Sunday, 23 June 2019

Moonee Valley Council Drops the Ball on Heritage - The Sorry Tale of Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Those who have been following the narrative of late from the Bloodied Wombat and Moonee Valley Heritage Action will be familiar with the argument - our suburban Councils are simply not up to the job of managing and maintaining our heritage inventory, as Melbourne experiences the largest ever development wave in the city's history.

It seems we go barely a week these days without another news story appearing in the media of a heritage property which the community rightly expects to be protected having been left wholly unprotected by the relevant Council and facing demolition.

The contributory factors are invariably different, but the golden thread running through them all is Councils either not having either the resources, or the willpower, or are applying heritage methodology in a slapdash and inconsistent fashion, with the effect of leaving significant properties unprotected.

This is the topic of a forthcoming blog post, as the time has come for the heritage community to stand up and demand that the power for nominating significant properties to receive heritage overlays under the Melbourne Planning Scheme be taken out of the hands of councils, and handed to a central statewide body - which in turn needs to be resourced to bring the statewide heritage inventory up to date across all major periods. But more on that to come.

Today, I want to consider just one case study - the application of heritage controls in Charles Street, Ascot Vale under the auspices of Moonee Valley City Council, and in particular the current threat to what is arguably the most significant heritage property in the street - number 81 Charles Street, which now faces demolition owing to past Council failures.

Under Threat - 81 Charles Street, Ascot Vale

81 Charles Street - Nobody in Charge

The significance of number 81 Charles Street can scarcely be in question - whether you are familiar with heritage methodology or not. It's a triple fronted Victorian weatherboard, of exemplary scale, form and in-tactness.

While I'd stop just short of calling it a "mansion" (a much abused term in heritage circles), it's an extremely large four bedroom property on a very sizeable corner block, dating to around the time of original subdivision of the street within what was originally known as the Whiskey Hill precinct, which makes it circa 1885 in terms of its build date.

CLEARLY significant - 81 Charles Street, Ascot Vale

The large wraparound verandah and front bay window are relatively unusual for the period, elevating the property above the standard the typical double fronted Victorian weatherboard, and of course the standard in Moonee Valley at least is that most Victorian weatherboards of that lesser typology actually do have heritage protection. Where is the consistency?

The current owners purchased the property in August 2017 for $1.7m, and have now applied to demolish the building in order to replace it with a proposed subdivided townhouse development, no doubt with the prospect of a large financial windfall awaiting them, with the three townhouses expected to sell for $1.2m+ each, the mathematics is fairly unequivocal.

Proposed redevelopment - Charles Street aspect

Council has received in excess of 80 objections to the proposal - on several significant grounds other than heritage. See Appendix A at the foot of this blog for a detailed summary of many of the bases of those objections.

Proposed redevelopment - Progress/Charles Street aspect
81 Charles Street - current Progress Street aspect

The Ascot Vale land that forms Charles Street today was originally owned by early settler George Newsom, who sold it off as the Myross Estate to Mt Charles Brown Fisher and his brother Hurtle, from where they successfully bred thoroughbred horses for their "Maribyrnong Stud"until selling the land for housing in 1885. The current house was built on the site between 1885 and 1890 as "Amboyne", at what was originally number 99, but which was changed to 81 in 1926. Its original occupant was a tenant - one Edward J. McCheane, whose profession was given in the electoral rolls as simply "clerk" (historical information courtesy Essendon Historical Society).

The History - How Moonee Valley Council Dropped the Ball

The saddest chapter of all in this really quite maudlin tale is ... wait for it ... Council actually did have a heritage overlay on this property up until 2013, when HERITAGE PROTECTION WAS REMOVED.

The virtual entirety of this (southern) side Charles Street from numbers 5-127, as well as 6-38 on the northern side was originally included within Heritage Overlay HO20, which also covers Monash Street, running parallel to the south of Charles Street and surrounding streets down to Langs Road, where HO20 still applies to this day.

The overlay also covered properties in Kingston Avenue - which connects Charles and Monash at the Maribyrnong River end of the street. On inspection, we agree that the properties in Kingston Avenue should certainly have been removed from the overlay and are of no value in heritage terms, but the same in no way applies in Charles Street itself.

At Moonee Valley Heritage Action, we find the assertion that the properties in Monash Street are significant and contiguous such that they warrant a precinct overlay but the same case does not apply in Charles Street is extremely tenuous at best.

According to Moonee Valley Council, these properties in Monash Street are significant,
but a triple fronted weatherboard with wraparound verandah and bay windows dating to the 1880s in the next street is not.

All one has to do is take a short walk to the end of Progress Street. Consider the above two significantly altered and non-representative properties are 100% protected from demolition, but neither 81 Charles Street, nor any of the other properties that we will examine in detail below have the slightest form of protection. Even the most untrained and skeptical of eyes would be driven to ask again "where is the consistency here?"

Outcomes Out of Step With the Community

What is asserted is that Councils are simply taking the path of least resistance in terms of the application and assessment of heritage planning controls resulting in outcomes that are completely out of step with community expectations.

What imperative drove the need to remove all of the properties in Charles Street, including number 81 and those that we will look at below? Was Council captured in some way by some vested interest to give them the impetus to step OUTSIDE EXPECTED COMMUNITY STANDARDS and give effect to the thesis that "it's perfectly OK for us as a Council to leave perfectly in tact and obviously significant properties from the 1880s entirely unprotected and open to demolition".

When one drills deeper into the records at Moonee Valley, it becomes easy to see how Councillors would have voted for this. Councillors are not necessarily heritage experts, much as some Councillors within Moonee Valley do take an active and commendable interest in the area.

In 2010, Council conducted a "Review of Heritage Precincts", this being well in advance of this group being formed I don't have information on what the full effect of that review was, but it appears. at least judging by this case, to have been an exercise in aggressively finding properties to REMOVE from protection.

Again, this is out of step with community expectations. I believe it's essential if we're going to sustain the current levels of migration that are basically the sole driver of growth in our economy at present, that the community's concerns about the potential negative impacts of the changes that come with that are aggressively met.

So it's important in public policy terms that the wider community's valid fears about the destruction of their treasured neighbourhood character are assuaged. We absolutely need more, stronger and wider heritage protections applied in our suburbs, and this is why it's so important, if councils are going to fail at the task, that another arm of government steps up.

Standard Heritage Methodology Betrayed

Council Officers provided a report to Council based on the findings of the Review, as well as convening a panel to adjudicate on its recommendations. The Report found that;
Essentially, what is now contained in HO20 comprises two separate and quite distinct precincts with different patterns of historical development and built form.
Once more for emphasis - two separate and quite distinct precincts. A statement which contains the tacit acknowledgement that Charles Street in fact DOES constitute a unique precinct in its own right (albeit contradictory to other statements in the Report). Yet Council officers have recommended the excision of the MORE HISTORICAL of the two precincts. That's perfectly valid ONLY if that precinct is then properly assessed for its own intrinsic value.

The report then went on to recommend a thematic study of Charles and its surrounding streets to the north be conducted to assess the merits of a separate precinct overlay, but there is no evidence that this was ever undertaken, and appears to have been completely forgotten.

