The North-East-Link

The Australian bush, a major influence and cen...

Australian Bush Heritage - an inspiration for the Heidelberg School of Painters

A question raised almost immediately when we talk about the NE link is simply where is it proposed to be built?

Friends of Banyule had meetings with VicRoads April 2010 to gain an understanding of the alignment and location of the freeway. No information was available on either the alignment or funding structures and we were told that the project is being scoped. We left the meeting without any answers and the distinct feeling that the organisation was being evasive on all of our concerns on the project.

Currently there are a couple of maps that give some indication of the proposed route – one is the GHD report commissioned by the government in 2007 showing a connection between the end of the Western Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway through Greensborough, Watsonia, Viewbank, Rosanna and Bulleen.  The other was obtained via ‘Freedom of Information’ and there is also the 2010 Melways Map showing a similar alignment.  See Friends of Banyule’s North East Link web page for map details

The particular concerns that galvanise Friends of Banyule are the Banyule Flats, Warringal Swamplands and Bolin Bolin Billabong, an 81 hectare area, which forms part of the ancient floodplains along the Yarra River located within the metropolitan suburbs of Heidelberg, Viewbank, Rosanna and Bulleen.

Banyule Flats and Warringal Swamplands are lowland riverine flood plains that are among the most threatened landscapes in Victoria. Banyule Swamp is the most intact and biologically significant shallow freshwater marsh in the Lower Yarra. Both are key wetland areas in maintaining the viability of populations of water birds and wetland ecosystems in the Lower Yarra. They contain a number of rare, vulnerable and threatened fauna, 23 species of water birds, 125 species of native birds, 11 species of native mammals and 4 bat species.

The Victorian government has been planning to build a freeway right through the middle of Banyule Flats and Warringal Swamplands.  The newly elected Liberal government has not yet confirmed whether it will continue on the same path and refuse to consider public transport solutions for Banyule, a municipality which is chronically under-serviced.

This freeway, the so-called North East Link, will not ease congestion but will destroy one of the most precious environmental and historical assets in the City of Banyule: the birthplace of the iconic Heidelberg School of Painting, the first internationally recognised Australian Art Movement.

In 2002, the Victorian MP for Ivanhoe, Craig Langdon, got up in front of 1000 residents at  Banyule Town Hall and swore there would be no freeway through Heidelberg and Bulleen as long as he was an MP. He claimed the support of then Minister for Transport, Peter Batchelor, who declared in Parliament: ‘‘There is a very wrong suggestion that the Government has a proposal to build a freeway through the Yarra Flats … It is a tragic and sleazy attempt by a conspiracy of the deluded to try to frighten people living and working in this area … these people will have no basis for making the suggestions in the future.”

If this proposed $6 billion project were to go ahead, we will have all been betrayed by the Government.

Ten years ago, government spokesmen were saying that building more and more freeways cannot go on – but it is. State and Federal governments have facilitated more road freight and less by rail, while promising to do the opposite. We need to continue to remind our State government that the Yarra Valley is not theirs to turn into an asphalt-covered tarmac, and that 90 per cent of traffic on roads is passenger traffic looking for the necessary public transport alternative. Superior public transport, cycling and walking options to overcome the car dependency now dominant in Banyule and surrounding municipalities is what is required.

The North East Link would go through the home of the Heidelberg School of painters and an invaluable conservation area. It will also cut a swathe through Heide, home of the Australian  Modernists, with little concern for our cultural history or the environment.

It would also dismiss the thousands of Melburnians who use the area for passive and active recreation, including the members of many sporting clubs.

Yes, there is a missing link. It’s called Public Transport and sensible planning decisions. It is the responsibility of the major parties to provide public policy for the necessary public transport alternatives to protect our valuable heritage for this and future generations.

In August 2010 after a contest in the Courts, the government revealed to Greg Barber MLC under Freedom of Information (FOI) that it had submitted a bid for funding to Infrastructure Australia. The freeway’s route shown in the documentation is identical to one outlined in government planning documents from 2001, which the government denied existed – until they were revealed in the court case and FOI response.

