Ideas from the past - updated August 2012

Not a proposal but Tony Blackmore's unformalised thoughts on how to make Brunswick a jewel in Melbourne's crown.

There was a Melbourne 2030 plan that in 2008 had some extreme developments planned for Brunswick. First I comment on that part that deals with the Jewell Station and Barkly Square area and the study produced by Melbourne University. For those unfamiliar, and I claim no expertise, there was a precursor plan to join Jewell Station to the city loop via Carlton with underground rail. Jewell Station was lowered and there was a clear view from Sydney Road to the park on the west side of the station area.

Using words from the report:

"The main aim of this project is to create vibrant, walkable public spaces that optimise the proximity to public transport in this area, while concentrating new developments of higher-density residential and commercial development on the industrial and commercial sites around Jewell station. Barkly Square is completely re-imaged in a way that integrates retail, commercial, cultural, community and residential uses around a new network of open-air, public streets and lanes focused on an extended Wilson Avenue that forms a new east-west link between the precinct's two areas of green space."

"Barkly Square is demolished and its main retail components redistributed on either side of Sydney Road as smaller, specialist supermarkets. These uses would be arranged along the extended east-west axis of Wilson Avenue to promote pedestrian flows throughout the area. At ground level, there would be a mix of retail, community and cultural uses, with a significant increase in office and residential uses above. The eastern end of Wilson Avenue connects this new precinct to the Barkly Street Park. A new tram stop and wide pedestrian crossing would be located where Wilson Avenue crosses Sydney Road."

As a relatively new resident I am unaware of the status of these plans, but they are extreme and involve the resumption of large areas of private land. Barkly Square is currently undergoing extensive renovation and extension, so that part of the plan is unlikely; and probably was never achievable.

The underground rail link is also a vague distant 'contemplation'.

So how do these affect the current proposal for developing the area around Jewell Station?

The public has been told that two areas of Vic Track land currently leased and inaccessible to the public are to be developed and part of the proceeds used to renovate the surrounds of Jewell Station. Does 'developed' mean 'sold to a developer'?

A reasonable view is that the Jewell Station proposal is to sell off of public land, spend a small amount on renovation and save the rest for matters nothing to do with our Brunswick environment. In other words we lose some public land and are expected to accept the renovation as a benefit.

The 'renovation' should be part of ongoing maintenance and the station surrounds should never have been allowed to get to their current state.

It is unarguable that the uncoordinated development of this public land will impede the current Metropolitan Planning Strategy.

What should be done?

I have a two stage proposal that is realistic. It has benefits for the Greater City of Melbourne and particularly for the residents of Brunswick.

Brunswick is an area with two faces. Some see it as a lower socio-economic community with low cost housing, a plethora of minor industries and a general air of shabbiness. I see its proximity to the city's major universities and the CBD, and its excellent transport facilities as a basis for it to become a real jewel in the greater Melbourne crown. I believe that was recognized in the 2008 work done on the Melbourne 2030 plan.

The largest piece of exploitable real estate in Brunswick is the rail corridor from Park Street to Moreland station currently occupied by the rail track and stations, a few leased areas and many weeds. There are nine level crossings, three controlled pedestrian crossings and a footbridge in this two kilometre stretch.

Sink the rail line from Park Street to Moreland Station independently of any underground connection issues, and immediately these traffic barriers are gone and hectares of land are available for development. Low cost cut and cover methods and the topography of this section of the rail corridor make such an idea sensible. The example of the lowered Subiaco station and line in Western Australia is strong evidence of the benefits that can follow an imaginative idea.

Vic Track say they need to operate as a business and generate their funds from appropriate use of their facilities. The funding for a project like sinking the rail line and stations is a different matter and one I see as similar to the funding for the current level crossing elimination activities. A quote from the premier says that a "key commitment to Victorian families was a $379 million blitz on metropolitan rail crossings". Eliminating nine crossings in one hit must be a winner.

The Jewell Station proposal should be abandoned while the idea of sinking the train line is assimilated.

During the years that this would take I propose the Linear Park idea, now adopted by the Friends of the Upfield Linear Park. (FULP) be implemented.

In 1998 the then rail authorities, Bayside Trains and Hillview Trains, and the councils for Melbourne, Moreland and Hume commissioned a study into the renovation of the rail corridor from Royal Park through to Upfield. The resulting report (Upfield Railway Line Habitat Landscape Concept 1998) is said to have won a prize and its recommendations appear to have been accepted at the time. No implementation followed although the report is referenced in Moreland Council planning documents in 2006. There is a community movement for re-activation. See sapani.id.au

The revised 2012 proposal is to start with the strip from Park St to Moreland Station. The corridor is to be fenced on each side of the track with good quality fencing such as weldmesh located 1.5 metres from the outside rail. Vic Track land and appropriate adjacent council land will be given an upgraded bike track, pedestrian paths where possible, plantations and other community facilities of a temporary nature. (10 year life) The cost will be in the $3million to $5million range. (See cost discussion at sapani.id.au/park ) Management of the new area could be by an organization formed by Vic Track, Metro Trains, Moreland City and a suitable community group. This also overcomes land and lease ownership issues and protection of rail assets.

Benefits:

  1. The upgraded strip will give surrounding property owners a taste of what the future sinking will provide in terms of offering a new "front yard" and encourage planning for appropriate redevelopment.
  2. The community at large will enjoy new recreational and human-powered travel areas.
  3. Commuters will enjoy nicer surroundings to travel through.
  4. The surrounds of four stations will be enhanced.
  5. Planning for a realistic 2030 re-imaging of Brunswick can take place in a better known environment.

Examples of new developments following the track sinking and biased towards technology enterprises to exploit the proximity to universities and hospitals:

  1. The large Vic Track area immediately south of Moreland Road to become a medical precinct. John Fawkner hospital has many fragmented medical businesses surrounding its existing site that could form a major regional medical centre, and it has expansion plans.
  2. The area south of Dawson Road to become a new, larger RMIT University campus.
  3. Others not yet resolved.

Objections:

There is an issue concerning fencing that dates from before Vic Track existed, that requires the minimum distance of a fence from the track to be 3 metres. The reasons are:

  1. Maintaining signal sightlines for train drivers.
  2. Avoiding tree branches falling on the lines.
  3. The need for access for sleeper replacement.
  4. A requirement for a 7 ton truck to have access.
  5. Protection of railway property.

The answer to these requirements is:

  1. Sleeper replacement technology has changed and is an uncommon event. In any case it was accepted in the 1998 study that temporary removal of fence wires was a satisfactory solution. Removal of weldmesh panels is similar.
  2. A continuous fence increases safety
  3. Sightlines and the branch issue can be regulated in a management agreement.
  4. There are hundreds of examples of encroachments to the 1.5 metre distance.
    1. Station platforms
    2. Level and pedestrian crossings
    3. Overhead wire stanchions
    4. Bridges
    5. Cuttings
    6. Tunnels
  5. Most property is already accessible to the public because there is easy access. Control boxes, buildings and most above ground structures are common sites for graffiti. Equipment such as underground cables, earthing points etc. can be specifically protected as part of the management requirements.
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