Greens council could walk away from ambitious housing plan

An ambitious plan to turn underutilised land surrounding Collingwood Town Hall into affordable housing could be doomed without support from the Greens, prompting a smackdown from Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

Yarra City Council will vote on Tuesday Night on whether it still wants to build 200 units on the town hall precinct, off Hoddle Street, 50 per cent of which would be social and affordable housing.

The Sailors and Soldiers Hall on Hoddle Street could form part of the redevelopment.Credit:Justin McManus

A feasibility study was prepared by the previous council but the Greens, who now hold a majority in the newly elected council, have not declared their support.

Yarra mayor Gabrielle de Vietri and councillor Amanda Stone said the scarce council land was needed for community facilities and raised concerns the redevelopment could “gift” precious public land to developers.

“Should we give away public land for a developer to build 100 or more high-end apartments for profit?” Cr de Vietri said.

Mr Wynne, who is also the local member, said it was an “incredibly significant” project and “an excellent example of what we’re trying to achieve”.

“This council talks a big game on social housing and it’s now time for them to deliver, and frankly I would be appalled if the Greens-controlled council did not support this project. That’s it,” Mr Wynne said.

Socialist councillor Stephen Jolly said that it wasn’t necessary to sell the land, saying it could be leased long-term rather than sold while also providing community facilities.

Deputy mayor Claudia Nguyen, an independent, agreed a lease would work and said creating as much affordable and social housing as possible was a “no-brainer”.

The development would consist of 200 units, including 30 per cent social and 20 per cent affordable housing, between three to five storeys high. There would be 1000 square metres for community facilities such as a library or meeting space.

Eddy Court Reserve is also part of the investigation area.Credit:Justin McManus

A council officers’ report to councillors said it would be hard to deliver both community infrastructure and a large portion of social housing without a significant government subsidy.

But Yarra officers said the state government announcement to construct thousands of social and affordable homes under the $5.3 billion Big Housing Build made the Collingwood project viable.

“[Council] officers suggest that it is possible to achieve a high proportion of social and affordable housing alongside market housing at the site, as well as a community hub,” a council report said.

The project could take over the old Soldiers and Sailors Hall, a deteriorated heritage site that would be refurbished and retained.

The Hoddle Street footbridge ramp is underutilised, Yarra says.Credit:Justin McManus

The development could also swallow a public housing duplex on Vere Street and a neighbouring private home, a council car park, pocket park, and the underutilised footbridge over Hoddle Street.

Two council-owned factories, one housing the Yarra Sculpture Gallery and another storing retired parking machines, could also be redeveloped.

The Town Hall itself, which is on the Victorian Heritage Register, is not part of the proposal.

Cr de Vietri said the proposal and a long-term lease would still deny a growing population — and residents in the public housing tower directly across Hoddle Street — of facilities such as a new maternal and child health centre.

“There’s no shortage of uses for that particular land and it is really the only land we can provide community facilities on.”

She welcomed the Big Housing Build, noting housing was a state responsibility, and hoped it would bring an influx of social and affordable housing to Yarra. Cr de Vietri said council wanted to mandate all new developments to include a percentage of social and affordable housing.

Cr Jolly said the government money wouldn’t be around forever.

“Since when does a council in the middle of COVID knock back money for a good cause for no reason,” Cr Jolly said.

Collingwood Town Hall, which is on the Victorian Heritage Register, is not part of the proposed redevelopment site.Credit:Justin McManus

The proposal has never been put to the community, which would be the next step if the council pushes ahead.

The Greens said that should happen before any preferred project is identified.

The majority of residents said more affordable housing was needed in the 2019 council feedback survey of 800 households.

Yarra estimates that 15 per cent of its residents are in housing stress.

Forty-three per cent of households within 400 metres of the site were in public housing during the 2016 census, and 44 per cent were flats or apartments.

Alternative options put by council officers include delivering fewer social and affordable properties on a smaller footprint, developing a community hub, or leaving the site as it is which would see the buildings slip further into decline. The council could also sell-off the land.

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