The report goes on to state;
It is suggested that, until more detailed work is carried out, applications for Charles Street may be treated on their merits using the additional historical and descriptive information contained in this report.  
Finally, it is noted that should Council decide to proceed with removal of Charles Street from HO20 there are no places that would be individually significant (and therefore worthy of retention in the HO).
This is completely flabbergasting on two fronts. Firstly, Councillors are completely powerless, by all precedent in planning law, to use anything as nebulous as historical research concerning a subject site as any basis for assessing any planning permit application for that site in the absence of an actual heritage overlay. And any Council Planning officer with any sound grasp of their practice ought to know that backwards.

Secondly, a bald-faced statement to the effect of "it's OK there are no significant properties in the street", in the very self same report that said further thematic work needed to be undertaken in order to determine that very same question, and with absolutely no evidence presented that any of the subject properties has actually received any individual such assessment is nothing short of a complete abrogation of all duties, and again one needs to question whether the author of this report is professionally qualified to be doing what they are doing, given the importance of the issue to the community.

The report also asserts that;
There are streets in the vicinity of Charles Street that formed part of the same nineteenth century subdivision that have as good, if not better, groups of nineteenth and inter-war housing.
Once again, there is a false methodology at work here - one that has no valid basis in heritage practice. Heritage is NOT a relative exercise. Each potential precinct and site needs to be assessed on its own merits. The principle that "there are better examples in the next street" is absolutely NOT a valid basis for not applying controls in any given locality. It's not even a principle that should be entertained - there are no such things as quotas for particular typologies or the volume of heritage listings in any given geography (although it's worth noting that this is a principle that VCAT has on more than one occasion completely undemocratically and in the absence of any due process applied elsewhere in the past, that's a much larger and very different topic).

Again, the entire report represents a profoundly disappointing abrogation of responsibility by the very people on whose effective discharge of that responsibility we, the community, rely.

Try telling the residents of Charles street (many of whom are busy assiduously and sympathetically caring for their own treasured heritage properties completely absent of any law forcing them to do so) why their beloved heritage streetscape is fair game to be trashed by developers and unsympathetic property owners just because the next street over might be a little bit nicer still.

But we can see how Councillors may have quite reasonably wound up at this point based on the content of that report, as they can't be expected to go out and, say in this instance, survey the entirety of Charles Street by themselves. Where Councillors appear to have failed is in not following through on the recommendation for a more detailed study of the entire area of Ascot Vale in and to the north of Charles Street.

Concluding the sad and sorry tale, in 2013, the Planning Minister signed amendment C109 into law, removing 6-38 and 5-127 Charles Street and 18-24 Kingston Avenue from HO20.

Now it's important to state here that we are NOT seeking recriminations here for what has gone before. What we ARE trying to do, is to feed back into the process in a way that can improve the rigour of the methodology Council applies in future.

Most particularly, we are now asking Councillors as a matter of urgency to commission a new heritage survey of Charles Street, Ascot Vale (especially including number 81) and its adjoining side streets north to Doncaster Road - to specifically assess all potential sites (and those sites that were once deemed worthy of inclusion in an entire precinct but removed), for both individual and precinct overlays, before any more of the community's beloved streetscape is destroyed.

Charles Street, Ascot Vale - A Streetscape of High Heritage Value

Conducting our own assessment of the street's value, it was actually striking how good a representative streetscape over the major turn of the century styles in Australian suburban architecture Charles Street actually is.

Sure, they are not the greatest Victorians ever, sure some of them have been compromised, sure there's quite a bit of modern infill, but it was actually difficult to agree with the original assessment that the entire street wasn't worthy of a precinct overlay.

I wonder aloud if the actual heritage methodology is failing to keep up with community expectations now. I personally think the profession is too obsessed with the concept of contiguity in assessing precincts, and I certainly think we default far too often to precinct listings because they are a fraction of the work versus the application of individual overlays (which require every single property to be formally assessed), but then elevate the bar significantly for the application of an INDIVIDUAL overlay. The cause is laziness (or more generously lack of resources), but the effect is the loss of heritage that the community otherwise expects preserved.

Take a look at the following 40 properties, consider there are approximately 80 properties actually in the street, and ask yourselves, readers - "do we in fact actually have a heritage precinct here?" I find it difficult, even being as objective as I can, not to answer "yes."

And again, we'd encourage readers to cast their eyes back up to the really quite unexceptional properties in neighbouring Monash Street that ARE completely protected by Council, and ask the question "are not ALL the 40 properties cited below of greater heritage value than those ones that Council has protected?" Again, I think it's a pretty clear "yes."

Victorian-Era Properties

These all almost certainly date to the original subdivision of the street in 1885

Victorian Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Victorian Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
Add to that list the following more unusual or atypical buildings in a largely Victorian style, again not all of which are necessarily significant, but which are definitely contributory to the overall precinct.

Victorian Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
(top left is a slightly later style)

Federation-Era Properties

Subdivided in 1885, right at the END of the land boom, Charles Street would have developed over the coming twenty odd years, and thus a large number of the remnant original properties show the transition from Victorian into more Federation-influenced styles. Again, I have always felt that as arguably the only truly iconic and unique indigenous architectural style Australia will ever know, we need to make sure that we preserve these buildings within our streetscapes, yet these buildings are probably more usually under threat than their Victorian counterparts, which tend to present as a more "obvious" heritage form.

Federation Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Federation Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
The top two photos are the same property

Californian Bungalows

Charles street is home to some excellent, large and highly typical examples of the Californian bungalow style, many of which although unprotected are currently under renovation or recently so. I find it telling that the owners of these buildings can recognise their obvious heritage worth in seeking to preserve their heritage character through their renovation. The pity is that neither the owners of  81 Charles Street, nor the staff providing advice to Councillors appear possessed of the same faculties. The two neighbouring ones shown top left below form a nice little precinct in their own right.

Californian Bungalow Style Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
(OK bottom left is sort of Federation-y but I needed to group these in fours)

Inter/post-war Styles

There is even the following small pocket of interesting variants on cream brick triple front, all side by side at the Maribyrnong end of the street, which I would argue would well be worthy of a precinct overlay in their own right.

Neighbouring Triple Front Cream Brick Style Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

The following properties are either compromised originals, or perhaps even original interwar, but either way I'd argue without being individually significant, they would be considered contributory to the precincts they adjoin or are part of.

Possibly Significant Interwar Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

The argument is not necessarily that all the above properties would be found individually significant, but I don't see how it could possibly be blanket argued that none of them would be, and I would strongly argue that there are enough such properties to warrant devoting the resources to a proper assessment.

Consider also, that if you have even 2 neighbouring properties, you have met the threshold for a precinct overlay. So to the above selection add the following clearly stylistically contiguous groups, and once again the basis on which the precinct overlay was removed wholus bolus from the entire streetscape just seems like the path of least resistance rather than a valid heritage assessment.

