Community set to have its say on the transformation of the Kings Way undercroft
Long-awaited plans to redevelop the Kings Way undercroft adjacent to the Boyd Community Hub are edging closer with an opening date for community consultation expected to be announced soon.
The City of Melbourne intends to renew the undercroft, which has been dubbed “unsightly” and a “waste of space”, into a multi-purpose area, providing a range of community activities.
The space, located on the northern side of City Rd, is land owned by the state government, and currently home to a redundant taxi rank, a poorly lit pedestrian route to and from Crown with a lack of surveillance, and an area prone to flooding and lack of protection from heavy traffic.
According to concept designs, the area may include a skate park, basketball courts, climbing walls, sports courts, and a group fitness space.
A play space, temporary art installations/events, and pop-up pavilions/studios are other suggestions for the undercroft, which is about 500 square metres or about the same size as 12 basketball courts.
In March, Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said further announcements about the northern undercroft redevelopment – including an opening date for community consultation on the draft designs – would be made soon, “which is going to be really exciting for Southbank”.
The project’s progress coincided with the news that a temporary basketball court would be built at the Melbourne Square development site.
However, there has been no confirmation of how the revitalisation of the northern undercroft would be funded. As reported by Southbank News in August last year, the council’s 2022-23 budget planned to draw $9 million from a “public open space reserve”, a pool of cash from developers set aside to create new community public spaces, including the Kings Way undercroft project, to fund the City of Melbourne’s $300 million Greenline trail.
Cr Reece said while he was not in a position to make a comment on the budget, the council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting held recently in Southbank had heard that basketball courts and recreational spaces were the “number one issue raised with us” from residents.
He said through the council’s design excellence advisory committee, which included architects, town planners, designers and community members, the team had reviewed undercrofts across Melbourne and identified priority design projects “to unlock these spaces” which had been “forgotten”.
“In many cities around the world we have seen these areas reimagined and turned from urban blight into new attractive spaces, which have become a drawcard for people into these areas,” Cr Reece said.
“There’s no part of Melbourne which stands to benefit from this work more than Southbank”, which is one of Melbourne’s most densely populated areas.
From a city planning perspective, this has created significant challenges as we have endeavoured to retrofit green space, sporting infrastructure and other vital amenities for residents into what was once an industrial area.
“This is not easy, but we are very much up for the challenge and this new basketball court on the Melbourne Square site is a great example of council working hard, and the local community stepping up to deliver a great result for Southbank.”
Cr Reece added the council was “continuing to look for more opportunities” to create further sports infrastructure and green space in Southbank by “ringing landowners, and working with anyone who could talk to us to see if we can find a location”.
On the council’s design excellence advisory committee is community member Dan Ong, who said parks were at a premium in the city, and that it was “really good to spark people’s imagination in terms of the possibilities” of revitalising undercrofts.
“Changing that image – a rather negative and gritty image – can be conducive to changing the perception of the city as not just a central business district but a central residential district,” he said.
RMIT urban ecologist Dr Holly Kirk said the redevelopment of the northern undercroft’s “neglected space is a perfect example of how we can achieve gains for both people and nature using thoughtful urban design”.
“Creating a shared community space with basketball courts and appropriate vegetation will not only provide the place with a sense of positive purpose, but the added greenery could act as an important resource for urban species such as native pollinating insects, in an area that has limited habitat availability,” she said.
“Both actions will help make the northern undercroft feel safer, provide a much-needed amenity and contribute to future stormwater control if the right materials are chosen.”
Thami Croeser, of RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, also applauded the plan to reallocate redundant road space to new uses, particularly the proposed improvements of green spaces.
But he added, “it’s a very high-traffic site for recreational facilities – anyone who has tried to access the existing Boyd facility knows how unpleasant this location is to walk to”.
“A few more trees are nice, but the noise and pollution and collision risk remain because the proposal will not reduce traffic lanes or speeds,” he said.
“If the council is serious about creating dignified, healthy spaces for community recreation, it should do a proper site selection process. I don’t think they’d end up choosing a spot that’s this loud, polluted, dark and surrounded by speeding vehicles, particularly given many users are likely to be young people. This sends a message that traffic is the priority, and the community gets the leftover scraps.”
Residents’ group Southbank3006 said it was delighted the council had reiterated its commitment to redeveloping the undercroft and looked forward to seeing the detailed plans “for this important community space, which is an unsightly blot on Southbank in its current state”.
Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna said it was “exciting times” for Southbank to have a new reinvigorated space.
“We are certainly delighted this might be making some progress,” he said, but added residents were disappointed the project had not come to fruition after it was initially slated for construction in 2021. •