Actor Sigrid Thornton in the deli section of the Queen Victoria Market. Photo: Stefan PostlesFor some time, big change has appeared inevitable at the Queen Victoria Market.
But there is a shift in the wind.
Opposition to the largest redevelopment in the institution’s 140-year history has been growing louder. And with a famous Australian pledging themselves to the cause, the project’s proponents could well be feeling nervous.
Actor Sigrid Thornton is among a growing chorus of shoppers and traders concerned that the revamp will see the market sanitised into something closer to a supermarket.
Many want the current plans for the $250 million project scrapped in favour of a cheaper, modest refurbishment.
Thornton has shopped at the Melbourne landmark for about 40 years, forming some close relationships with traders over that time.
The SeaChange star said she felt compelled to speak out, defending the “haphazard” and organic qualities of the market.
“The Queen Victoria Market is the jewel, I think, in the crown because it is very original market, in the way that it still operates like it has since its inception,” Thornton said.
“We don’t want to outprice the diverse range of shoppers that shop there at the moment. We don’t need refrigeration underground so we can cool store the produce and make it more like supermarket produce.”
Thornton said the market was in need of a subsidised parking, some weather protection for traders and better publicity, but not “another David Jones food hall”.
“I’m really concerned that spending close to $300 million on the market is an unnecessary expense and that we could spend more like $50 million and have a market that is better than the one we have now,” she said.
In the latest implementation plans announced by Melbourne City Council, the market’s open-air heritage sheds (A to D), will be temporarily dismantled and restored to make way an underground service area.
The current car park will be turned into a 1.5 hectare park and there are plans to close Therry Street and the top end of Queen Street for a new pedestrian space.
The council has also been negotiating in secret with developer PDG to build car park, childcare centre and, possibly a high-rise tower on council-owned site neighbouring the market.
A shield of confidentiality around this contract has added fuel to complaints about a lack of detailed information about the revamp and how it will impact long-term traders.
“It is a little bit like an episode of Utopia in my view. There are shifting sands, we don’t really understand what is being proposed,” Thornton said.
“There hasn’t been proper transparency in the consultation process.”
Until recently, preparations for the redevelopment had been progressing relatively smoothly, despite persistent complaints from some traders.
Friends of Queen Victoria Market “co-author” Mary-Lou Howie said the involvement of the National Union of Workers in the past few months had given disgruntled traders a greater sense of power.
“We felt losers for the long time. The game changers are the unions,” she said.
Former independent politician Phil Cleary, who is also considering a request to run for Melbourne lord mayor in upcoming elections, is calling for a moratorium on the revamp.
“They will rip the heart out of it. They will sanitise it. They will turn into a supermarket,” Mr Cleary said.
However, a majority of current Melbourne councillors, including Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, support the plan and it is expected that construction could begin on the new car park next year.
Councillor Stephen Mayne said he did not believe the upcoming council elections would derail the long-awaited market redevelopment.
“I would be very surprised if Robert Doyle lost,” Cr Mayne said.
“He’s done a good job and I think there is widespread support for the concept for the biggest investment in council’s history to save the Queen Victoria Market, which has been in decline.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.