 Potential Precinct Candidate Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
(see also Californian Bungalow pair above)

Consider also exactly how many of the above properties are in archetypal Australian suburban weatherboard form and across the crucial styles and periods in Australian domestic architecture - there's barely an entirely brick structure anywhere in the street. Again, I find it very difficult to argue that this ISN'T a significant heritage precinct, and that it ISN'T worth preserving AS A STREETSCAPE.

So, in summary again, we have 40 properties out of approximately 80 sites in Charles Street that would appear to be realistic candidates for potential precinct or individual listings, and I think it becomes clear that the methodology which Council has applied here has not been rigorous enough, and to an extent that leads us to question the validity of removing the entire overlay in the first place.

Regardless, there is a clear argument, given the volume of properties and the likelihood of many being found significant and possibly warranting smaller precincts in their own right that we feel it is now vital that Council moves to have this really quite valuable and exemplary streetscape properly assessed, and we feel the community would expect no less from the Councillors whom they have elected to stand up for the character of their neighbourhood.

It's disappointing that we've supposedly now been through a process of conducting "gap surveys" across most of these major periods and some of the more glaring omissions (of which 81 Charles Street seems the most significant), and this speaks again to the inadequate resources that Councils are actually able to allocate to heritage. The studies seem inadequate in both scope and methodology for ensuring they are comprehensive, and they take too long to complete, resulting in the loss of significant properties while we wait for the gap studies to report, but again that topic is really for another day.

What Can You Do To Help?

1. Sign the Petition
We've started an online petition to make sure that Councillors hear the community's voice loud and clear -it just takes two clicks to lend your weight, please SIGN THE PETITION

2. Contact Your Councillors
Firstly, we would encourage all readers to contact their representatives on Council, briefly advising them of your concerns about this development asking them to both reject the proposal before them, and importantly to seek an immediate, urgent and fulsome heritage assessment of the Charles Street environs.

We don't want to be responsible for any Councillors getting actual spam, but we obviously want to help people make contact. To email any Councillor from the list below, add the email prefix indicated to the front of
Myrnong Ward
(Ascot Vale, Flemington, Travancore, most of Moonee Ponds, part of Essendon)

  • Cr Jim Cusack - jcusack
  • Cr Nicole Marshall - nmarshall
  • Cr Cam Nation - cnation

Rose Hill Ward
(Airport West, Avondale Heights, Keilor East, Niddrie, most of Essendon West, part of Strathmore Heights)

  • Cr Samantha Byrne - sbyrne
  • Cr John Sipek - jsipek
  • Cr Andrea Surace - asurace

Buckley Ward
(Aberfeldie, Essendon Fields, Essendon North, Strathmore, most of Essendon and Strathmore Heights, parts of Moonee Ponds and Essendon West)

  • Cr Richard Lawrence - richardlawrence
  • Cr Rebecca Gauci Maurici - rgaucimaurici
  • Cr Narelle Sharpe (Mayor) - nsharpe

3. Connect/Get Involved with Moonee Valley Heritage Action
The other obvious thing we'd encourage all concerned locals to do is to connect with Moonee Valley Heritage Action and GET INVOLVED. You can FIND US ON FACEBOOK HERE, use the subscription box in the right sidebar to follow this blog, and we URGENTLY need assistance in staying up to date with the huge volume of new planning applications being received by Moonee Valley Council and coordinating objections.

We are a volunteer organisation, and we obviously allow people to contribute as little or as much as your time allows - we're not looking for a major ongoing time commitment from anyone - but many hands make light work, and right now the work is all on the shoulders of the author of this here blog, and he is just one very fallible mere human mortal.

If you're at all interested in doing even a little - even as much as meeting of an evening somewhere infrequently to coordinate our resources - please get in touch with Adam Ford at or phone 0425 320 533.

We believe the current proposal before Council needs to be rejected - and that it should be rejected on the wide range of grounds outlined below. But we also believe that this property and the entirety of Charles Street and the surrounding streets to its north require an urgent and immediate heritage assessment in order for Councillors to have adequately discharged their specific responsibility to stand up for the community's interests within the otherwise highly beaurocratic processes of government and planning.

We trust that the Moonee Valley community would agree with the majority of that - so now is the time for the community to stand up and say so - for the precedent that is set here today could very well be applied in your street tomorrow.

-Adam Ford
President, Moonee Valley Heritage Action


Statement of Non-Heritage Objections to the Proposed Development at 81 Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Out of Character for Neighborhood – Design and layout issues
The scale and siting of the proposed development is not considered to respond appropriately to the character of the area. As such, the proposal fails to achieve relevant policy objectives at Clause 32.08 (General Residential - Neighbourhood Character objectives) and fails to comply with 55.02 Standard B1 (Neighbourhood Character) of Clause 55.02. In order to respond more appropriately to the traditional, single storey streetscape the scale of the proposal needs to be reduced and the first floor element needs to be recessive. The height of the development along with roof pitch is too dominant in this traditional, single storey streetscape of the General residential Zone.

The length of the proposed wall on the northern boundary does not comply with the requirements of Standard B18 (Walls on boundaries) of Clause 55.04. Standard B11 provides for a maximum length of 17.55 metres, where 25.300m has been proposed.

As demonstrated on TPA06 the proposal does not comply with Standard B17 (Side and rear setbacks) of Clause 55.04. The extent of variation sought should not be considered to be appropriate in this neighbourhood character context. Whilst we understand the adjoining property located in MUZ presents a double storey wall on boundary. The non-compliance in this proposal adds excessive visual bulk to surrounding properties.

The design detail of the proposed development, including the first-floor balcony, the extent of glazing (i.e. the solid:void ratio) to the front fa├žade, is not in keeping with the GRZ character of the area and does not comply with Standard B31 (Design detail) of Clause 55.06. Further, while the incorporation of a pitched roof element picks up on the traditional hips seen in the street, it is considered that the proposed skillion roofs exacerbate the height of the development and should not be seen as appropriate. We strongly recommend council to revisit the design detail of the dwelling, in order to provide a more respectful response to the GRZ existing streetscape and adjoining heritage overlay.

The design siting & design of the development does not respond appropriately to Standard B10 (Energy Efficiency Objective) of Clause 55.03 and file to comply with Standard B29 (solar access to open space objective) Clause 55.05. The development has not be designed / orientated to make appropriate use of solar energy, living areas are locate to the south. Private opened space are considered to be south facing and does not comply with the solar access setback.(2+0.9h) where ‘H is the height of the wall. Taking the lowest point of the pitch 6.94m shows the first floor should have a rear setback form the garages of 8.46m. Taking the high-test point of the pitch 8.5m shows the first floor should have a first floor setback of 9.65. Both of these heights fail to comply and clearly show why 3 townhouses in this area is an overdevelopment of the site.

Characteristics of General residential zone area

  • Single storey dwelling.
  • Symmetrical pitched roof.
  • Separation between dwellings.
  • Proposed development
  • Sitting and layout issues.
  • Cheap lightweight materials that are not consistent with the area.
  • Skillion roofs not consistent with area.
  • Height not constant with area.
  • 3 townhouses with no separation not constant with GRZ.
  • Boundary to Boundary Garage construction not constant with area.
  • Visually dominating especially when it adjoins a Heritage interface
  • Top heavy design that does not present large recess to first floor.
  • Rear elevation present large double storey sheer walls. First floor again should be recessed in particular when this elevation adjoins heritage properties.

