Why did the minister overrule the assessment committee?
The Victorian Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, was given advice by his own panel that the Hoddle Street Flyover should be deleted from the project. Despite this, the minister is pressing on with this destructive infrastructure. Why didn’t he accept the advice of his own advisory panel? To press ahead against the advice when the project (and the government) is already suffering a legitimacy problem would suggest there are some very strong drivers pushing for the flyover. Yet the Linking Melbourne Authority was unable to convince the Assessment Panel that the flyover was even necessary. So what could the drivers be? First we can look at reasons the Minister’s gave for disregarding the advice. The stated reasons for decision covers the flyover at Section 45.
I have rejected the Committee’s finding that the option for a flyover at the eastern end of the Project would be unacceptable for the following reasons: (a) The Project is of such significance to the State, and this interchange so critical to the design, that it is necessary and desirable that the eastern portal and access be resolved sooner rather than later and with this approval.
Resolved sooner rather than later. So the primary reason given is the great haste to get this project started before the election. This precludes a proper design of the eastern portal. Why does the flyover need to be resolved ahead of finalising the location of the eastern portal and vent stacks? The project still needs to figure out a Development Plan for the Flemington Road portal, and the whole route along Moonee Ponds creek is still underfined. So why the need to guillotine assesment of the poorly conceived flyover? One possible reasons is that the ALP has stated they will not support the flyover so this is an attempt to lock it in. Equally concerning is the role the flyover will play in turning Hoddle Street into the Hoddle Highway though North Fitzroy. Given the panel found there is no need for the flyover based on traffic projections, the real reason may be burried in VicRoads hidden agenda.
(b) In rejecting the flyover the Committee relied upon the possibility of an alternative design. No alternative design was exhibited and no alternative has been tested in the manner of the flyover. I do not agree that it is appropriate to describe the exhibited Project as unacceptable in the absence of a demonstrated and proven alternative.
This is just wrong. The 3068 Group exhibited an alternative design with a fly under instead of a flyover.
The City of Yarra exhibited an alternative dual diamond design. This was debated by experts on both sides.
The 3068 Group also presented a VicRoads design, also without flyover. This was developed in secret by Vic Roads and surfaced in the Northern Central City Corridor Study.
Even the LMA presented an alternative design with no flyover – albeit one thhat has extensive heritage and social housing impacts.
Clearly, the minister is badly informed about what evidence was actually exhibited to the panel.
(c) I do not accept the flyover is unacceptable in urban design terms having regard to: i. The element of subjectivity inherent in judgments such as this. This is demonstrated in this process by the differing opinions including expert opinions as to the visual impact of the flyover. There are many examples of public infrastructure around this state that continue to be the subject of differing opinions as to their visual impact. This does not render them unacceptable. There need be no “right” or “wrong” answer regarding the visual impact of the flyover;
The minister has no training or demonstrated interest in urban design. That’s why you have a panel. The planning panel was well informed by several urban design experts, including Rob McGauran.
One of the members of the panel, Jim Holdsworth is an ‘Architect with extensive experience in architectural, urban design and strategic planning matters. He has spent most of his career as a consultant urban designer and strategic planner’ [panel biography]. Mr Holdswoth in ‘Teaching Urban Design Skills‘, provides a definition from the urban design charter: “‘The practice of shaping the physical features and making high-quality connections between places and buildings for the enjoyable and safe activity of people’.“ The panel had not just the benefit of listening to recognised urban design experts under cross examination, but it also had expertise to assess their arguments properly. The panel got it right on the flyover. This humpty dumpty from the minister merely demonstrates the increasing desperation of the government to defend a shoddy and rushed design.
ii. The fact that the character of the general locality can reasonably be expected to undergo substantial change in built form and scale in response to current policy. There are also substantial urban renewal opportunities around Victoria Park Station and on underutilised industrial land along Hoddle Street and Alexandra Parade. This potential is envisaged in Plan Melbourne and I have made previous announcements singling out the opportunity of the area as part of an urban renewal pipeline. The potential for a new urban form and scale in the locality should not be underestimated when making long-term decisions now. I do not consider that a flyover is at odds with the built form scale change that can reasonably be expected to occur in the locality;
There is a big difference between urban renewal and heritage precincts. The flyover will degrade heritage precincts in a way that is unacceptable. While there will be some urban renewal around Alexandra Parade, the flyover is proposed to be inserted into an established heritage context. The noise and visual impact will affect most of Clifton Hill and a good part of Collingwood. All the urban design experts agreed there would be urban renewal. McGauran submitted that the redeveloped Victoria Park transit intershange should be the gateway element and the freeway infrastrucutre should be played down.
iii. An expert report before the Committee proffered that a flyover at this location could be designed to be respectful to its context and well resolved. I agree;
The minister has cherry picked one rather non definitive sentence from one expert report. The panel also read that report and listened to the cross examination of that expert, as well as other experts who had diffferent views. The panel is better qualified to assess the evidence, so why reject the panels finding?
