Property Australia

Five secrets to successful precincts

PROPERTY AUSTRALIA September 8, 2020

An all-star cast joined the Property Council last week to explore the principles of successful precincts. What can we learn from five standout precincts: Fishermans Bend, Collingwood Yards, Geelong Civic Centre, Essendon Fields and Melbourne Quarter?

In August, the Property Council released Principles of Successful Precincts, which found a precinct with a $2 billion price tag generates $5.7 billion in economic activity.

To continue the conversation, the Property Council staged an online forum last week to explore the critical success factors in precincts. Here’s what we learnt:


  1. Differentiation makes the difference

“There’s no one size fits all for precincts,” said Emily Mottram, executive director of precinct planning and coordination at the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

Her portfolio was established in late 2018 to send a “deliberate signal” to communities, government partners and industry about six specific precincts: Sunshine, Footscray, Fishermans Bend, Arden, Parkville and Richmond-Docklands.

The Fishermans Bend Employment Precinct boasts 230 hectares of land on the doorstep of the Melbourne CBD. The precinct is home to 15,000 existing jobs but there’s potential for this to grow to 40,000 by 2050, alongside 20,000 students.

Mottram said the future of Fishermans Bend is “underpinned by a deep understanding of the existing industries” – like aerospace, transport and defence – as well as emerging industries like clean tech, creative tech and advanced manufacturing.

The 32-hectare government owned former General Motors Holden site, for example, will be “carefully curated” over time to cultivate knowledge, innovation, advanced manufacturing and engineering businesses, Mottram said.

Meanwhile, stage one of the University of Melbourne’s school of engineering and design campus will open in 2024. The complete campus will ultimately bring 10,000 students, staff and partners to the site.

Mottram said her team is thinking in a “considered and deliberate way” about how place can facilitate new industries and sectors. This makes the unique vision for a precinct and the ability to differentiate it “absolutely critical”.

 090920 - Story 2 - Fishermans Bend

  1. Curate the tenant mix

Located on the former site of the Collingwood Technical School, Collingwood Yards is a new precinct designed to keep artists, creatives and arts organisations practicing in the inner-city.

Spanning 6,500 sqm across three buildings and a leafy courtyard, Collingwood Yards will eventually attract 250 workers each day.

The thoughtful redevelopment brings out the history of the site, which has been, at one time or another, a courthouse, council chambers, and a design school. After 18 months of redevelopment, classrooms have been transformed into artists’ studios and spaces for arts organisations and creatives, while ground-floor retail offerings, cafés, and music venues will draw in locals.

General manager Jacquelin Low said the Collingwood Yards’ business model is based on providing affordable rents, with most tenants paying 70 percent of market value.

“We now have 31 small-to-medium arts organisations, and 40 artists working in studios. Key to the project is that we aren't just building an arts precinct but a tenant community.”

 090920 - Story 2 - Collingwood Yards - Please credit Stefan Postle

Image by Stefan Postle

  1. Place public realm at centre

Geelong has undergone a period of substantial change in response to population growth and the shift from a manufacturing to a knowledge economy, said Quintessential Equity’s CEO, Russell Bullen.

Quintessential Equity is leading an ambitious project in partnership with the City of Greater Geelong to deliver a new Civic Precinct featuring two commercial buildings and impressive public realm.

The two commercial buildings that sit in the precinct are the City of Greater Geelong headquarters of around 9,476 sqm. This will bring together employees from multiple council offices to drive collaboration, reduce costs and accommodate a future workforce of 900 people. The other is a commercial building owned by QE of approximately 11,000 sqm. Importantly, around 50 per cent of the site will be dedicated to public space.

It’s a strategic project for the city, creating around 900 jobs for the local region and contributing close to $300 million in revenue to the economy each year.

The precinct is “designed as a place for everyone, so public space is at the heart of this design,” Bullen emphasised. The City of Greater Geelong and QE have collaborated with traditional owners to “introduce a songline through artwork” and to “relocate, preserve and feature” a scar tree.

Bullen said one of the “key differentiators” in QE’s bid response was its decision to secure multiple sites north of the precinct, which “provides a pedestrian corridor” to other, active parts of the city.

 090920 - Story 2 - Geelong Civil Precinct

  1. Affordability attracts opportunity

More than one million residents live within 15 minutes’ drive of Essendon Fields – a master-planned commercial precinct, located on the site of Melbourne’s first airport.

Accommodating a thriving mix of aviation, retail, office and automotive businesses in Melbourne’s growing north, Essendon Fields attracts 6,000 daily workers, but has the capacity for 18,000, explained CEO Brendan Pihan.

Emphasising the importance of affordability in response to COVID-19, Pihan said A-Grade office gross occupancy costs at Essendon Fields of $415 per sqm stack up well against the average $700 per sqm in Melbourne’s CBD.

“The suburban business park, I think, comes into its own in the post-COVID world – lower density, low rise, affordable buildings with touchless features, where it’s practical to take the stairs in a setting with lots of open space. All of those things will appeal in the new world.”

Pihan offered four critical success factors for any precinct: early delivery of quality amenity; flexibility in planning; large parcels of land under single ownership; and government coordination to accelerate growth.

 090920 - Story 2 - Essendon Fields

  1. Look between the buildings

Melbourne Quarter is a site rich in Indigenous, colonial and industrial heritage, according to Lendlease development director, Brian Herlihy.

Delivered in partnership with the state and local governments, Melbourne Quarter will be home to 140,000 sqm of office space across three towers on Collins Street, 1,500 new homes on Flinders Street, “plus 40 new retail stores, cafés and bars, community space, a childcare centre, and wellness and allied health services”.

The first two office towers are “virtually fully leased” and a vibrant community is taking shape.

Staging is crucial to a successful precinct, Herlihy said, as is the need to “break down the scale; mix and layer the uses”.

While the buildings themselves will be beautiful, Herlihy is excited by “what happens between the buildings”. He said Lendlease has given over half the site to public space, from greenery to gardens to Indigenous art.

“Place creation goes beyond the architecture of the buildings and public realm,” Herlihy added. A key ingredient is the curation of the precinct, with a program of events and activation – digital as well as physical – creating the community that so many crave.

090920 - Story 2 - Melbourne Quarter Lendlease Skypark

Property Council executive director Cressida Wall is calling for the Victorian Government to establish a precincts authority as part of its COVID-19 recovery plan. The proposed authority would promote and oversee the full lifecycle of precinct development, Wall says.

“The next phase of Victoria’s development cycle cannot just be business as usual. We need big ideas and policy settings that drive innovation, and that set our state’s precincts up for success.”

Download the Property Council’s latest report: Principles of Successful Precincts.