Increased Traffic and Parking Congestion
81 Charles Street is situated on a full clearway zone for public traffic and substantial PTV bus route 472 (every 15 minutes) and chartered school bus movement (both at front of 81 Charles Street and side at Progress Street).

This development will cause increased traffic congestion in Chauvel, Monash, Charles and Progress Streets impeding my access to my private enjoyment of my property;

There is no parking in the Progress Street clearway for this substantial development, and surrounding streets are already fully parked.  Plans suggest garages at rear of the proposed development will house 2 cars each, however as the minimum size of the proposed garages have extremely tight clearance, together with associated guest parking requirements for this development, will increase further burden on already congested local on-street parking;

Traffic has been steadily increasing in Progress and Charles Streets over the past 3 years due to a substantial increase in Royal Melbourne Showgrounds and Flemington Victorian Racing Club events (inc concerts etc) without traffic management plans, Traffic and parking often congests for hours without movement in Charles and Progress streets during event periods preventing entry/exit to my home;

81 Charles Street development has not supplied a proposed traffic management plan for the proposed build on a full clearway adjacent to a public bus stop.

Loss of Vegetation and Impact to Native Fauna
81 Charles Street is currently fully vegetated with a significant number of mature native trees, supported by European vegetation such as the mature Jacaranda nature-strip tree – the single nature strip tree in Progress Street.

The 81 Charles Street development proposal is to completely remove all existing mature trees causing a significant impact on neighborhood character, including the landscape and environmental quality of Ascot Vale, which is already significantly suffering the heat effect of tree removal and a lack of mature trees.  This development is detrimental to Moonee Valley City Council tree canopy coverage plans for Ascot Vale;

The proposal for removing these mature trees will dislocate at least 6 species of native birds using the trees to nest, roost and as a food source.  It will also dislocate families of protected ringtail possums residing in these mature trees.

There is no detailed landscaping plan supplied with the proposed 81 Charles Street development.

Issues During Proposed Building of this Development
How do 81 Charles Street P/L propose to build on a high traffic clearway with bus traffic every 15 minutes and a lane way that is in use 24/7?   Are PTC going to reroute buses?  What is the traffic management plan proposed for this development build?

Where will building materials be sited for this development given it’s a full clearway and the development is proposed to be built to all boundaries?

Monday, 10 September 2018

ACTION NEEDED: Save Federation Square's "Shard" from Metro Tunnel and AppleScum

The Western Shard at Federation Square was a compromise to the original design, but it was built largely stylistically integrated with the rest of the square, and is therefore integral to the whole.

I must apologise to the world for the lateness of this post, life moves so damn quickly these days. Tomorrow, Wednesday September 12 is the deadline for submissions to Heritage Victoria in opposition to the awful and unnecessary new Metro Station entrance proposed for Federation Square.

I also apologise the layout on this post is a little haywire but I haven't got time to fix it right now.

I write today encouraging all Melburnians to lift up their pens for what will not be the first time in defence of one of the world's premiere civic spaces, and will briefly run through the core arguments that we feel should inform the public objections.
The core of our objection to the proposal is that the Western Shard is specifically listed as significant in the site's interim heritage listing as adopted by Heritage Victoria. That means it is protected from demolition unless in the most exceptional of circumstances that demonstrate an overwhelming imperative to demolish the structure.

Quite simply, no such imperative is demonstrated in the plans submitted by the Metro Tunnel Project, and therefore the plans must be rejected.

The plans do not demonstrate any need to demolish the structure, because they do not give any valid reason why a station entrance could not be constructed within the existing structure.

A Disingenuous Proposal

disingenuous - adjective. Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.
It's one of my favourite words - disingenuous. Once you've conceptually grasped it, you start to see it in evidence everywhere if you spend any time at all engaged with public policy. Politicians, of course, are severely recidivist criminals here, but most public servants (especially those with public facing roles) are well trained, both formally and informally in the dark arts of the disingenuous.

So, what IS the imperative to demolish this structure and erect a low-rise, lightweight, see-through structure in it's place? It is VERY obvious that this has been done for Apple (scum), probably at their insistence, because the existing structure, as clearly shown in the photo below, would block sightlines to the Apple (scum) store from the existing retail strip, and indeed from the entrance to the Square itself.

Image from the submitted plans clearly showing the shard obscures the location of the proposed Apple (scum) store from the existing retail strip.

The entire proposal is therefore both disingenuous and in bad faith to both the public at large, who are being sold a lie concerning the reasons why this project is deemed necessary, and to the processes of Heritage Victoria, which are being gamed.

Precedent Shows This Must Be Rejected

The clear precedent for Heritage Victoria decisions is that arguments of mere economic convenience to the applicant or one of the applicant's stakeholders should not be accepted as the basis for demolition of a protected structure. Without any pressing argument to this effect contained in the proposal's business case, Heritage Victoria must reject the proposal.

The heritage citation for the site, as adopted in interim by Heritage Victoria clearly states:
"The Western Shard The Swanston/Flinders Street corner of the site is occupied by the Western Shard, a glass-walled pavilion which provides access to the underground Melbourne Visitor Centre. The entrance features interactive news tickers in colour LEDs and small screens promoting current activities."

The proposal posits that "as it is not an element that reflects the original design intent, we consider that the proposed demolition and replacement with another sympathetic structure is acceptable." We find this an appalling statement from a heritage professional. Where the feature in question is specifically cited as significant, trying to second guess that citation after the event and now argue the feature is not significant does not represent a valid argument.

Attempting to Alter a Protected Heritage Place

Furthermore the proposal itself concedes that the proposed structure is also not stylistically consistent with the original design intent for Federation Square (a position that is completely undermined by the previous argument), stating that "architecturally, the proposed eastern station entry for the Town Hall Station draws on the same ‘NewModern’ functionalist architectural tradition of Federation Square without attempting to replicate the Deconstructivist architectural forms of the Lab/Bates Smart design."

Coupled with the proposed introduction of yet another new design style in the form of Apple (scum) store, we can clearly see how through the complete raft of changes proposed for the space, that  their effect would be to take a coherently-designed world-beating, deeply symbolic, major architectural space of tremendous significance to most Melburnians, which even in its short lifespan is already iconic to the city, and replace two of the existing buildings replaced with new structures in TWO COMPLETELY NON-COHERING STYLES, and thereby literally ruin the entire whole, as we explained in an earlier post.

How Can I Help?

So, we urge all caring Melburnians to urgently get tapping on their keyboards and make these points politely and succinctly to Heritage Victoria by close of business, Wednesday September 12.

