There are numerous issues affecting Melbourne's inner west... these are some of the key concerns.
In 2013 the Regional Rail Link Authority made a fateful decision to use an old train flyover next to Railway Place as part of their new rail project. The original RRL plan had been to build a new flyover closer to Southern Cross Train Station but this idea was scrapped to cut costs on the project. Up until 2014 about 6 diesel trains a day used the flyover; now that the Regional Rail Link is complete more than 180 diesel powered regional and interstate trains a day are using the Railway Place flyover. These trains are operating less than 15-metres from homes along Railway Place and the noise, vibration and air pollution is impacting on this growing community. Transurban's plan to put a road parallel to the Regional Rail Link and Metro train lines will only add more noise and air pollution in the local environment and make the proposed E-Gate site even more uninviting for potential developers and eventual occupants.
Reusing the old train flyover in West Melbourne saved the Regional Rail Link money in the short term, but it has come at a cost; the two tight turns on the old flyover are causing excessive wear to both train wheels and tracks. In February of 2016 the train lines were closed for a few days while workers replaced 800-metres of track with stronger rails. Wheels on V/Line's VLocity passenger trains have also needed replacing. Because of this wear to wheels and tracks several measures have had to be implemented including adding lubricant to the turns on the flyover and reducing the speed at which trains can travel over the flyover. You can read more about the problems being created by the old train flyover in this report by The Institute of Rail Technology (Monash University) for V/Line... More.
The decision to use the old train flyover has also created problems for regional commuters. Prior to the implementation of the Regional Rail Link, regional trains stopped frequently at North Melbourne Train Station and this gave regional commuters the opportunity to catch 401 buses to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Melbourne University campuses, a short journey of just a few minutes. Now these same commuters have to take the train into the city and then catch one or more trains, trams or buses to get to their same destination. Ironically, Western Distributor staff are using both the hospitals and the universities as part of their argument for bringing traffic off the Western Distributor and across the E-Gate site into Spencer Street. This extra traffic will struggle with the already congested inner city streets, and when commuters do reach the hospital and university precincts they will also struggle to find affordable car parking.
The train lines next to North Melbourne Train Station and the E-Gate site consume over 40 hectares of land directly between the suburbs of West Melbourne and Docklands. The problem for both suburbs, is that there is no direct access across this site. Even though the North Melbourne Train Station (located in West Melbourne) is just 500-metres as the crow flies from Docklands, commuters who work in the north end of Docklands have to walk closer to 1.4 kilometres to get to their destination. This divide also affects West Melbourne and North Melbourne residents who want to go to Docklands. The most direct way to get between West Melbourne and Docklands is to walk along Railway Place, past Festival Hall and then beneath the train overpass on Dudley Street. Once at the corner of Dudley Street and Footscray Road it can take pedestrians and cyclists another two or three minutes to cross the nine lanes of traffic and two tram lines that divide this intersection.
The divide between West Melbourne and Docklands not only makes it difficult for locals and commuters to get between the two suburbs, it also makes it difficult for businesses in the north of Docklands to survive. Numerous shops and restaurants were established soon after Docklands first became a waterfront destination, but as visitor growth stalled, so too did many businesses. Numerous restaurants have failed over the years, and Harbour Town Melbourne is more of a clearance centre than a thriving shopping centre. Many businesses are now biding time until their leases expire, then it will be the challenge for property owners and developers to lease these shops to new tenants again. Long term, the struggle of small businesses in Docklands will go on to affect corporate land owners and eventually the broader community.
West Melbourne and Docklands both have car parking issues. In West Melbourne it is almost impossible to get a car park some days. Commuters regularly park in the suburb and walk into the city and if there is a game on at Etihad Stadium or a concert at Festival Hall, people from the outer suburbs will often drive to West Melbourne and then walk to these venues. Added pressure is now being put onto local parking as more developers ask for exemptions as they build new apartment buildings in the suburb. Docklands has its own parking problems too; the large red carpark building that covers 1-hectare of land next to Harbour Town Melbourne is under-utilised to the point that now they offer $10-all day parking to commuters who want to park there and use the free CBD tram service to make the rest of their way into work. Developers also have the challenge of not being able to build basement carparks into new buildings simply because of the proximity of these developments to the harbour.
If you have a look at a map of Melbourne you will see there is a lot of green space and parkland to the north, east and south of Melbourne's CDB, and yet there is very little parkland to the west of the CBD. The reason for this goes back as far as the mid-1800s when the state's first governor, Lieutenant General Charles La Trobe decided to create large parklands for the city that we now know as Royal Park, Princes Park, Flagstaff Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens, Treasury Gardens, Domain Parklands, Fawkner Park and Carlton Gardens. The reason why the inner west missed out on parkland was that in the mid-1850's, Docklands and neighbouring West Melbourne were both industrial landscapes. In recent decades though, both suburbs have seen dramatic population growth, and now the lack of parkland is starting to become a concern, both for residents and the City of Melbourne. Adding to the challenge is that land is now dramatically more expensive to acquire for parkland than it was in Charle's La Trobe's time.
Transurban's plan to add more roads across the E-Gate site (as in Transurban's illustration above) would be an unfortunate use for this land that has the potential to resolve so many of the issues mentioned above. Not only would the two new roadways create even more division between West Melbourne and Docklands, it would also add to the noise and air pollution in this corner of the city, it would devalue the land even more for developers in the area and it would reduce the overall quality of living for people living in the inner west. What is just as important to realise though, is that adding these new roads is unlikely to improve traffic conditions for people driving into or out of the CBD. Transurban's own traffic engineers already admit that traffic in the city is nearing capacity, and so this does raise the questions - do we really need these roads over the E-Gate site, and are there better uses for this land?
Western Connection believes there are better outcomes to be had from both the E-Gate Development and the Western Distributor projects.
Click through to see our vision for E-Gate, the Western Distributor and the inner west... More