Stop the band-aid concessions

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Get to the heart of the problem that is resulting in the destruction of Little India, says Cr Tim Singh Laurence

After millions of dollars being spent in railway area no major development was secured, foot traffic was diverted away from Little India and 27 car spaces were reduced to 6!

This can only be described as the willful destruction of a commercial precinct.

Ministers and fatcats have tried to pick off traders one by one but they have stuck together and got 6 months free rent for all.

But these band-aid concessions do not go to the heart of the problem — the whole project including road-a-foot traffic realignments are wrong. They are designed to house a big development project that never occurred.

With private investment stalled and shops struggling there is an urgent need to act before more empty shops appear.

The wasteful and empty concrete piazza is now ringed by empty shops!

The key urban ingredients were here a neglected and heavily used station and wonderful Little India — all that was needed was to link these to assets with pedestrian and car friendly plan — instead the Places Victoria plan has just added to the wasteland in this part of Dandenong and taken car parking and foot traffic away from Little India.

I cannot imagine such town planning vandalism occurring in Lygon Street.

Little India is a unique cultural precinct that should have been at the heart of the renewal of this area.

The success of Asian food outlets around Glen Waverly station shows the direction that should have been taken where the food and cultural offer has been expanded over 10 years and council has invested in car parking capacity.

Little India could be the heart of a food and commuter oasis if new plans were created that follow modern urban planning. But that will take time.

In the short term rent and rate relief is needed to keep shops going and a special boost fund should be created to immediately lift car park numbers and foot traffic.

Special arrangements need to be put in place to fill shops with arts and food related business to stop the image of desolation that currently meets commuters as they leave the station.

Ultimately the mistake was planning for big development that never arrived a better visions would have opened up retail and food offers to strengthen the core offer in Little India.

The shops around Glen Waverly in Monash Council area shows that with a wide variety of food offers you create a destination shopping experience that offers something the large shopping complexes cannot.

The Council and State Government need to end the blame game and look at the following things under way:

• pop up art and culture displays to ensure no vacant shops

• create a $1 million economic boost fund for small strip shops like Little India (Darebin has done this)

• give rate relief in any area help business survive (Melbourne City Council has done this)

• lobby Places Victoria to suspend rents until foot traffic measures and car parking is put in place (this may take 2 years)

• Minister’s office should work with traders with town planners to create a new design that will allow traders to continue business in the long term and put in DDO controls to ensure any new development is staged in two or three stages to allow continuity of business in old shops until new shops are built (this would allow streets to stay open while each side was completed — a plan such as the one being put in place in Preston Market in Darebin Council by private developers).

The town planning vandalism around Little India has wiped out the lifetime nest eggs for many traders. It is not something you expect to happen in an open democracy.

The key failure of this whole project is that it has actually sought to destroy the existing unique cultural character of the area. This existing character should have really served as the basis of a renewal project based on expanding the current offer via food and entertainment to both revive the area at night and serve the large offices nearby during the day.

Both foot path treatments and road realignments actually take people away from Little India.

It has also put its faith in grand plans and pipe dreams of big money — when the renewal here needs to be driven by small business, affordable housing and an increase in car parking.

I love Little India and I am sure that it can not only be saved but it can be used to re-humanise this whole urban renewal project around Dandenong station. But the time for blame shifting is over and we need to see all levels of government bringing cutting edge ideas and some real dollars to repair the damage of this man-made town planning disaster.

Saving Little India should be the top of the list for the next Minister of Planning and not dependent on court action to get State Government to address the harm already done.

Every day of inaction and empty platitudes by the current Planning Minister is another day of suffering and worry for these businesses.

The writer is a Councillor in Darebin

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