To make your submission, email
Please reference "Permit Application P29470, Federation Square" in the subject line.
View Metro Tunnel's plans online

And don't forget the Rally in the Square to oppose the Applescum Store - next Wed September 19 at 5.30pm

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Melbourne Suburban Orbital Rail - Mapping the Route to Success - Part 1 - Southland to Broadmeadows

"Melburnians, it's a GREAT time to be a suburban orbital rail enthusiast."  
- The Bloodied Wombat, March 13, 2017
So you can imagine what the last fortnight has been in Wombat-ville. The Andrews government's commitment to commence planning for a "suburban rail loop" is most of our collective prayers for Melbourne answered in a frothing torrent of holy water.

"BAPTISE this city, Mr Premier, with your heavy rail holiness!" 
- The Bloodied Wombat, August 28, 2018.

And while we always thought the politics of such a project would be good, we've been blown away by the real enthusiasm with which the public has embraced the vision. Alan Davies has been telling me this was a stupid idea for as long as I've been discussing it, but his recent commentary has really been the outlier in pouring scorn on the project's mooted benefits.

I'd like to return specifically to some of Alan's concerns in the concluding blog to this series. But first, let's take a look at the project as it is currently proposed, and make an assessment of the logical "next steps" in project planning to ensure we return maximal benefits from the project for all Victorians.

  • In part one here today, we'll look at the majority of the network, and the portion most likely to be delivered as tunnel - from the Frankston line through to Craigieburn. 
  • Next week, we'll look at the remainder of the network through the western suburbs and how the delivery and timetabling options and imperatives out there actually look very distinct to the underground portion of the network.
  • In part three we'll look at some rudimentary cost-benefits and respond to some of the common critiques of the plan as well as look at some further incremental developments to consider to address any major goals this orbital rail plan is unable to, and so deliver a maximum benefit metro style heavy rail system for Melbourne.

i'M SORely what Melbourne needs 

For starters, we need to do something about an acronym. The notional Wombat project suffered a little from nomenclature overload, usually going by some variant of "Urban Orbital Rail" and "Suburban Rail Loop". Other commentators seem to have just settled for the obvious - the government document is entitled "Suburban Rail Loop Strategic Assessment", so SRL it is.

I'm probably a little bit tragic in this regard, but I look at that acronym and the only words that enter my dyslexic head are "Stevie Ray Vaughan". So I think we can and should do better. A loop is necessarily orbital, so we can turf one of those two words, and I think it needs a bit more LOCAL, yokels. So I'm going with Melbourne Suburban Orbital Rail or MSOR, and you'll just need to adjust your sets accordingly.

Orbital Rail Benefits - Recapped

It's all about the network effect. Human civilisation's greatest quantum advances have all taken place as a result of technology that enhanced our ability to network together as human beings. The invention of railroad itself is but one critical illustration of the phenomenon.

We've seen in an earlier blog that Melbourne's existing employment centres map very neatly to the established heavy and light rail network (image below), and it's important that we state from the outset that the PRIMARY goal of MSOR, in order to make the project stack up cost-benefit wise must be the facilitation of transport movements radially IN to designated suburban employment centres.

Melbourne Employment Densities and Centres with Tram/rail Networks

The main benefit of the policy - the entire point of spending $50bn is to purchase the necessary enabling infrastructure to allow us to build the ever more mythologised "20 minute city". The point of this MUST be a radical re-envisaging of the MAJORITY of suburban employment journeys to enable a significant mode shift to public transport.

We've estimated previously that as many as 200,000 more Melbourne commuters hop in their cars  DAILY for the journey to work than their Sydney counterparts, and tendered significant evidence that the less radial nature of that city's heavy rail network was the most obvious source of this.

But we also simultaneously discussed the ways in which Sydney has done a far better job of the planning side of the equation - on facilitating remedial land uses and attracting employers into rail-enabled locations.

The real beauty of orbital rail as imposed on the existing radial network is that it creates innumerable opportunities for multiple heavy rail "spokes" to operate radially IN to the new suburban employment centres, over-writing Melbourne's current hugely dispersed suburban employment patterns with a new map that creates a critical mass of employment destinations walkable to heavy rail stations.

And where the heavy rail network previously left enormous public transport blackspots across Melbourne's eastern suburbs, the networked, web-like lattice into which it is transformed by MSOR means that vast swathes of the east in any given direction are now just a few train stations from the new employment centres, whereas previously a commuter in Box Hill would have needed to travel in to Richmond and then out again to get to Glen Waverley, around tripling the necessary travel distance versus car.

That this is not a high demand journey today is not the point, the above shows exactly why the demand isn't there.

Wombat's Melbourne Suburban Orbital Rail Route - Southeast (orange)

We're planning here for Melbourne 2118, from which vantage point, this project will be deemed to have paid for itself several times over. In the same way we'd decry the insanity of ripping up any of our established lines today (and again, the Upfield line would never have stood up to Infrastructure Victoria's methodology if proposed today, as they would assume it would cannibalise 60% of its ridership from the Craigieburn line).

Not Because It's Easy, Because It's Hard

It's very important that we convey that it is NOT POSSIBLE to do the cost-benefit calculations on MSOR, without first calculating the potential benefits for re-shaping land use, employment and transportation patterns all along the corridor. And you CANNOT do that calculation without doing ALL the detailed planning on exactly where the stations are going, how much viable land exists around the new station for consolidation into an urban activity centre, what the potential of that location is as an employment destination, and so on.

In short, the potential of MSOR is less as a pure transportation project and more as a tool to guide land use and strategic planning. Because if history teaches us humans anything - we have two great assets as a species which have enabled all the marvels of our civilisation down the ages. One of those is our ability to network together with our fellow human beings. The other is an ability to plan collectively and work strategically towards a long term goal.

We've only got to where we are as a species by incrementally envisaging better worlds in exactly this fashion. MSOR is a project that dials in a very specific vision of a better world and then goes about planning for it.

Thus is Melbourne Suburban Orbital Rail the very acme of visionary, big picture human undertakings such that truly elevate one's eyes to the horizon, that actually do make a body ever so slightly proud to be a tiny chapter in humanity's infinite history.

Optimising the Route

The initial Strategic Assessment provided by Development Victoria leaves largely open the question of how many new stations will be included in the project, instead nominating a number of broad locations that are intended to be served, as well as indicating the likely interface stations with the existing network.

So, let's look at the Wombat-optimal suggested solutions to some of the core issues. Let's map out an actual proposed network, starting in the Southeast.

Our considerations here are really threefold - to cater to established employment centres currently poorly served by public transport - to facilitate enough new employment centres in order to render the 20 minute city concept feasible - and to provide new commuter stations in existing rail black spots.

We raised in an earlier post our concerns that Plan Melbourne actually fails to designate enough activity centres with enough geographic spread to come close to enabling the 20 minute city it waxes so lyrically about. That concern was overlaid by a sense that not much actual practical policy existed to facilitate the creation or agglomeration of employment or activity centres outside of the small number of headline locations.

We strongly suggest that enabling legislation should be considered for this project which grants full control to the Planning Minister for any planning issues within specified distances around the station sites - with their scope/size roughly scaled according to the 'site potential' ratings suggested below. We'd suggest doing the same for ALL the station sites in yellow and red in the map above.

