Council put on notice by the “Penna bear” as more of the open space picture revealed

Council put on notice by the “Penna bear” as more of the open space picture revealed
Sean Car

As reported in the May edition of Southbank News, the City of Melbourne is proposing a new 1.2-hectare expansion of Normanby Road Reserve, while long-mooted plans for a decking over Citylink appear to be dead and buried. Here is what we know about the future of open space in Southbank …

At the May 7 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting, councillors considered two major agenda items, each aimed at boosting liveability in Australia’s most densely populated suburb.

Those items were, “opportunities to deliver new public open space for Southbank” and an “update” on the City Road Master Plan – two initiatives striving to provide new and improved spaces for the community.

What we learned was that much of the $25 million (an estimated $22.5m to be a little more precise) allocated in the council’s 2021/22 and 2022/23 budgets towards “new Southbank open space” is expected to be spent on the Normanby Rd project.

In identifying the section west of Kings Way as “the priority area for new open space”, the council says the Normanby Rd initiative would help address the open space shortfall for residents in this area who currently have limited access within a reasonable walk.

While Southbank3006 president David Hamilton applauded the project as “exactly the type of imaginative thinking” Southbank needed to solve its open space issues, Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna was more tempered in his praise on May 7.

Mr Penna told councillors that the expanded reserve would indeed “be a great asset to the residents in the block bound by Whiteman and Clarendon streets”, as well as future residents of the neighbouring Montague Precinct.



However, in a scathing critique of the council’s communication on its open space plans for Southbank, he questioned how the ambitious centrepiece of the 2010 Southbank Structure Plan – a decking over Citylink – had been “conveniently” scrapped.

The decking project proposed unlocking 3.4 hectares of developable space above the “CityLink void”, which would have required multiple levels of government investment, along with the participation of freeway operator Transurban.

While no formal business case has ever been completed since the decking idea was first shared with the Southbank community, the open space opportunities report on May 7 for the first time officially ruled it out as unfeasible because of its estimated cost of $1.5 billion.

However, we also learned that the feasibility study, which was based solely on the option as proposed in the structure plan, was completed by the council way back in 2021, but only publicly revealed last month.

While Mr Penna said SRA accepted the project as per the Southbank Structure Plan wasn’t viable, he lashed the council for not sharing its decision sooner after it told Southbank News only last year that it hadn’t yet formally ruled it out.

“Once again, Southbank can’t help but feel we were kept in the dark,” Mr Penna told councillors, labelling the decision after 14 years as “a travesty”.


Has the state government officially informed the council it will not fund the project or has council just decided there was likely nothing to gain from lobbying the state?


“We elected you councillors to represent us in this council. Where have you been regarding this issue of the Citylink deck? How much have you been advocating for us?”

Cr Rohan Leppert, whose 2020 Greens team went to the City of Melbourne elections with a $385 million decking proposal of its own with 2.5 hectares of purely open space, queried the council’s planning team as to whether any other options had been tested.

A council planning officer replied: “The feasibility work that was completed in 2021 was based on what’s outlined in the structure plan.”

“Once that feasibility was completed, and that $1.5 billion potential price tag was ventilated, then we moved our focus to other areas.”

While the vision set out in the structure plan won’t be going ahead, Cr Leppert left the door open on other open space concepts around the Citylink precinct; namely rerouting the Power St loop to open the “cloverleaf” site surrounding the Habitat Filter sculpture.

In what was an “idea I’ve heard around this place [Town Hall] from time to time”, Cr Leppert raised the possibility of connecting the Power St exit route to the corner of Moore and Miles streets to create a significant new park.

He also suggested that an even bigger space could be provided at Normanby Road Reserve by rerouting the 109 tram, to which the planning officer responded by saying the council was “considering all options at this stage”, however, “I think the tram tracks might be one of the trickier outcomes.”

Mr Penna also criticised the council for claiming that upgrades to Southbank Promenade and Southbank Boulevard had been completed, despite remaining works on stages one and six of each project, respectively, still outstanding.

But in an “important nuance”, the council officer said that open space was only considered complete when it’s formally gazetted. “That’s when it contributes to our formal recognition of open space,” the officer replied, adding that these remaining works would be completed during the next financial year.


Council secures lease for Kings Way undercroft

As part of the update on the City Road Master Plan, the council confirmed that it had finally reached an agreement with the Department of Transport (DTP) to lease the Kings Way northern undercroft.

As one of the major visions of the council’s master plan, which was endorsed back in 2016, it has long sought to transform the former taxi rank near Crown Casino into recreational play space for the community.

However, with the land owned by DTP, efforts to renew the area have suffered long delays due to ongoing negotiations over how the site’s “multiple constraints”, including safety and flooding, would be appropriately managed.

The council confirmed at the May 7 meeting that it had secured a 40-year lease of the site, and the project was expected to be delivered during the 2025/26 financial year at an estimated cost of $5.85 million.

“A chain of community amenities” has been mooted for the area, including sports courts, group fitness facilities, events spaces and climbing walls in what Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said would “further enhance the amenity of Southbank”.

As he has previously highlighted, Cr Reece said the project would provide an important precedent for the renewal of the 20 kilometres of underutilised undercroft space across the rest of the city, “much of which is in Southbank”.

With the state government being the authority for City Rd, the council has acknowledged it has limited control over achieving the vision set out in the 2016 master plan.

While most of the six key action items remain incomplete or in the hands of government authorities, Tony Penna again called out the council for claiming it had completed Action 6 – “expanding the bicycle network within Southbank”.

“We are perplexed by this update,” Mr Penna said, pointing out that no cycling infrastructure had been installed along City Rd to date.

Cr Rohan Leppert amended the update to reflect this fact, adding “let’s not poke the Penna bear by suggesting that things are completed when they’re not.”

The council’s open space report noted that with the Normanby Road Reserve expansion estimated to cost $22.5 million, representing “almost the full $25 million allocation for Southbank new open space”, that any “future opportunities for land acquisition in Southbank would be subject to approval of additional budget either from the Public Open Space Reserve or council funds.”


Southbank open space: what we have, what we know, and what may be coming …



  • Southbank Boulevard (between Dodds St and City Rd)
  • Dodds St Linear Park
  • Boyd Park
  • Kennedy Park (in partnership with OSK Property)
  • Moray St Dog Park
  • Stage one of Southbank Promenade (between Princes Bridge and Evan Walker Bridge, except the section in front of the Southgate food court)
  • Riverside Quay upgrades
  • Temporary basketball court at Melbourne Square



  • Undercroft renewal opportunities (with the City of Port Phillip)
  • Expanded “cloverleaf” park surrounding Habitat Filter near CityLink
  • Expanded streetscapes (“low-traffic neighbourhoods”)
  • Pocket park opportunities •
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