Fed Square revolt: Rethink required

James Riley
Editorial Director

A motion has been moved in the Victorian Parliament to reject the proposed Apple store at Federation Square as the Melbourne City Council readies a campaign to oppose the controversial plan.

Late last year the Victorian government announced it had signed a contract with Apple for the global tech giant to establish a “flagship” store at Federation Square, a coveted civic space in the Melbourne CBD.

The contract involves the demolition of the existing Yarra building to make way for the store. Apple is believed to be putting in $100 million into the project. The government claims no public money would be put towards the project – aside the value of the prime location – but has declined to reveal details of its lease agreement with Apple.

Heating up: Revolt against secret plans for an Apple store at Federation Square gathers steam

It has said that the Apple store will would smaller than the existing building, making way for more public space, and that 250 construction jobs will be created along with 200 retail jobs once it is open.

In a statement, Tourism minister John Eren said the Apple store would benefit all Victorians.

“The design respects and expands on the original vision for Federation Square. It will create 500 square metres of new public space and open it up to the river for the first time. We all want Federation Square to be at its best and this project will bring new visitors, business and life into the heart of our city,” Mr Eren said.

The highly controversial plan has been met with large-scale public outrage, with many questioning the privatisation of the public space to a global tech firm, as well as the secrecy surrounding the plans.

The state Greens were quick to voice opposition to the plan, while Opposition leader Matthew Guy has labelled mock-ups of the store as “an abomination”.

On Wednesday, Greens MP Samantha Ratnam moved a motion in Parliament to revoke the planning approval for the Apple Federation Square store if the government doesn’t agree to reconsider the store and consult with the public in two weeks.

The planning permit for the store was approved without a public consultation, with Planning Minister Richard Wynne using his power to exempt a planning scheme amendment from public notice.

But this can be revoked by the state Parliament, and this is what the Greens will push for.

The motion calls for the State government to find a new site for the Apple store in Melbourne.

The state does not control the upper house, so the motion will pass if supported by the Opposition and crossbench.

The motion also has the backing of the Melbourne City Council, which is revolting against the Apple store plans.

The council is a partner in the development and funding of Federation Square, but was left in the dark on the conversations with Apple, as well as the planning agreements.

The Melbourne City Council unanimously passed a motion on Tuesday night calling for a “significant redesign of the store” and public consultation process to be undertaken by the state government.

If the government doesn’t agree to this in two weeks, the council has agreed to write to every State upper house member urging them to support the Greens motion to revoke the planning amendment.

The motion was moved the Greens councillor Rohan Leppert who said there are “serious concerns about how the decision was made to fundamentally change the design, purpose and use of Melbourne’s premier civic meeting place without public consultation”.

The approved motion calls on the Apple store to achieve a six star green star rating and for planning to undergo a proper public consultation process before plans are submitted to amend to Melbourne planning scheme.

If the government does not agree to this by 13 February, acting lord mayor Arron Wood would write to all members of the Victorian Legislative Council by 15 February urging them to “disallow Melbourne Planning Scheme amendment and request cabinet to facilitate a new process, inclusive of public consultation, for the approval of the location and design of an Apple Global Flagship Store within the central city”.

The council said it had received more than 800 submissions from the public opposing the Apple store at Federation Square.

Speaking to reporters last week, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews indicated the government was open to reworking the plans for the Apple store.

“If we can have an outcome that more people can support, well that would be a great thing,” Mr Andrews said.

Federation Square CEO Jonathan Tribe has also warned that Apple might opt to build the flagship store in Sydney instead of Melbourne if it isn’t approved soon.

“We’ve had long negotiations with Apple over the last couple of years and I am aware of the fact that if this project isn’t given approval in Melbourne they have an option in Sydney, and that’s something they would explore,” Mr Tribe told 3AW.

Mr Tribe said the Apple store is “vital” for Federation Square and would draw an additional two million people to the site.

“We need to reimagine the square, because how it was set up last decade is no longer applicable. We’re operating in a very, very competitive environment and we’re losing business and we’re losing attendance,” he said.

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