We would then suggest either a new standalone body, or something within Places or Development Victoria which is responsible for involving stakeholders and developing masterplans for each of the zones, which may or may not have some responsibility for actual land acquisition or consolidation of sites as necessary. It would ideally have a charter to ensure that sensitive or heritage neighbourhoods were preserved, and that larger scale or higher intensity development were focused away from residential areas, but the body's charter would essentially be to develop these areas as employment zones.

Where the government has already nominated value capture as a key potential funding source for the project, we'd suggest you've already taken several large steps towards the need for just such a body or bodies to be established anyway.

Finally, we'd LOVE to see some sort of incentive scheme for large employers currently located a long way from public transport be facilitated to relocate to these new activity centres, and the owners of those large industrial sites be given incentives to redevelop those as residential or other beneficial re-uses.

Which Way South?

Regular readers will recall that the Wombat Plan last left this concept with two feasible N-S routes through the eastern suburbs - an inner AND an outer connection and actually advocated the staggered construction of both. The inner route is largely the one as put forward by Development Victoria. The outer route ran via Doncaster to Ringwood then on to Knoxfield, Dandenong, Braeside and Mordialloc.

The outer route was mostly about enabling rail to those several existing centres, which it should be more than a footnote here, are still probably crying out for some form of enhanced public transport solution on the basis that it's much harder to start an entire new employment centre than to better plan for an existing one.

I'm a little heretical amongst transport buffs, in that I view "park and ride" models for heavy rail into suburbia as a very major success factor in improving the overall mode share for public transport in Melbourne, and accordingly the park and ride potential of the various sites is something we'll be considering in some detail.

I should apply my usual caveat in that the first-best option is obviously having suburban bus or even new light rail services operating super-frequently in to the station from local destinations as feeders to the heavy rail system rather than cars. The extent to which further such enabling policy were put in place would actually have a serious impact on the size of the potential benefits column for MSOR, and so obviously the issue warrants addressing.

But one of the issues this project contends with is that it is retrofitting a european style heavy rail metro into areas with significantly lower population densities than much of Europe, and in order to plan realistically for final yards travel in a city that has never had a good relationship with its suburban bus network, we simply need to factor cars in for the foreseeable future.

Optimising the Station Locations

Urban Melbourne recently carried some good commentary showing what the development pipeline looks like in the suburbs slated to receive MSOR. It can be quite illuminating to read alongside my proposed route. When you get a sense of the quantum of change that is already happening, the benefits of this project appear to be as much in being able to actually take direction of that change as they are in facilitating anything new.

Site potential: A
Park and Ride Potential: B
The first question arises at the bottom of the 'clockface'. The Strategic Assessment resolutely states that the route is intended to meet the Frankston line at Cheltenham. This has, however, widely been interpreted as actually meaning "Southland" station, and we would very much encourage the latter.

One need only look at the land usage around the shopping centre, even before thinking about further possible apartment towers on top of the shops to know which site has the greater redevelopment potential as an employment/activity/residential centre. We embark at Southland.

Unlocking the park and ride potential of the site, given it is surrounded by residential areas would be a key success factor, and this would obviously be dependent on arriving at a mutually beneficial arrangement with Westfield to utilise the existing parking areas.

Site potential: B
Possible Location: Blamey and Nelson Rds
Park and Ride Potential: D
Moorabbin represents one of the few properly established existing employment centres that we are adding to the heavy rail network, so the proposed location is really at the heart of the industrial zone.

We would suggest significant scope exists, given the large nature of the landholdings in the area to create a small central retail/hospitality zone around the station, but this would not be an attractive location for residential redevelopment at scale. Moorabbin's role would remain primarily as an industrial-style employment zone, and as such park and ride is a lower priority at this location.

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Huntingdale and Centre Rds
Park and Ride Potential: B
South Oakleigh is currently a small scale employment zone, which has appreciable redevelopment potential for potentially some more intensive scale office and retail developments around the new station. It is also bounded by significant residential areas, so we would suggest some property acquisition to enable construction of a park and ride structure would be a key success factor.

Site potential: B
Park and Ride Potential: C
This station has always been at the fringe of the actual employment zone, so its catchment contains a mixture of residential and commercial sites with some consolidation potential as the broader employment zone develops.

Site potential: D
Possible Location: Around the site of the current bus terminus at the Southern end of the campus
Park and Ride Potential: N/A
The core reason why this station has scored so low on the site potential rating, is that locating the station well for on-campus purposes renders its potential to cater to surrounding residential and employment areas minimal, and because we can't be stopping the trains every 500 meters, forces us to place the second new Monash precinct station in a sub-optimal location for unlocking the maximum potential value of the precinct.

The potential to reduce car dependency amongst the campus' 30,000 odd students and academics is significant enough that these issues are obviously unavoidable, and accordingly park and ride would be inappropriate and unworkable here.

Site potential: A
Possible Location: Dunlop and Springvale Rds
Park and Ride Potential: B
Again, this is probably not the optimal location from a broader precinct planning perspective - so if forced into a site like this, the precinct planning should obviously do what it can to try and develop something of a walkable town centre in the vicinity the station.

Site potential: B
Park and Ride Potential: C
An established site obviously, does a reasonable job catering to the adjacent Glen shoppping centre, and has a reasonably good residential catchment with a small number of commercial sites nearby providing some redevelopment opportunity.

Site potential: D
Possible Location: Springvale Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
An entirely residential area, this station would be a purely commuter station, and therefore sufficient landholdings to enable appreciable park and ride would need to be considered.

Site potential: B
Possible Location: Burwood Hwy and Springvale Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
A great opportunity to develop a more pedestrian-friendly mixed use zone around this intersection, where the 75 tram also forms another two "spokes" into a possible employment hub, and where the size of the land holdings thereabouts offer decent scope for renewal, we would urge strong consideration be given to giving this potential employment hub much more focus than it might appear to warrant at first glance.

Site potential: D
Possible Location: Blackburn Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
An entirely residential area, this station would be a purely commuter station, and therefore sufficient landholdings to enable appreciable park and ride would need to be considered.

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Middleborough Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
Another site with some established commercial/industrial and good potential for an actively planned mixed use precinct.

Site potential: A
Park and Ride Potential: B
Box Hill station, as poorly integrated as it is with the existing shopping centre and bus/tram interchanges, presents a real opportunity, if the long mooted complete re-build of the thing were still on the cards, then Box Hill unquestionably has the greatest potential of any eastern suburbs site on the MSOR for an effective high density residential, office and retail hub.

However, the issues relating to transport connectivity would need some really good planning around them to maximise the opportunity here. We should also seriously consider the extension of the 109 tram along Whitehorse road to provide a new rail "spoke" into this highly significant potential activity centre.

Site potential: D
Possible Location: Springfield and Dorking Rds
Park and Ride Potential: B
An entirely residential area, this station would be a purely commuter station, and therefore sufficient landholdings to enable appreciable park and ride would need to be considered.

Specifically situated to titillate Simpsons fans.

