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.”