Jeff Kennett voices concerns over East West Link design

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has expressed his disappointment about the negative impacts that the proposed East West Link design will have on the Melbourne gateway landmark. Tweeting in response to my questions, Mr Kennett sees the value of the cheese sticks being lost by the new flyovers.

This is in reference to my article published on The Red and Black Architect blog yesterday, as seen below.

State Government Reveals Final East West Link Design

This week the Napthine Victorian Government signed a secret contract worth $6.8 Billion, with the Lend Lease led consortium to build the eastern stage of the East West Link toll road. In what has now become the standard approach from this Government, the public were left in the dark with regards to almost every detail. From financial business case to the property impact reports, the actual route of the road and the physical design of it.

If you are joining this story just now there is some important back reading for you to do.

A day after signing the State into a massive financial black hole, the government has revealed the final design to be constructed. This is of course pending the outcome of the two separate court actions and a probable change in government. So what have we just bought, is the design any good and were there any surprises?

Eastern Portal

The Eastern portal road design was one of the few known outcomes from the planning permit approval. This road design tears up heritage streets and imposes the visual bulk of a flyover upon the surrounding residential areas.

The good news however is the demise of the ridiculous vertical ‘feature’ on the bridge which detracted from the heritage listed Clifton Hill Shot Tower. This design element was completely superfluous and caused additional negative impacts for zero positive gain. It will not be missed by anyone other than perhaps the Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who in his planning approval deliberately and recklessly contradicted the Assessment Committee who had found it to be unacceptable. Clearly wiser more educated heads have prevailed in this case.

View of the Eastern Portal (Clifton Hill and Collingwood)

Significant emphasis has been placed upon the acoustic tube refered to as the ‘Sound Wave. On the positive side it looks like it could be a dynamic and interesting form. It does seem however that the residential areas in most need of the noise protection (on the left of the picture above) seem to miss out all together. Hopefully this can be resolved to the satisfaction of those unfortunate residents.

Western Portal

Up until the point at which the design was released on Tuesday, the suburb of West Parkville was in limbo. Whilst the project had for weeks already been approved, no one could be sure where the roads would go, which properties would be demolished and how badly residents would be affected.

The bizarre situation for residents was that they would need to look in the newspapers or catch a TV news bulletin to determine if they would have a home in 6 months time. It was a public game of spot your home, with the winners getting to see their neighborhood be ripped apart over the 5 year construction period whilst the losers lost their home all together.

The Western Portal

The outcome was disastrous for West Parkville. Any hopes of a better design which could save the 55 homes, Ross Straw Playing Fields and the White’s Skink habitat were dashed. The planning permit recommendation to investigate relocating the portal west of Oak street was clearly too soft to have any impact on the design. The work done by Safety Net on an alternative which was proven to be feasible by traffic engineers commissioned by the City of Melbourne, was largely ignored. One aspect of this design that was not ignored was the provision of the Flemington Road access at the Citylink interchange, rather than within Royal Park itself. This will help save a section of Royal Park that would have otherwise been lost forever.

The overall news for Royal Park is however, far from good. As well as the permanent loss of virtually all of the parkland west of the Upfield Train line, there was the added bad news of a large electrical substation which is now required to power the tunnel boring machines. Yet again a significant impact on the environment and the public that was not accounted for in the Comprehensive Impact Statement (CIS).

Whilst discussing Royal Park it is also important to note that this project will be the third incursion into our largest public urban park in a decade. The Commonwealth Games village, the Royal Children’s Hospital and now East West Link have all eaten significant portions of the park. This is incredibly short sited of a city claiming to be the worlds most livable. All levels of government need to be looking at ways to permanently protect our rapidly shrinking urban parkland. It is too important to lose.

The new green cheese stick

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the proposed design is how the Linking Melbourne Authority and the Lend Lease consortium would address the connection with the Melbourne Gateway and the yellow ‘cheese stick’. The answer is with the use of mimicry. Not content to leave the iconic work of Denton Corker Marshall remain the cohesive entry for Melbourne, the new proposal is a classic case of ‘my project is bigger than yours’. The Cheese Stick has been duplicated, enlarged and set closer to vertical as a beacon to all who drive by. In a way green is a fitting colour for a yellow cheese stick gone bad. Not content with being taller and larger, the new triple decked flyovers are likely to substantially block the views of the original landmark, damaging its original purpose. This outcome, in my view at least, is unacceptable.

With the radical changes to West Parkville that are proposed, two mystery buildings were also subtly included into the scheme without explanation or clarification. Located beneath one of the seven new flyovers, are two new buildings built upon the land currently occupied with townhouses. Neither of these were within the reference design and therefore they were not discussed in the CIS or hearings either.

It's a mystery!

Debney’s Park

Another surprise inclusion is a new road through Debney’s Park between Mount Alexander Road and Racecourse Road, under the existing sound tube. Whilst this is a substantial blow to the Debney’s Park area which is currently a playground for a community of disadvantaged children, the silver lining is the $15 Million allocated for planning and implementing a new master plan for the area.

The new road as rendered

The Northern Interchange (Formerly the Ormond Road Off Ramp)

Residents in Moreland now have more reason to feel cheated as the Ormond Road off ramp has been unexpectedly expanded to include an on ramp from Brunswick Road. One has to seriously wonder what the point of all the discussion surrounding traffic modeling at the public hearings was for, given the substantial last minute changes to the proposed connections.

A new on ramp from Brunswick Road

The Northern Interchange has now also been given a replica set of red matchsticks. This is a desperate attempt to salvage something of the entry gateway that will be dominated by this project. The new sticks are clearly too far away to be read cohesively with the existing ones whilst simultaneously blurring the ability to navigate via these landmarks.

New Red Matchsticks

All in all, the design will not rescue this project. All to often where impacts could have been reduced, they haven’t been. Royal Park will be permanently scarred with a portion amputated completely. West Parkville will be sliced and segmented with the loss of 55 homes unnecessarily. The iconic Melbourne Gateway experience will be lost among flyovers and diluted by a new green parody.

As well as being the most expensive urban project in the state’s history, it will also be among it’s most destructive. Terrible politics, a rushed process, a secret business case, poor planning have all led to a mistake of mammoth proportions.

What do you think about the impact of the East West Link design on the Melbourne Gateway? Have your say below.

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