Site potential: A
Possible Location: Shoppingtown
Park and Ride Potential: A
Another established shopping centre and major bus terminus with significant surrounding residential, including some medium-high density as well as commercial and industrial. Excellent potential for effective creation of a medium-high density mixed use zone, which would posit interesting challenges in needing to make an effectively private space (the shopping centre) the town centre.

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Doncaster Rd & Eastern Fwy
Park and Ride Potential: B
Some small scale nearby retail, but a mostly residential area, and thus this would primarily be a commuter station.

Site potential: D
Possible Location: Bulleen Rd & Eastern Fwy
Park and Ride Potential: B
An entirely residential area, this station would be a purely commuter station, and therefore sufficient landholdings to enable appreciable park and ride would need to be considered.

Site potential: C
Park and Ride Potential: C
As an established station servicing a sizeable mixed use retail, commercial and medical precinct, it offers limited scope for additional park and ride, nor would we really want to encourage that near an established retail shopping strip.

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Edwin and Bell Sts
Park and Ride Potential: B
Largely residential area, some small scope for enhanced commercial along the main roads in the vicinity.

Site potential: B
Possible Location: Northland S/C
Park and Ride Potential: C
Largely established industrial area, but as industrial does offer reasonable scope for future precinct planning. A core challenge here again would be to effective activate anything beyond the shopping centre - perhaps the best realistic outcome would be a mixed use development of the existing shopping centre.

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Waterdale Rd
Park and Ride Potential: C
This is an existing small scale industrial area south of La Trobe University, and as such offers tremendous opportunity for creating a transport-oriented employment precinct either allied or independent to the University

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Somewhere near the Agora
Park and Ride Potential: N/A
The issues here are similar to Monash, except the larger distances mean that station location doesn't really force compromises elsewhere, although it won't be a long way between stops to Plenty Rd ...

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Plenty Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
Some larger dispersed commercial and industrial sites along Plenty Rd. The large amount of surrounding parkland makes this a less than ideal point for the actual interchange with the tram, and so we suggest positioning the station to attempt to garner the largest residential catchment for the station.

Site potential: B
Possible Location: Cheddar Rd & Hanrahan St
Park and Ride Potential: B
Thomastown is a kind of sprawling, lumbering semi-industrial suburb that was absolutely gutted by the 1990s recession - having been home to enormous swathes of now vanished manufacturing. The area is only really just now starting to re-make itself, and it has enormous potential for re-development of almost unlimited scope, scale or use.

Site potential: B
Park and Ride Potential: B
Surrounded by variously industrial, retail and residential zones, Thomastown Station offers significant potential for the creation of an effective mixed use neighbourhood, and in fact if we were grading the prospects of the activity centres, we think no other such centre presents so high a potential with the addition of orbital rail. As we can see, it's possible to create fully 3 stations (2 new) which are very well located to create a large scale, medium density mixed use suburb. We strongly suggest Thomastown needs to rise up the activity centre priority list accordingly.

Site potential: C
Possible Location: Ring Road and Mahoney's Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
Although this station would have a large residential catchment, it would also serve the eastern end of the larger industrial sites situated between Mahoney's and the ring road, providing some further redevelopment opportunities across the wider Thomastown activity centre.

Site potential: B
Possible Location: Camp Rd
Park and Ride Potential: B
Significant planning has already gone in to re-instating the former Campbellfield Station, which closed in 1956. In fact provision was made for the station during the recent level crossing removal, and this is an obvious urgency. It's long been an incredible frustration for users of the orbital smart bus routes that because of this station's absence they don't actually connect conveniently anywhere with the Upfield line. There are significant industrial, commercial and retail sites in the vicinity of the proposed station, including Campbellfield Plaza, such that the potential for developing an effective mixed use neighbourhood around the station is quite high here.

Site potential: A
Park and Ride Potential: A
Broadmeadows is obviously one of the main designated activity/employment centres under Plan Melbourne, around which extensive work on future land use planning and so on is already underway. We will look next week at the possible infrastructure issues around the station, where it is anticipated this would be the point that we finally rise above ground since we first hopped on at Southland, from this point, we need to share some infrastructure with the existing network, so we'll discuss that next week.

Profiling the New Stations

We could break all these down by typologies relatively easily and these would determine what type/how much enabling policy you put around facilitating new uses for each, looking something like the following. If we throw in a few of the western suburbs stations to complete the picture, we're looking at something like the following:

1. Designated Employment Centres
Box Hill

2. Existing or Potential New Employment Centres
Burwood East
South Oakleigh
Glen Waverley
Northland/Heidelberg West
Sunshine North
Keilor Park

3. Universities
La Trobe

4. Shopping Centres
The Glen/Glen Waverley
Airport West
(THINK about it - you will be able to shop 5 massive malls in 1 day with 1 Myki (or 2050 equivalent))

5. Residential/Commuter
Waverley Nth
West Doncaster
Balwyn Nth
Heidelberg Heights
Bundoora Park
Keilor East

So that gives us around 20 "destination" stations, and we contend that this is number is much closer to the optimal number of activity centres than the last version of Plan Melbourne posited, if we are to enable a "20 minute city" in more than rhetoric. We contend that facilitating these new land uses and transportation patterns in to them is a goal so important that it is worth spending $50bn over an extended timeframe to solve. But more on that in part three.

Be sure to tune in next week, and we'll look at the western portion of all this in a lot more detail, as well as consider what a Melbourne rail timetable might look like in 2050, once all of this is up and running.

As usual questions, comments and critique are welcome - we love hearing your feedback!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Why Melbourne Cannot Build Metro Rail 2 until Stage 1 is Complete

Correct call, Cap'n!
Victorian Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan

This week, the Greensparty in Victoria committed themselves to building Melbourne Metro 2, which is really a bit like Caligula committing his horse to the Roman Senate in terms of its impact on reality.

"If we held the balance of power in Victoria, committing to building this would be a key prerequisite for our support", is a very different message altogether, and one that would garner them a hell of a lot more credibility with public transport advocates and the general public alike.

Pretending that you'd ever be in a position to actually build the project yourselves, getting out your crayons and doodling wishful lines on a map (qv the umpteen dozen random and ridiculous tram extensions they took to the previous Victorian election) without any concern whatsoever for cost-benefit analyses, only undermines your credibility as a political party.

We are supposed to have turned a corner in this country in relation to infrastructure spending. We are supposed now, in Australia, to be driven by the imperative of allocating scarce resources to those projects with the highest benefit-cost ratios, and we've created a raft of semi-independent bodies to ensure this.

Now, it must be said that I very strongly feel that the way many of these bodies are making their assessments are still strongly based on methodologies that systemically bias road projects over public transport ones.

For Infrastructure Australia to start out with the assumption that "70% of Doncaster Rail's patronage would be cannibalised from existing public transport services" dooms that project's prospects before you've even got your calculator out, and it is completely fallacious when you look in detail at the evidence. Journey to work data shows that public transport mode share in areas proximate to heavy rail is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than this assumption presumes.

But for a party that currently holds two Victorian lower house seats to have put their plans for building a Metro 2  in the public domain whilst holding a straight face is just insulting to the voting public. Could one journalist not have insisted on their explaining how and in what parallel universe this is ever going to happen?