iv. I consider that a flyover has the potential to be an important visual gateway feature and landmark in its own right. It is better not to shy away from achieving a well-designed flyover with visual interest. It can be designed to be a positive feature in the urban landscape;
There is already an important visual gateway feature and landmark. It is the heritage listed shot tower, one of the finest and probably the worlds tallest. Mr Lewis told the panel:
The signiﬁcance of the Clifton Hill Shot Tower was conﬁrmed by two of the world’s leading authorities on industrial heritage. One is Sir Neil Cossons, the founder of the Iron Bridge Museum and former chairman of English Heritage. Cossons is widely regarded as Britain’s leading authority on industrial heritage and has advised on matters of conservation and management widely in the UK and overseas. This has included the nomination of Japanese industrial heritage sites that represent the emergence of industrial Japan, 1850-1910, to the World Heritage Register in 2014. He inspected the Clifton Hill shot tower with me on 1 May 2010, whilst undertaking a tour of industrial sites of Melbourne, and it was the highlight of his day. He has studied shot towers in many countries, and in his opinion, the Clifton Hill shot tower has the most distinctive design for a shot tower, due to its scale, design and patterned brickwork.
The flyover is an ugly polluting road that will be an intrusion into the heritage precints it will dominate over. The public could easily be forgiven for believing that the tower over the flyover that was pressented in the LMA videos was part of the reference design and the minister’s decision. But the tower was never mentioned in the Comprehensive Impact Statement, its dimensions remain unpublished, it is not in any performance criteria and it is unlikely that a contractor would include it in their bid. Not that anyone would miss it. The tower is visual eye candy used to distract the public from seeing the unadorned flyover for what it is – an incogrous and polluting road loooming over an early Melbourne residential suburb.
v. Other road projects in the State have shown that elevated structures can be well resolved and interesting. I see no reason why a similar outcome appropriate to this context cannot be achieved here; and
Again it is not clear if the Minister is refering to the virtual tower or the flyover. The flyover could be an appropriate built form near the intersection of Eastlink and Citylink, or the Tullarmarine and Ring Road. It will be an unfortunate intrusion in the established urban context of the eastern portal. Perhaps the problem is that the minister can only imagine the view through his window as he is driven into the tunnel.
vi. Even if taken alone any of the impacts described by the Committee as unacceptable are taken to be so, the unacceptability is outweighed by the acceptability of the Project as a whole.
Ahem, so actually the committee did get it right. This is a concession that the impacts are unacceptable. The minister is overruling them anyway. If the acceptability of the project as a whole was established in the business case then 3000 people at the last rally must have missed it. The minister argues he does not need a business case because the project is a part of his ‘Plan Melbourne’, and therefore it is justified. Once again using the ministerial perogative to prove he is right because he agrees with himself that it is in his plan. Five of six members of the committee for Plan Melbourne resigned in disgust. Reasons given by the chair, Professor Roz Hansen, included
“Metropolitan road transport solutions used in the 1960s and 70s do not make a great 21st century city. The east-west concept and design is adopting old technology – it is not smart, innovative or progressive thinking. We are not being asked by government if we want this project; we are being told we must have it noting that there isn’t a week that goes by that the evidence against this project grows and grows,” Professor Hansen said. “It also sends a clear message to the international community that our government and its team of transport engineers are out of touch with best practice transport planning.”
Not a lot of support there.
(d) I do not accept that the flyover should be rejected on the grounds of cultural heritage. Any detrimental impact on cultural heritage values is more than offset by the benefits of the Project and the landmark potential of the flyover. I would make this finding even if I agreed with the Committee as to the extent of impact on cultural heritage. In my assessment of the cultural heritage impacts I give considerable weight to the extent to which the locality can reasonably be expected to change over time in response to urban renewal and development opportunities round Victoria Park station and underutilised industrial sites along Hoddle Street and Alexandra Parade. I have already referred to the urban renewal aspirations of Plan Melbourne. It will be necessary for heritage assets and new development to be juxtaposed to some degree to achieve important land use and development outcomes.
Here the minister is confounding the urban renewal around former industrial sites of no heritage value with the highly intact residential precincts that will be destroyed permanently. Demolishing homes in intact heritage precincts is an impact, not an opportunity.
(e) I also do not accept that the visual integrity of the Shot Tower will be unacceptably compromised by the Project or a flyover. The inner urban context of the Shot Tower and the surrounding policy context are such that it ought not be expected to maintain the prominence it may once have had. It will maintain sufficient presence to be read and understood as a local landmark and heritage asset but its landmark presence will understandably be diminished over time as the surrounding area is built up. In this respect the local recognition of the Shot Tower as a landmark must not be taken out of context.
