RMIT's indulgence to the tune of at least $700,000 by not making them pay rates on a site they will ultimately sell for commercial development," he said.

Most of the CBD's major derelict sites have disappeared in the past decade as the booming economy spurred into action developers who had "land-banked" the properties.

Moreland is targeting sites such as the old Coburg High School. Under the new plan, the dilapidated site would cost its owner $36,000 a year instead of $9000.

But developers say council planning delays are mostly to blame for sites remaining derelict. "Fair enough, developers should clean up sites, but let's not talk about overcharging for rates because (councils) have failed to make a decision quickly enough," Tony De Domenico, from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, said.

The Moreland plan would just discourage developers, he said.

Melbourne City Council planning chairwoman Catherine Ng said the council would monitor Moreland's scheme before considering it. "But there are not sufficient rules to force people to get on with their development, so it's an interesting (plan)," she said.

The State Government did not want to comment, but Opposition planning spokesman Ted Baillieu said "exorbitant land taxes" already penalised developers. "This is sending yet another signal that developers might as well pack up and go to another state," he said.

Architect and developer Ivan Rijavec said some large sites in the inner city already cost up to $1 million to hold.

HARD ON THE EYE

1. The 20,000-square-metre CUB site on the corner of Swanston Street and Victoria Parade was a brewery and headquarters for Carlton and United Breweries from 1862 to 1994. It was bought by Nauru in 1994 and sold to RMIT in 1998; RMIT still owns it. Proposals have included a casino, head office for John Elliott's failed Elders corporation, a graduate school for Melbourne University and student accommodation.

2. The asbestos-riddled Spencer Street power station, on the corner of Lonsdale and Spencer streets and opposite The Age and The Sunday Age. Closed in 1982, it was offloaded by Melbourne City Council in 2002 for $4 million to a developer who quickly went broke. In 2004, a 13-year-old girl fell seven metres in the disused power station and died.

3. The Savoy Tavern, opposite Southern Cross Railway Station, was boarded up in 1995 and has sat vacant and crumbling ever since. Mark Rowsthorn, Toll Holdings executive and brother of comedian Peter Rowsthorn, paid $9.9 million for it last year.

4. The "cheesegrater" site, a vacant Fitzroy block bounded by Napier, Kerr, Young and Armstrong streets. The site of a controversial apartment proposal, it has sat dormant since the project was abandoned in late 2004.

5. The fire-damaged Coburg High School site in Bell Street has been dormant since 1998. It has changed ownership three times but is no closer to being developed.

Other sites include:

? Brunswick's dusty Whelan the Wrecker site. Drug dealer Tony Mokbel and former brothel owner Jack Smit proposed an "avant garde" apartment tower. Its ownership is now in dispute.

? The former Kodak factory in Coburg, a 27-hectare site left in the wake of Kodak's Melbourne plant closure last year.

? The Mainland site at 565 Collins, which has been fenced off for 15 years.

 
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