AILA: East-West Link will have severe ecological, cultural and heritage impacts

Analysis of Proposed East West Link Landscape Impacts

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects(AILA) has voiced its opposition to a new freeway link in the City of Melbourne that will cause the loss of 6% of one of Melbourne’s largest parks and have “severe ecological, cultural and heritage impacts Royal Park and Moonee Ponds Creek.”. The East West Link is a tunnel that joins two major freeways across the north of the city, however unlike the BIG DIG in Boston and the Madrid Rio, the East-West Link will widen existing surface roads to allow for above ground access ramps into the tunnel.

AILA has recently released a position paper on the new East-West link calling stating that

“East West Link Stage 1 is one of Victoria’s largest ever road infrastructure projects and the Linking Melbourne Authority is proposing to build it through the most sensitive historic heart of our city. The Authority is rushing the process to suit a political agenda. To date it has delivered a vague and unacceptable design with no certainty about how it will be delivered by a yet to be selected public/private partner.”

The largest impact of the proposed project will effect Royal Park, Melbourne’s largest inner city park that was created in the 1840’s that has over time had the open space eroded by new hospitals, Commonwealth Games Village, sport fields and stadiums and a large road that cut through its heart.

AILA has reviewed the material available and found that over 39 hectares (21% the park) will be severly impacted by the proposed tunnel which will be built using the cut and fill method. In its position statement, AILA raises concern about this lack of detail and public consultation

“As a profession which often plays an important role in the planning and design of large road infrastructure projects we are disappointed by the lack of consultation on, and public evaluation of, options for the design of this project. Even a small rural freeway requires an extended public process including consideration by an expert panel of the cost and impact of several alignment options.”

WLA had an email conversation with Ron Jones winner of the Royal Park Masterplan in 1984 about East-West link and Jones feels that

“The loss of parkland in Royal Park and reduction of value of large parts that are not directly lost is significant in itself and even more so since it comes on top of extensive alienation of parkland in central Melbourne over the past couple of decades.”. He also states that “The area of parkland added through Birrarung Marr was very, very, small in comparison to what has been lost.”

It also seems the public of Melbourne have lost connection with Royal Park and thus there seems to be little public opposition to the East-West Link as it is seen as a overall benefit by cutting down travel times rather than a loss of public open space in a city which is increasing in density but not increasing the amount of open space. Jones laments that

“As for what Royal Park means to Melburnians, the answer seems to be “astonishingly little”, at least at present. Much of the character in the park that I love is the result of neglect of a kind – it was too big and too difficult to turn into yet another municipal garden and retained a natural or at least rural feel that one now must drive for hours to find at the fringes of the metropolitan area. But the big space on its own does not make a good park experience for most people. Most people I met in the period after the 1984 design competition did not know where Royal Park was until I explained it was around the Zoo. I suspect little has changed over the past 30 years….On top of that, I think Melburnians’ affluence and materialism are a factor. When a friend’s wife said “why would you go to Royal Park? There’s nothing there” (or words to that effect) perhaps the contrast to be made is not with a visit to the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens but with Chadstone or Ikea. “

President of the AILA Victorian Chapter Kirsten Bauer feels that there is a “…lack of understanding in our community of the value of open spaces in cities. And that we see open spaces as waiting grounds for mass transport and more in particular roads….its extraordinary that our city is bucking the trend of intelligent cities.”

A infrastructure project such as this should be seen as an opportunity to improve the city not just in terms of transportation but improving the overall fabric of the city to benefit all residents environmentally, socially, culturally rather than as Jones states “purely a transport project, and not calculated to leverage wider urban design and development benefits.”

Melbourne seems to be lacking the understanding the role open space plays in creating the world’s most liveable city and its encouraging to see landscape architects and their professional bodies voicing their opinion and pushing for plans for the authorities “to develop an alternative alignment option that avoids any impact on Royal Park and Moonee Ponds Creek, or to otherwise abandon the project.”

WLA would like to thank Ron Jones (Jones & Whitehead) and Kirsten Bauer (President of the AILA Victorian Chapter) for making the time for this report.

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects Position statement on East West Link – Stage One – Download in [pdf]

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