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Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop – only half the solution

August 29, 2018

by David Barnes, Managing Director

The State Government’s vision for a Suburban Rail Loop represents the first time that public transport planning has prevailed over road planning in Melbourne’s history, since the radial rail and the tram networks laid out in the late 19th century.  It is a sign of things to come.  It is simply not physically possible to accommodate Melbourne’s future mass travel needs by anything other than public transport.  At some stage cars must make way for public transport. This project could be the turning point.

But the identification and hopefully the construction of a loop such as this, is only half of the solution to Melbourne’s growing pains.  Realising the significant urban renewal and urban infill opportunities that will be created at key intersecting stations is the second half of the solution.  And it is this part of the solution that the government cannot afford to ignore.

From the outset of the design of the project, the government must make sure it considers and plans for the very significant opportunities for urban renewal that will occur at key intersecting stations.  It will need to involve the community in these decisions, as significant change is likely to, and needs to, occur in these locations.

There will be a significant uplift in land values around the stations.  Unlike Fishermans Bend and Level Crossing Removal projects, the government should plan for the urban renewal of these precincts from the outset.  This needs to involve the introduction of mechanisms to capture the increase in land values caused by this very significant public investment, so it can be redirected towards public benefit projects, rather than private land owners.

Melbourne’s population is expected to grow to 8 million by 2050.  Successive metropolitan planning strategies over past decades have been only partially effective in slowly reorientating Melbourne’s growth from greenfield expansion at the city edge, to infill development within the established urban area.  To accommodate 8 million people without substantially expanding Melbourne’s urban footprint, Melbourne’s urban form will need to fundamentally change.  Higher density residential and mixed use development, and more jobs in suburban activity nodes, will be an essential part of the equation.  Significant planning will be required to identify the future role, form and function of intersecting rail nodes and to facilitate the urban renewal opportunities that will arise.   Planning will need to start as soon as possible, as planning decisions made today may limit the potential of these precincts in the longer term.

The Suburban Rail Loop is a city shaping project for Melbourne. It is a project that has the potential to fundamentally transform movement and land use patterns throughout the city.  It is a project that needs bi-partisan support at both the state and federal level, so that the amazing opportunities it provides to influence Melbourne’s long term future liveability can be planned for and realised.

Hansen has been involved in a number of projects throughout Asia that have specifically focused on maximising urban renewal opportunities along new public transport corridors, for maximum community benefit including our recent award-winning Surabaya Urban Corridor Development Program in Indonesia for the World Bank. This approach is broadly adopted throughout the world and it needs to be embraced in Melbourne if the full potential of this exciting, transformational project is to be realised.

photo credit: Edward H Blake

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