It's always somewhat concerning when the heart of any sub-precinct is defined by two large open air car parks, and this is the case at Essendon Station, within the greater Essendon Junction precinct. Conversely the opportunity exists to transform said car parks into a worthwhile urban experience if the process is handled correctly.
Owner VicTrack considers the land around Essendon Station surplus, indicating that the land parcels should be developed and in the process remove Melbourne's 18th worst level crossing at Buckley Street by sinking Essendon Station. As was reported last year VicTrack is heading toward a policy of linking with private developers in order to facilitate development of underutilised tracts of land.
Essendon Station as the focal point of Essendon Junction was also earmarked as one of Victoria's 20 best investment sites as seen in the graphic above, according to the Property Council of Australia. The 2.5 hectares available for development could have an end value of $250 million with a mix of uses.
City of Moonee Valley in their 2012 Draft Structure Plan below clearly outline the dual expansive blue car parks abutting Essendon Station. According to the most recent planning application for Essendon Junction, maximum heights of 39 metres or 13 levels are expected at the heart of the wider Essendon Junction area.
The Essendon Junction area is nominated as a Neighbourhood Activity Centre in the Moonee Valley Planning Scheme. State Government planning policy requires activity centres like Essendon Junction to operate as vibrant hubs containing a mix of residential dwellings, shops, services and public transport.
Once completed, the Structure Plan will provide a long term vision for future growth and development within Essendon Junction. It will be used to guide major changes to land use, built form, transport, community services and open space within the centre over a 20 year timeframe.Essendon Junction Draft Plan 2012
It seems all parties are in furious agreement when it comes to redeveloping Essendon Station, yet the policies to facilitate this have either not been implemented or acted upon.
As it stands all the development action lies at the fringes of Essendon Junction and further north along Mt Alexander Road as developments of 4-10 levels have been approved or completed in a steady procession. The currently under construction 20 Napier Street was recently joined by a new planning application located at 952-960 Mt Alexander Road, at the hands of a private developer.
952-960 Mt Alexander Road looks to take advantage of its elevated position by delivering an eight level apartment block on the periphery of the Essendon Junction area, yet still having tram, train and bus and retail all within walking distance.
The announcement signaling intent to move on development air rights above a select few Melbourne rail stations was made at the beginning of 2013, Essendon included. That nothing has been said or done publicly since says much for the speed at which bureaucracy works and for the ease in which words without context can be so easily forgotten.
Generally, established private sector developers will realise a project at a far greater speed than government could expect to, and Essendon Junction is shaping to be a prime example. Sites surrounding Essendon Station are steadily falling under the developers touch (as expected) but Essendon Station itself - the heart of Essendon Junction - is going nowhere fast.
Off the top of my head the only property development successfully delivered in recent times by VicTrack (in a development agreement with Consolidated Properties) was Ikon Glen Waverley which incidentally sold out in the first weekend of sales. Surely the time is now to spread that successful policy/formula elsewhere!