Developer wins approval for $2b ‘mini city' in Melbourne's north
The $2 billion masterplanned project will include offices, shops, housing and healthcare facilities.

Developer wins approval for $2b ‘mini city' in Melbourne's north

More than seven years after buying the former Epping quarry in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, developer Riverlee, has won approval from the City of Whittlesea to turn the 51ha site into a $2 billion mixed-use precinct of offices, shops, healthcare facilities, hotels and housing.

The family-run developer, founded in 1993 by architect Clement Lee, paid almost $14 million in 2015 for what was then a dormant 46ha site at 215 Cooper Street – next door to the Northern Hospital and the Pacific Epping shopping centre.

Since then, Riverlee has acquired adjoining parcels to expand the site to 51ha, laying the foundations for the development of a “mini city” about 18 km north of the Melbourne CBD to be called New Epping.

In 2017, Riverlee won council support for a planning scheme amendment to rezone the former quarry and landfill site from industrial use to mixed-use, as part of plans back then for a $1.2 billion project including a 300-bed private hospital, 2000 new homes and 80,000 square metres of commercial space. This rezoning was gazetted in August 2020.

A more ambitious $2 billion development plan released in 2021 that included a 7ha healthcare and wellness precinct, 110,000 sq m of commercial space and 2000 homes was approved by the City of Whittlesea on Tuesday, paving the way for Riverlee to lodge permit applications for future buildings of up to 12 storeys.

Under the approved development plan, the site will be divided into five neighbourhoods: a living quarter offering mostly apartments and townhouses; two mixed-use urban quarters that will include offices, shops, hotels, warehousing and housing; a health quarter with a private hospital (already under construction) and a conservation quarter running through the middle including a nature reserve.

Stage one of New Epping comprising a $133 million private hospital and 151 social and affordable apartments was fast-tracked by the Victorian Government’s Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce in December 2020.

These apartments have been completed with residents to start moving in this week. The hospital, which will be operated by Ramsay Health Care, is due to open in the first quarter of 2024.

Riverlee development director David Lee said the integrated mixed-use development had been designed to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population – the City of Whittlesea population of 220,000 people is expected to almost double over the next 18 years, reaching 380,000 by 2041.

“We want New Epping to set a new standard in urban renewal, with a more thoughtful approach to how we regenerate infill sites and integrate mixed-use communities,” Mr Lee said.

“Diversity is key to the success in a mixed-use precinct – that is what makes for a resilient community.”

Expected to take 15 years to complete, New Epping is forecast to contribute more than $3.4 billion to the state economy – about 1 per cent of Victoria’s GDP – and provide 7200 jobs once fully operational. More than 600 construction workers will be required annually on the project.

City of Whittlesea chair administrator Lydia Wilson praised Riverlee’s vision for the site, which she said built on the key cornerstones of the local community being healthcare, the need for quality housing for people at all stages of life and sustainability.

“With its challenging site conditions, the former Epping quarry has laid dormant for decades. Its transformation is something the entire community can look forward to,” Ms Wilson said.

For Riverlee, the New Epping project cements its position as one of Melbourne’s biggest private developers.

Its other developments include the $550 million Seafarers mixed-use project on the northern bank of the Yarra. The development, which is under construction and due for completion next year, includes Australia’s first 1 Hotel & Homes.

Riverlee is also part of the consortium developing the $11 billion Lovely Banks estate north of Geelong.