Infrastructure Australia knocked the proposal back on several grounds but the former Labor government was looking for a public private partnership to build and operate the freeway.

Friends of Banyule are suspicious of the fact that the proposed freeway is projected by the Victorian government as a freight route to take trucks off busy suburban streets. Much of the traffic we endure is locally generated and only a small proportion is cross-town.  Most of it is cars and a relatively small proportion are long distance heavy trucks.

The enduring historical pattern with freeway development in Melbourne since the 1960’s has been greater car dependency. More and more household income gets poured into transport as a result. One freeway gets filled up and then the government decides to build another one. Haven’t they heard of climate change?

Frankly, we hear far too much about so-called ‘missing links’ and nowhere near enough about Public Transport Networks. The nearest linking bus service to Montmorency train station is 300 metres away. Other stations have none. Poor linking bus services are a major reason why train use in Melbourne generally and Banyule in particular is sub-optimal.  There is no more money in the Victorian Transport Plan for added SmartBus and local bus services. However, there is $6 billion (and counting) earmarked for a freeway.  No-one in government even mentions the much needed duplication of the Hurstbridge railway line.

The former Victorian Brumby government with the support of the Liberal Opposition signed off on the westward and northward expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).  (Please note, that since going to ‘press’ the incumbent Ballieu Liberal Government has rescinded the UBG policy and is reviewing it).  The tardy development of heavy rail services especially northward on the Epping line threaten to bring more road traffic into Banyule – North-East Link or no North-East Link.

The Liberal government is yet to advise on plans for orbital passenger rail in the north and the west in the wake of the expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary. We know that the major weakness in the eastern and southern suburbs is the lack of high-capacity orbital Public Transport services. The SmartBuses are a second best retrofit because no land was retained for rail reservations by successive and very thoughtless state governments. Such is not the case in the north and the west. The land is there but where is the government commitment to orbital heavy rail for passenger services?

We have been very badly let down. In 2001 the then transport minister, Peter Batchelor, who declared in Parliament:  QUOTE   ”There is a very wrong suggestion that the Government has a proposal to build a freeway through the Yarra Flats … It is a tragic and sleazy attempt by a conspiracy of the deluded to try to frighten people living and working in this area … these people will have no basis for making the suggestions in the future.”

6 Responses to The North-East-Link

  1. Warwick Archer says:

    We live in a larger more populated city and metropolis than we did before. As we need better public transport we also need better freeways so we can take the pressure away from areas like the Heidelberg cutting and Fitzsimons lane..We must go forward as a community together and that includes people with polarised views on things. Healthy debate should be just that, but compromise will always be the winner when good planning leads to things getting done hopefully for the better rather than living in a time warp.. I live in Banyule and I want this freeway before I die. I also enjoy using public transport and can t wait until I can be proud of both.
    Bike tracks , recreation reserves and the environment in general should be high on the agenda in search of the balance we need to find. I want to love this whole city as much as I did before and I am not afraid of change like some of you are. Some of you may have vested interests as I think was the case in the 60’s when Dick Hamer caved in to the property owners in East Ivanhoe and as a result the land in Banyule was subdivided. I sense this hypocracy still thrives. I just hope the bigger picture avails this time.
    Warwick Archer

    • Dear Warwick

      If you don’t look at the wider picture of the transport system as a whole, rather than the building of another freeway as somehow a magic bullet responding to a particular problem (eg Rosanna Road/ Hoddle St etc), then there will always be another freeway to build. You’ll always have another “missing link”, to join the dots on the map. What is required is an integrated system, which takes into account all the elements of an overall transport system in a holistic way, including road, rail, cycling, pedestrian, inter-connectivity and land use, on a planned, forward looking basis.

      Otherwise, you end up with “induced traffic” creating more congestion & more gridlock, such as Los Angeles, Beijing or Bangkok, where pollution has reached dangerous levels requiring urgent measures now being introduced. Continuously adding to the road and freeway network without, commensurate improvements to public transport with capacity of mass transit systems such as London, Amsterdam, Zurich etc, to move large numbers of people around major cities in an efficient and effective manner, with minimal pollution and impact on the environment, we simply build in more problems for future generations.

