Airport West and Essendon Airport: auto-centricity status quo?

On Wednesday 19th March the Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced the Metropolitan Planning Authority, Moonee Valley City Council and Essendon fields are to begin working on a new framework "to guide an exciting new aviation and employment precinct in Melbourne's inner north".

According to the brochure on MPA's site, the plan will incorporate the Essendon Airport masterplan and Moonee Valley's Airport West structure plan into an overall framework which could have the capacity to create up to 25,000 jobs across aviation, technology and retail sectors.

Whilst stating "development of the precinct responds to the 20-minute neighbourhood initiative outlined in Plan Melbourne" the MPA talks up the road connectivity and mentions the #59 tram route in such a way that it's hard not to think it was merely added as a footnote.

Most interestingly Matthews Avenue is set to receive a makeover and the strip located south of Airport West shopping centre fronting Matthews Avenue has been zoned Commercial 1 and 2. This will allow mixed-use development to occur in the corridor thus diversifying the precinct beyond the light industrial/wholesale trade uses that currently exist.

Whilst work is just kicking off on the plan, readers with a keen eye for detail might have noticed the flyaround in the above video depicts an upgraded Matthews Avenue still dominated with car parks fronting the street and an English street with an interesting lack of pedestrian infrastructure.

Granted it's merely a video that showcases the potential of the area, however the visuals and the language employed in the MPA-produced documentation points to a potentially worrying missed opportunity should the auto-dominated narrative in the documentation follow through to the plan eventually adopted.

Home to La Manna and other large scale retailers and aviation businesses that are synonymous with auto-centric transport access, the Metropolitan Planning Authority would be wise to fight for the plan to have a long-term view on producing good urban design outcomes with extra focus on improving pedestrian amenity and sustainable transport options.

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Above is a Google Street view of Waterloo Road in Sydney's Macquarie Park. Despite two heavy rail stations on the Epping-Chatswood rail link, business precincts such as Macquarie Park still feature infrastructure and planning controls to support the automobile, robbing the streets of much pedestrian appeal.

Commercial 1 and 2 zoning and the expected dramatic increase in jobs over time will put pressure on the Tullamarine Freeway and specifically the Matthews Avenue/English street interchange and simply relying on the #59 tram won't allow employees who live to the West, East and North East of the precinct to travel to comfortably on public transport.

If Melbourne is to experiment further with decentralised and diversified employment and mixed-use precincts, we should not develop them under the false premise that the existing road network will be the dominant transport access mode.

Tomorrow a look at how we can enhance the public transport connectivity for Airport West and Essendon Airport through significant road-based public transport investment.

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