A plan to fast-track housing on badly contaminated Defence Force land in Maribyrnong, announced by Treasurer Scott Morrison in Tuesday’s federal budget, would cram in twice as many homes as had been originally envisaged for the site.
The Treasurer’s plan has stoked fears within the Andrews government that the Defence Department would simply sell the land to the highest bidder without proper strategies for transport, education or other services.
For more than a decade, Defence has been working with Victorian government on ways to re-develop its Maribyrnong Defence Site, 127 hectares of contaminated land on the Maribyrnong River.
Defence has said that the sprawling site – fronting the Maribyrnong River on three sides and Cordite Avenue to the south – was suitable for 3000 homes. If infrastructure such as parks and schools were included, this would mean high-rise development across some of the new suburb, which is in a largely low-rise area.
Canberra appears to have abruptly dumped the Victorian government in its planning for the site, with Defence set to go it alone in selling the land to the private sector. It had previously agreed to sell some of the land to the Victorian government.
A federal government fact sheet released on budget night said the Defence Department would conduct a “market testing later in 2017 to invite potential options for sale, remediation and future development”.
The announcement was a departure from previous planning for the site, which Canberra had been sporadically working on with Victoria’s state development agencies. In late 2015, Defence began decontamination on one corner of the site, telling locals it was the first step in the future development of the land.
Major Projects Minister Jacinta Allan said the state government supported development of the site, but warned Canberra needed to work with the state to make sure proper services were built, along with housing.
It could not, Ms Allan warned, be a “free for all, where the interests of developers are put ahead of first home buyers, access to affordable housing and the interests of the community”.
Planners were dismissive of the announcement on the Defence land because of the extent of contamination across the site, and because of many previous pledges for the site. Clean-up costs have previously been estimated at $300m.
One planner who asked not to be named said the land was so badly spoiled by decades of explosive residues, asbestos and solvents that it was irrelevant in the short-term to the nation’s housing crisis.
Another, Melbourne University urban geographer Kate Shaw, said the government’s plan to release the Maribyrnong land for housing had been discussed for years and was “nothing spectacular”.
Maribyrnong Council mayor Catherine Cumming welcomed the housing proposal by Defence, but said any development had to be properly planned.
“There is substantial infrastructure needed to support the community,” she said, including new parks, community centres, sports facilities and public transport.
The council wants Defence to give it the land along the river’s edge to allow for bike and walking paths that would complete a missing link along the Maribyrnong.
The land has previously been flagged as among possible sites for a railway station at or near Highpoint shopping centre, on a new line to Melbourne Airport.