The conversation

The draft City River Strategy (referred to as Yarra River - Birrarung Strategy) was developed to guide future planning for the inner city section of the Yarra River.

The draft strategy includes 14 proposed strategic directions under four themes: Culture, Ecology, Movement and Place.

From 17 April to 7 July 2019 we asked the community about what is important to them in our emerging vision for the Yarra River. Over 200 responses made suggestions to the draft strategy document.

Targeted stakeholder consultation also took place from August to October 2019.

Gathering insights

We collected feedback through:

  • face-to-face engagement activities
  • an online survey
  • pop-ups along the river
  • stakeholder meetings
  • an ideas forum.

128 comments on the ideas forum

100+ face-to-face pop-up session responses

79 online survey responses

13 stakeholder submissions

What we heard

Culture – Heritage and narrative

You said:

We heard:

  • Traditional Owners must be acknowledged via a visible presence in any changes to the river or its banks.
  • First People's input is valued, equating it with returning to more environmentally sound principles.
  • Historical connections to the river should be recognised and a strong narrative should be present and accessible to river visitors.
  • We should celebrate post-contact maritime history alongside Aboriginal history, as well as the histories of trade, immigration, and recreation as valuable aspects of the river's story.
  • At least 87% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the Culture directions.

Level of support for strategic directions:

C1: Collaborative

Establish on-going collaboration with Traditional Owner groups to help tell the story of the Aboriginal connection to the Birrarung.

C2: Visible

Increase the public visibility of Aboriginal intangible heritage and the history of the Birrarung through interpretation and information.

C3: Maritime

Recognise the historical and contemporary importance of the maritime uses of Birrarung.

Ecology – Habitat and water

You said:

We heard:

  • It's important that we have a healthy and useable river; ideally one we can swim in one day.
  • A healthy river is one that is ecologically robust, biologically diverse, and in may cases planted with native vegetation – resembling as closely as possible pre-European settlement states.
  • A whole-of-river-system approach, with appropriate planting is necessary, as opposed to piecemeal river modifications.
  • We need to be environmentally responsible. This will have positive outcomes and benefits to communities.
  • At least 97% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the Ecology directions.

Level of support for strategic directions:

E1: Riparian greening

Re-introduce a riparian zone to improve water habitat, biodiversity and create a healthy river ecosystem.

E2: Ecologically connected

Optimise the urban vegetation along the river banks prioritising an Indigeneous palette to improve local biodiversity and ecological networks.

E3: Resilient

Address flood risk and improve water quality.

Place – Activity and character

You said:

We heard:

  • It would be good if the river developments included a new public swimming pool.
  • The river should be the setting for a wide range of uses and activities, but especially for active and passive recreation.
  • Water pollution, litter, graffiti and other issues need to be addressed as they detract from the river's natural amenity value.
  • The river ought to be an attractive and inviting destination for visitors.
  • At least 90% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the Place directions.

Level of support for strategic directions:

P1: Inviting

Prioritise Northbank renewal to create an inviting backdrop to the city.

P2: Multi-functional

Celebrate character areas and encourage new economies: a range of civic, educational, cultural, hospitality and water dependant uses.

P3: Public

Sustain the civic focus by encouraging activation that offers broader inclusion and supports a public waterfront.

P4: Legible

Rationalise clutter and on-water infrastructure to ensure unobstructed vistas and views.

Movement – Journey and connection

You said:

We heard:

  • Walking and cycling should be encouraged; however, the current state of shared paths is problematic for pedestrians (who feel unsafe) and commuter cyclists (who want to travel faster), as well as for tourists.
  • Perhaps there could be alternative routes for fast cyclists, which might be separated from other transport modes.
  • It's important that all the city river reach areas are accessible, with ease of movement in and between them. More coherent and cohesive design would create logical routes and simpler wayfinding.
  • It would be good to see more watercraft available and used, particularly non-motorised vessels and public transport.
  • At least 85% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the Movement directions.

Level of support for strategic directions:

M1: Slow

Distinguish the river as a slower paced environment by creating safe, alternative north and south bicycle routes.

M2: Integrated

Transform the condition of key ‘barriers’ to address the gaps to the north-west and integrate access with the city.

M3: Accessible

Raise the quality and universal accessibility of riverfront pathways.

M4: Water transport

Encourage more water related activity and greater diversity of vessels, particularly more non-motorised crafts.


The feedback we heard is helping us finalise the draft City River Strategy. The final document will be presented to the Future Melbourne Committee for endorsement.

The vision and priorities in the plan will provide Council with an agreed direction for future improvements to the river to be delivered through capital works, advocacy and collaboration with State government, the private sector and other partners.

Feedback is also being shared with Melbourne Water, who is currently undertaking the Yarra Strategic Plan. The insights gained through this consultation provides an understanding of key ideas and opportunities for river improvement that have the greatest community support.

Final strategy

Key feedback areas addressed in the Yarra River - Birrarung Strategy (formerly known as City River Strategy):

A ‘movement plan’ has been added outlining improvements to city routes leading to and along the riverfront. Priority areas for change include improved pedestrian crossings and reconfigured roadways to improve pedestrian connections.

An Activation Plan has been added to provide greater guidance on priorities and the location of future activation nodes highlighting areas of opportunity for greater activation along the Yarra River, Birrarung. Different activities are recommended for each of the activation nodes in the Maritime, City and Parkland precincts. Activation Guiding Principles are also provided to assist planning and assessment of activation proposals.

A key change is the title of the Strategy, which incorporates both the names Yarra River and Birrarung, acknowledging the current and Traditional Owners’ name of the river.

The Strategy provides an agreed City of Melbourne direction for the river, seeks to create alignment and identify mutual beneficial outcomes with key stakeholders where possible. The implementation plan lists the policies and actions and the key external organisations that City of Melbourne will need to engage with in order to achieve results. The Strategy is intended to be used alongside the State Government’s Yarra Strategic Plan (once finalised) to guide consistent decision-making across responsible public entities for projects and proposals relating to Yarra River land.

Greater emphasis on maritime history is included in the Strategy and specific policies and actions relating to this. A new policy objective advocates for Maritime Heritage to be considered in planning and design for key opportunity areas (Policy six). Development of an interpretation strategy, including storytelling and signage for the river drawing from the maritime trading heritage, is a key action in the Strategy (Action ten).

Many submissions focused on the need for improvements to Northbank. Illustrations demonstrating the potential improvements for the key spaces; Batman Park, Enterprize Park, Banana Alley and Flinders Walk, have been included.

A new policy is included to address planning scheme gaps in sunlight protection to the river and adjacent public spaces outside the Capital City Zone (Action four).

A technical review of the idea to reinstate the Falls shows it is not be viable in the original location due to flooding implications. The reference about reinstatement of the falls has been removed and instead the Strategy promotes referencing the Falls and other Aboriginal sites of significance in the future design of public realm projects, art installations and interpretation (Action nine, ten, eleven).

The idea of a pool and opportunities to improve water quality including reducing litter was a key focus of feedback. A policy on improving river water quality have been included (Policy five) and the Activation Plan recommends water dependant activities such as the potential for an urban beach and swimming pool in the Maritime precinct character area (west of Spencer Street). Another action is to work with Victorian government, including Parks Victoria, to deliver general maintenance upgrades, including management of litter (Action 15).

Yarra River - Birrarung Strategy