Zoo’s East West Link car park uncertain as planning minister overrules road authority

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The Age: Zoo’s East West Link car park uncertain as planning minister overrules road authority. October 12, 2014 Clay Lucas City Editor, The Age

Petra Stock at a park near the zoo which is earmarked to become a carpark. Photo: Angela Wylie

It is surrounded by two car parks and rail and tram lines, but it is still a quiet and little-used triangle of Royal Park grassland.

Not for long. As part of the East West Link, it will soon be a car park for hundreds of workers on the project.

And, when the toll road is finished, the government’s Linking Melbourne Authority says it will be remodelled as a permanent car park for 400 zoo visitors.

Petra Stock at a park near the zoo which is earmarked to become a carpark. Photo: Angela Wylie

But despite the government’s own road authority saying the car park will be built there permanently, the plan may have hit a significant hurdle: Planning Minister Matthew Guy.

Melbourne Zoo has been campaigning behind the scenes for a new car park as a “legacy” from the East West Link.

Last week the zoo was told it had got its new permanent car park, on 12,000 square metres of parkland next door.

A Linking Melbourne Authority spokeswoman said the triangle of land would initially accommodate construction workers’ cars, and then be “upgraded for permanent use” by both the zoo and the nearby State Netball and Hockey Centre, at the end of construction in 2019.

But on Friday, Matthew Guy told The Sunday Age the Linking Melbourne Authority had not made a request to him for a permanent car park on the site once construction was finished.

This meant it would ultimately have to be returned to parkland.

“The existing approval conditions remain in place, which require the temporary car park to be removed after the project concludes in 2019,” he said. “I will not be reversing my position on this matter.”

Little would have been known of the Melbourne Zoo’s behind-the-scenes campaign to expand its existing 1300-space car park were it not for environmental engineer Petra Stock.

With a decade’s experience on major projects such as the Calder Freeway, Pakenham Bypass, Barwon Heads Bridge and quarry projects, Ms Stock is also a mother of two who takes her children to the zoo weekly.

Having seen as an engineer how big projects affected wildlife, she was curious to see the zoo so relaxed about construction works that would come within 150 metres of its animals.

“Zoo management seemed to be constantly stating in the media how ‘comfortable’ they were with the project,” Ms Stock said. “Their public position didn’t make any sense to me.”

Ms Stock said she then “got interested in trying to understand what the zoo might have to gain from the project”.

And so she peppered the zoo and its parent departments with Freedom of Information requests over six months. Ms Stock obtained a previously unseen document that put forward a plan for a car park on the Royal Park site, and minutes from a zoo board meeting that made clear it was encouraging bidders to leave the zoo a “legacy” – in the form of a new car park.

The minutes also showed the zoo this year renamed its “Expansion Committee” the “East West Link Project Committee”

“I was surprised to find the zoo pushing for more car parking,” she said. “Zoos Victoria promotes itself as a conservation organisation and I can’t see how replacing parkland with car parking fits in with that.”

But a spokeswoman for the Melbourne Zoo said its “core contribution” to the East West Link had always been ensuring the welfare of its animals.

The project’s construction plan had specific requirements inserted for the zoo, including noise, light and vibration, she said.

In response to questioning over how the zoo’s demand for more car parking fitted with its role as a conservation organisation, she pointed to campaigns on palm oil, recycled toilet paper and mobile phone recycling.

And she said that, while the zoo encouraged more people to come via public transport, the huge jump in visitor numbers since childrens’ entry was made free meant many came from outer suburban or regional areas. “Car is their only option,” she said.

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