Gardeners near Tullamarine Freeway uprooted then rebooted amid East West Link confusion

The Age: Gardeners near Tullamarine Freeway uprooted then rebooted amid East West Link confusion. Clay Lucas, City Editor, The Age. October 2, 2014

For 36 years Roger Exell has grown everything – from tomatoes, beans, carrots and celery to daffodils and jonquils – on his six-by-three-metre plot at the Essendon Community Gardens.

“I’ve got a peach tree in my plot, and there’s a lemon tree that I planted, too,” said Mr Exell, 73, a retired food industry employee.

The gardens opened with a handful of plots in 1978 on badly degraded land next to Moonee Ponds Creek and the Tullamarine Freeway.

Today, there are 75 plots, toilets, two 10,000-litre water tanks and a pavilion that City West Water gave the gardens a grant to build, where the committee holds its meetings. There’s a waiting list to get a plot, too.

On Tuesday, Moonee Valley City Council and the garden’s vice president were told by the Napthine government’s road authority the garden would be bulldozed to make way for the East West Link.

The new $6.8 billion toll road will link the Eastern Freeway to CityLink – which runs near the gardens.

But on Thursday afternoon, after inquiries by The Age, the garden appeared to have been spared the bulldozer.

A Linking Melbourne Authority spokeswoman said: “While it had appeared originally that relocation may be an option, we have confirmed with East West Connect [the consortium building the toll road] that the land is not needed and we informed the Essendon Community Gardens of that today – they are staying put, which is great news.”

The government is planning a four-lane on and off ramp built near where the gardens now sit. The expanded interchange, at Ormond and Brunswick roads, will make it possible to get on and off East West Link.

John Hassell, the gardens’ vice-president, said he had been rung on Tuesday by the authority with the bad news. Mr Hassell said he was now not sure what to expect at a meeting the authority had requested at the gardens on Friday morning.

“It could be an episode of Utopia,” Mr Hassell said, referring to the ABC satire. “On Tuesday we were bluntly told they were compulsorily acquiring the community gardens. Now I’m not sure what they are saying.”

Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said the process surrounding the community gardens was “shambolic”, and a sign of how quickly the project was being rushed through.

“Taxpayers ought to be alarmed by this,” Mr Tee said. “This isn’t the way you should be running a major project in Victoria.”

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