The shot tower is recognised as a landmark in the Victorian Planning Scheme. It is also listed as being of State Significance on the Victorian Heritage Register. Conservation architect Nigel Lewis made an important submission on the Shot Tower. The tragedy of the Yorkshire Brewery in Robert St, Collingwood is that ugly modern buildings were allowed to obscure views so much that this beautiful tower, once visible from Victoria Parade, is now barely visible to the public. Is this to be the fate of the shot tower?
(f) As to other specific heritage impacts, for reasons given, I do not consider that a project of this scale, importance and potential ought be designed to avoid property acquisition or demolition in the Gold Street Precinct (HO321) and Clifton Hill Western Precinct (HO317) (Recommendation 26). Whether the proposed Project Area ought be extended to include more properties here can be considered by the Project Authority after final design and assessed in the Property Impact Report that I have required as a condition of approval of the Project. The Property Impact Report can also inform any future variations or decisions and whether further acquisition or voluntary purchase of properties should take place and whether any further mitigation measures will be required
Using the strategic importance of the road to ignore the impacts is wrong headed and misplaced. The demolition of Gold and Wellington Street is only required for a temporary side track. The project could be built as planned using construction alternatives to the temporary road. This impact has nothing to do with the ‘importance’ of the project – it is purely about cost and the rushed manner in which to the project has been thrown together.
I do not accept the Committee’s finding that the flyover is not “justified” by traffic volumes, nor do I accept (if it is suggested) that the flyover must be “justified” by traffic volumes. Even if the traffic counts and predictions are unresolved this is not a precondition for approval of the design of this significant interchange. I also proceed on the basis that predictions of future traffic volumes are influenced by the assumptions used in the models including other land use and development in the area and further afield. The more critical factor in my reasoning is the opportunity to design an elevated structure as part of the gateway at Hoddle Street. I note the Committee did not find that the flyover would not be effective for its traffic function. I agree.
This minister has not even attempted to rebut the damning evidence that the flyovere has no strategic value and is an overkill. If it is not needed for traffic then it is just a cheese stick. Why is it critical to design an elevated structure as part of the gateway? Is this a monument to someone or something? If an elevated structure was required, then by all means design something appropriate for the context, but don’t confuse the sculptural aspects with the actual purpose of the project. The panel did not find that there was any justification for the flyover. Unlike the cheese sticks the flyover will be noisy and polluting. Even if the need for a gateway is established, it is already well marked by the shot tower which is quite dramatic when it catches the morning and evening sun. Again that the minister does not distinguish beteweeen the tower shown in the visualisations and the flyover. The tower is not part of the reference design.
(h) The visual impacts of the flyover from nearby properties on the west side of Hoddle Street will need to be, and can be, assessed in the detailed design of the Project. These properties can be included in the Property Impact Report I have required as a condition of my approval. (i) The opportunity to investigate relocation of the tunnel portal or portals to the east can be investigated in the design of the Project if that is considered appropriate by the Project Authority. However if this is to occur, and the Project is to be altered on that basis, such a substantial change should occur as a variation to the Project and not as a requirement of this approval. The nature of such a change is such that it may be appropriate for further and other advice if it is to be considered. (j) I have included a condition on the approval decision to require the submission to me of a Development Plan for the final design of the eastern flyover before its construction. (k) Consistent with this reasoning the sidetrack should remain but can be the subject of further consideration during the detailed design and construction process. The Committee suggested that further guidelines may be necessary to protect residential amenity abutting the sidetrack area. While I agree residential amenity ought to be protected I consider that this matter can be dealt with in the final design and in the Construction Environmental Management Plan.
The visual impacts of the flyover have already been assessed and found to be deficient. The minister had an opporutnity to protect residential amenity and failed to do so. The minister has not ruled out moving the tunnel portal to the east as recommended by the panel. Persumably this includes leeway to move the air pollution shafts away from residences and schools. These stacks will be spewing out Class 1 diesel carcinogens from the trucks in the tunnel, adding to the already dangerous air quality. He has left that decision up to the cash strapped international conglomerates bidding for the project. The road building conglomerates have even less regard for residential amenity than the government, reporting only to their international shareholders. Thanks a lot Mr Guy.
On July 1, further information was provided when Minster Guy spoke to John Faine on 774. At 5’20” Faine asks why not move the portal further east as the panel recommended. Guy says “there wasn’t any geological advice to say whether that could be done” He goes on to suggest that LMA may still do in the final plan.
Again, advice was provided. The area east of Hoddle Street is already part of the Eastern Freeway road widening, so already within the project. The area is well understood geologically, having been subject to both road and rail studies. LMA provided an argumet to the panel that the portals cannot be too close to Merri Creek due to flooding risk. Maybe. However there is more than 600m between Hoddle St and the Creek and almost a kilometer to where the portals are planned near Gold Street Primary School.