Central Pier closure came suddenly, urgently, but after years of warnings

The Victorian government agency in charge of the shuttered Central Pier at Docklands knew for almost a year that the 100-year-old structure was at “extreme” risk of collapse before it shut it down abruptly one evening, giving diners at its function centres just 15 minutes to finish their meals.

Documents obtained by The Age from Federal Court proceedings show Development Victoria knew 10 months before the shutdown on August 28, 2019, that the pier risked “catastrophic failure”, but delayed acting in an apparent attempt to avoid spending tens of millions of dollars on repairs and compensation payments to businesses.

The closure of the pier sparked the evacuation of hundreds of people, shutting down a string of hospitality and tourism businesses including major tenant Atlantic Group, which employed more than 1300 staff at its stable of restaurant and bar venues.

Development Victoria spokesman Geoff Ward said at the time: “Engineers have advised Development Victoria today that they have assessed Central Pier as being unsafe for use, requiring immediate closure”.

The Federal Court documents are part of a statement of claim filed by the businesses who are now suing Development Victoria. The agency says they do not represent an agreed chronology, are not complete, and concern matters that are in dispute.

The records show Development Victoria had been warned as early as 2011 that the pier was considered a “high” risk. The cost to keep it operational to 2026 was estimated to be at least $25 million.

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