The Greensplan. Note also they are claiming credit for extensions to Wollert and Wyndham Vale,
both of which have been in PTV's Network Development Plan for YEARS ...

"If we held the balance of power in Victoria, committing to building this would be a key prerequisite for our support", would be a good answer to that question. Without that, we are left with - "well, we are going to quadruple our Statewide vote from current opinion poll data, and from our highest ever recorded level of support in just 3 months' from now, and thereby secure government".

But then you're also left with "and we're going to throw out any notion of deferring to Infrastructure Victoria and return to politicians using these billion dollar projects as political pork barrels." It's inspiring stuff, isn't it?

Transport Minister Jacinta Allan's response to the proposal was entirely the correct one. Even if the project stacks up, it absolutely cannot be built until the Metro One Project is complete. That is scheduled for 2021. 3 years from now.

You cannot undertake a project of this scale without fully three years of planning, systems and engineering prep work. That's exactly how long it has taken to get Metro 1's shovels in the ground after the election of the Andrews Government, so let's forget about implying sophistry on the Minister's behalf, and let's credit her with being the only party to the discussion who appears to be living in the real world.

You can add to that assessment the fact that there are actually a finite number of workers adequately skilled for these sorts of projects available at any given time, and if you try and build such a thing in an environment of scarcity, you wind up significantly driving up labour costs and ballooning the total cost of the project.

But there's another crucial reason why Metro 2 cannot possibly be built before Metro 1 is complete. We need to consider the interaction of the two projects and the overall project goals. In fact there may be a far more cost effective solution for Metro 2 which builds upon the infrastructure already in place for Metro Rail 1. Readers will be unsurprised at this point to learn there exists a patented Wombat Plan for Metro 2 which does precisely that.

Hang On, What IS Metro 2?

Broadly speaking, Melbourne Metro Rail 2 is the proposal to re-route heavy rail services from the western suburbs of Melbourne over the Yarra River from Newport Railway Station, thereby providing the new Fisherman's Bend development zone with much needed heavy rail access.

Most proposals to date have conceived this project as a rail tunnel running through Fisherman's Bend then back under the river to new underground platforms at Southern Cross Station, Flagstaff and CBD North, and continuing through the inner north before returning above ground at a junction with the existing South Morang and Hurstbridge lines.

However, we contend that there is a way of doing this which provides significantly better returns in the all important 'project benefits' column.

What's Wrong With These Proposals?

We start out with the proposition that the extra capacity potentially provided by this proposal at both Southern Cross and Flagstaff (the lowest trafficked city loop station by a significant quantum), is completely redundant to the network's needs.

We also contend that Melbourne has created a significant urban problem in the Southbank residential redevelopment zone. One of the main benefits of this type of living is supposed to be reducing car dependency, but we've seen a lot of data recently suggesting that car use and certainly car ownership in Southbank is actually out of control.

The area is walkable to everything in the CBD, and has trams running along Kingsway, Queensbridge and Sturt Streets, but these tram routes actually really border the main areas of the suburb rather than running right through it. If the logic exists to provide heavy rail access to the Fisherman's Bend redevelopment zone, the same logic should have applied when we were planning Southbank. We believe the heavy rail opportunity now created at Fisherman's Bend provides an opportunity to remedy the lack of planning at Southbank.

Melbourne Metro Rail - Wombat Style

We therefore propose that instead of running via Southern Cross Station, Metro 2 should continue east via 1-2 new stations at Southbank and re-join the remainder of the network at the Metro 1 tunnel, whose capacity it would share through the CBD, before running underground through the northern suburbs and meeting South Morang/Hurstbridge roughly as per existing proposals.

Click the images below to enlarge.

So, we're essentially creating 4 new stations south of the river - Wirraway (which I've situated so it can in fact serve both the Wirraway residential zone and the designated employment zone to its north), Sandridge, Casino/Convention Centre, and Southbank.

In the north, which is really pretty well transport enabled already, it's just two new stations for the shorter tunnel - we see the return from the dead of Museum Station (at which far too many people arrive by car - the location was never sensible from this perspective) and Johnson St, approximately half way between Smith and Brunswick Streets. Alternative name would be "The Rochy" :)

Metro Tunnel Capacity

The obvious benefit of the Wombat proposal over anything running via Southern Cross is the shared tunnel infrastructure with Metro Rail 1. Armchair critics will already be reaching for their revolvers about the limited capacity of that tunnel reintroducing a bottleneck into the network.

I fully concede that would be the greatest weakness here, but I don't think it actually need be a limiting factor once we sit down and actually look at the numbers, given that we are building the Metro 1 tunnel with future high capacity signalling in mind.

Let's look at how this might work. We are suggesting that ONLY Werribee line trains be re-routed through the Wombat Metro Tunnel, and that Williamstown line services would continue to run above ground to Southern Cross and/or Flinders Street, otherwise we're left without any trains at Seddon, Yarraville and Spotswood.

Looking at the 2016 Network Development Plan's projections for 2026 - 20 peak hour services are scheduled to run via Newport. Unfortunately the plan is agnostic as to how many of these originate from Williamstown and how many from Werribee, but let's assume a ratio of approx 3:1 in Werribee's favour, so let's say 14 and 6. It assumes 14 services running via the Metro 1 tunnel by the same date.

PTV Network Development Plan
Peak hour projections for 2031

So the key limiting question here is whether the capacity of the Metro Tunnel would allow for 28 peak hour services within the tunnel under construction. Given the current, prehistoric, steam powered network signalling has an acknowledged capacity of 20 trains per hour, we're looking for a 40% improvement, to allow a train every 2.18 minutes.

Network signal capacity is something of a dark art - as we're already experiencing with the high capacity trials underway, but there is no denying that this demand would be within the acknowledged international capabilities of high capacity signalling systems of up to 36 trains per hour.

At the other end, we then have the option of re-routing either the entire Hurstbridge or South Morang Lines through the tunnel (both would not be an option for capacity reasons and it would again render a whole raft of inner city stations redundant), OR this could be the route of a future Doncaster rail link along the Eastern Freeway.

Looking ahead to 2031, if the Airport rail link DOESN'T utilise Metro 1 tunnel, and instead runs direct to Southern Cross, then we would need to be able to run 33 trains an hour through the tunnel, and we concede that this would be straining the upper limits of today's high capacity signal technology, but you would then have the option of running some Werribee services above ground to Southern Cross to further mitigate.

PTV Network Development Plan
Peak hour projections for 2031

Furthermore, if the capacity constraints were only in a single direction through the CBD, you would actually have the option of running some Werribee services BACKWARDS through the CBD - ie above ground from Newport - South Kensington then into the Metro 1 tunnel and returning to Werribee via Fisherman's bend.

So there you have it. We tender the merits of the Wombat Plan on the basis that it
1. Minimises costs through shared infrastructure
2. Provides heavy rail access to major destinations and public transport blackspots in Southbank
3. Creates future capacity for Doncaster Rail (the peak hour constraints would all be in the opposite direction)

Would love to hear your thoughts, opinions or feedback below.