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Support for Central Pier Parliamentary Inquiry

Dear Minister, Member of Parliament, Development Victoria Board Member

I am writing to express my deep concern about the recent shocking revelations which have been exposed more than 17 months after Central Pier was abruptly evacuated by Development Victoria.

I am also respectfully seeking your support in the request for a parliamentary inquiry into this matter, following a motion by Victorian Legislative Council Member for Northern Metropolitan MS Fiona Patten.

These shocking revelations were revealed by The Age investigative report on the 19th January 2021 in an investigative report. This article clearly established that Development Victoria had prior knowledge of the potential structural “catastrophic failure” of Central Pier at least 10 months before the emergency evacuation.

The documents also reveal that the necessary work was not carried out to ensure that there was no imminent risk to the tenants and visitors of Central Pier. In fact, investigations revealed that the tenants, workers and visitors to the pier were placed at serious and unnecessary risk, despite the risk of collapse being foreseeable and preventable.

The documents clearly warrant the necessity of a parliamentary inquiry to determine whether Development Victoria’s attempt to terminate the lease of the tenants and the timing of the evacuation was genuine and in good faith. The documents uncovered by The Age investigation clearly brings into question the above and the truth needs to be uncovered.

BACKGROUND
The sudden closure on 28 August 2019 has created a devastating social and economic ripple effect in our community:

  • 1,300 jobs lost.
  • 8 businesses remain in crisis and one was forced to shut its doors forever.
  • 8 businesses and 1,300 staff forced to find short term stability only to be hit by the COVID crisis less than 7 months later.
  • 103 years of pier history in jeopardy.
  • Countless events cancelled, with detrimental flow-on effects to local business in the Docklands area.
  • Immeasurable reputable damage and embarrassment to our city.

On 19 January 2021, The Age published an article, exposing documents obtained from Federal Court proceedings:

  • The Victorian government agency (Development Victoria) 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Then, in 2017 and 2018, engineers and construction experts updated their advice, telling the agency that past repairs had been “grossly incomplete” and it was likely only a “complete rebuild” could bring the pier up to safety standards. This put the cost at about $50 million.
  • In October 2018, 10 months before access to the structure was suddenly closed down, Development Victoria general manager Simon Wilson told his agency’s senior management and board that, “The previous ‘high’ risk has been increased to extreme”.
  • A month later, engineering firm KBR – which had been responsible for monitoring the structure since at least 2013 – sent an explicit warning to Development Victoria about the immediacy of the threat.
  • “We take the unusual step of writing to you to express our serious concerns in relation to the continued use of parts of Central Pier despite our engineering advice that those parts of the Pier should have restricted access pending remedial works,” the firm wrote in November 2018.
  • For nine months after that warning, the hospitality businesses, including venues that could hold up to 3400 patrons, were allowed to continue operating on the pier. They say they were not alerted to the danger.
  • KBR ultimately forced Development Victoria to order the evacuation on August 28, 2019 when it said it was “an unacceptable risk to life” and refused to send its own staff to conduct further inspections.
  • The pier has never reopened. In January 2020, the agency announced the damage was so extensive it would be demolished.
  • Former tenants Alumbra, Austage Events, Atlantic Group and the head tenant, Central Pier Pty Ltd, have now taken the matter to court, where each of them is seeking compensation for the shutdown and losses for the six years remaining on their lease.

Development Victoria, the government body responsible for maintaining this heritage-listed site, has failed to do so even after countless warnings from engineering firm KBR. Development Victoria ignored the explicit expert advice and continued to risk the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people that visited this once thriving waterfront hub.

This warrants a parliamentary inquiry and we respectfully seek your support.

If you wish to read the full article, it can be viewed here:
https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/central-pier-closure-came-suddenly-urgently-but-after-years-of-warnings-20210119-p56v6o.html

Yours sincerely,

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