Queen Victoria Market – is a basement under the Fruit and Veg stalls absolutely necessary ?

Changes to the Queen Victoria Market continue to be announced piecemeal; last year it was parking and community facilities under and part funded by an apartment tower on the Munro site, the final form of which is still not fully fleshed out.

The latest step this week approved by Council was something mooted for a while, a basement under the western half of Sheds A-D (which would be dismantled and reconstructed), containing trader delivery and storage space, waste handling, and a bottom layer of 200 customer car parks. It would be accessed by a ramp within Shed D, and lifts and stairs along the central walkway. The area of excavation would avoid the parts of the former cemetery with known burials, particularly the aboriginal area.

The details and rationale of this plan, and other future mooted services and refurbishments, were explained at a long presentation to MHA and National Trust representatives.  We felt that the arguments were well made, but there were few facts and figures to back up the justifications, and the eventual operation and even the ‘look’ of the market stalls within the sheds was unclear.

This represents massive intervention; though the end result above ground is relatively minor for the market as a whole, it represents a major change for sheds A-D, in both intervention and interruption of the ‘open character’, and probable changes to the operational ‘theatre’ of the market.

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We understand some of the rationale for this proposal, but many details of operations and some of the justifications are still unclear. We only saw one above ground alternative mentioned, even though the 2017 Lovell Chen Conservation Management Plan recommended that “…practicable and workable alternatives to dismantling the sheds, including alternatives with lesser impacts, should be explored…”, “For the more traditional ‘back of house’, or more specifically ‘back of stall’ operations of the traders, these should not be concealed, as seeing and hearing these activities on market days is part of the authentic market experience. Historic market related practices, as viewed by customers, directly contribute to the ‘theatre’ of the market.”

We fully support some aspects of the on-going plans, such as providing electricity and water to all the sheds, and improving structural stability and weather protection, but these are not part of this basement plan.

We also do not oppose changes to the market mix and location of types of stalls and vendors, such as freestanding permanent structures  for cafes and shops at the Peel Street end of the sheds, so long as the number of fresh food vendors is not markedly reduced, and that their rents are not (eventually) raised to the point where the market is no longer a cheaper option.  However changes such as these are neither fully explained nor part of this particular plan.

Shed laneway on market days
Stock would be stored underground to provide greater efficiency, and also improve safe work practices. Waste will be contained in bins, and transported to a basement treatment facility.

There are many different opinions as to what is ‘wrong’ with the market (if anything), both operationally and in regards to services, and how they might be addressed. MHA cannot endorse these proposed large scale changes without knowing more about the overall future operation of the market, and fully exploring all possible options of providing any or some of the needed services above ground. We also question the advisability of having customer parking under the sheds when it could all be accommodated on the Munro site.

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