      Building freeways through parks and reservations is a very inefficient method of land use, in an age of increasing pollution where planners are talking of the “green city” and the importance of public parkland and tree canopy to mitigate the” heat island effect” of increasing urban development and climate change. The Eastern Freeway was designed with a potential future rail reserve down the centre. This is the proposed route for the Doncaster Rail Line, similar to the Mandurah Line in Perth. This presently available land, will be lost if East/West Link proceeds.

      Considering that the major freeway tunnel solution (eg; North East Link) would not be in operation till 2020 or beyond (or a decade more if East/West Link proceeds), you’ve still got the congestion on local arterial roads in the meantime to deal with. Traffic management measures are available to Vic Roads to alleviate this, which we have previously mentioned (including lane, time of day and speed restrictions for heavy vehicles as well as enforcement). Heavy vehicles including B doubles and other articulated vehicles are using these roads in Banyule to avoid tolls on the Tullamarine/ City Link and Monash Freeway corridor. There needs to be sufficient restrictions on these roads (which are also residential), to persuade transport operators to use the above designated heavy vehicle routes instead.

      We need to plan for the long term and consider what sort of city we want in the future. If Melbourne is to retain its “Most Liveable City” mantle, then we should avoid going down the road (or the freeway) to a Los Angeles style traffic congested future. If other cities around the world can do this, then so can we!

      Dennis O’Connell
      President
      Friends of Banyule

      • Warwick Archer says:

        Dear Denis,
        You do make a lot of sense and I agree with a lot of what you say.Those non magic bullets you talk about can be very expensive as well .However, having come this far with our freeway systems right or wrong , wouldn’t it be even more senseless not to finish the last link of this orbital road when it can not be denied there would be substantial benefits to the transport of freight and industry in this region , not to mention some relief to the streets of Banyule.
        Warwick Archer

  2. Greta Gillies says:

    Warwick, the bigger picture, and indeed true progress, is seeing that oil dependency is not sustainable, and taking action to move away from it. We cannot go on using our limited peak oil reserves with such sense of abandon. We need to prioritise world class public transport, making it technologically current and attractive for all, and we need to do it now. If the rest of the developed world can see this, why can’t Australia? We are the true dinosaurs in this sense; clinging onto a naïve and no longer relevant nor realistic mid-20th century Australian Dream of entitlement and wastefulness.
    World class public transport needs to be supported with better freeways but not more freeways. Multiple passenger and bus only lanes, goods vehicle curfews etc are just a few ways freeways can be improved.
    Friends of Banyule members represents a diverse, age varied group of individuals. Many of us, like myself, are in our early 30’s. Many of us, also like myself, do not live in the high property priced hot spots of Banyule. We live simple and rich lives moving around and appreciating the beautiful parklands that surround us. My only vested interest for ensuring freeways do not go through these magnificent lands; respecting custodians of these sacred lands and for my future children and grandchildren to enjoy like I do.

  3. Warwick Archer says:

    Gretta your reply is appreciated and your comments read carefully. I would like to add to my arguments as to why we should complete our freeway system and with reference to some of your words..

    • Warwick Archer says:

      1 . I would imagine the world will always want independent transport and technology and future consideration will only change it not eradicate it inspite of the looming fossil fuel debacle.. Can I ask if you have been on a Melbourne freeway recently at 6.30 am and noticed the number of utes, vans, wagons,trailers,small trucks, large trucks, vehicles with roof racks and ladders, and others on their way to a task.These tasks are the things that need to be done on a regular basis to keep a city running. I do agree we have a poor record with public transport and we need to do a lot more. I do agree we have wonderful parks and gardens but I also envisage some time into the future we can possibly have even more green and vegitation beside the way we live in cities with quieter freeways due to new technology and mono rails for public transport.
      Warwick

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