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New dog park soon to open but questions raised over fast shrinking open spaces

New dog park soon to open but questions raised over fast shrinking open spaces
Brendan Rees

A new dog park in Southbank is almost ready for opening, with construction expected to finish by the end of February – but as the City of Melbourne embarks on its most ambitious green open space program, many want to know: are there any spaces left?

The dog park will transform a disused area beneath the Kings Way southern undercroft near Moray St and feature an off-leash area the size of a basketball court as well as play equipment.

The project, which forms part of the council’s City Rd Masterplan, comes after residents said they wanted more pet-friendly spots – with the dog park joining eight other designated off-leash areas in the municipality.

However, while the new park is a welcomed initiative, population pressure and new developments squeezing Southbank’s already precious open spaces has raised questions about the future creation of green spaces in the area, which has become Melbourne’s most densely populated suburb.

The council’s draft budget for 2021-22 set aside $20 million for the acquisition of suitable parcels of land for public open space in Southbank, with 1.1 hectares of new open space being targeted by 2025.

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said green open space remained one of its “highest priorities” including transforming Southbank Promenade and creating new parks but stopped short of revealing where these spaces may be earmarked, citing the impacts of COVID-19 on the construction sector.

The council said it was “reviewing and adjusting” its plans and processes across all of its infrastructure projects, as factors such as supply chain delays, staff shortages from isolation requirements and increasing material and labour costs meant that project timelines could sometimes change at short notice.

“We’re getting on with our biggest ever infrastructure spend, but the impacts of COVID-19 continue to be felt across the construction industry in Australia,” the spokesperson said.

“We will continue to keep the community updated about changes in construction schedules – and work with our partners, contractors and traders to reduce delays as much as possible.”

RMIT Centre for Urban Research planner Thami Croeser, who advises the European Union, said he applauded the council’s commitment to more open space, but where exactly the best spots in Southbank might be “is probably a question that would need a lot of focused study”.

Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna, agreed, saying, “the question is: are there any spaces left?”

“I’m not aware of any spaces. We’ve always said that right from the budget announced, we were questioning where they were going to find that space, because the money was not to enhance what was already acquired space, but it was to find new space,” he said.

Projects in the pipeline include 2000 square metres of public open space above Southbank Promenade as part of the Southgate redevelopment, while the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation will deliver 18,000 square metres of public open space.

At Southbank Promenade 1000 square metres of open space will also be developed after the council made a deal with developers at the former home of ExxonMobil at 12 Riverside Quay.

The Southbank Boulevard project is another which is set to be completed this year, but according to Mr Croeser, he felt the design “feels like a wide footpath beside a road”.

 

Do we really need that one lane of traffic on Southbank Boulevard? It may have been necessary to retain traffic access back when this was being planned in 2016, but now the pandemic has shifted priorities: we work from home more and rely more on our local neighbourhoods.

 

The City of Melbourne’s environment portfolio lead Cr Rohan Leppert said while expensive, the council’s priority was buying land at the western end of Southbank while another avenue was “chewing up” existing open space to create more green space like the City Rd Masterplan.

“That won’t deliver a park per se, but it will deliver a high amenity green tree-lined street that’s going to completely change the way that part of Southbank feels, so that’s just as important,” he said.

Cr Leppert said another option was building an elevated park linking the two halves of Southbank over CityLink, which he campaigned for in 2020, “but obviously to get that through you need a long-term plan, and you need the state government to legislate for it.”   

“We haven’t had traction there with the local member or the state government at this time.”

Asked when the council may look at buying land in Southbank’s west, Cr Leppert said, “as soon as possible, but we’re not just going to announce the time and then arbitrarily set that because you need a deal that is good value for the ratepayer.”

“We are at the start of the process but we’re embarking on the most ambitious and aggressive open space acquisition and improvement program in the city’s history, and you only have to compare this year’s four-year budget with last year’s four-year budget to see the $250 million difference to understand.” •

Caption: A new dog beneath the Kings Way southern undercroft will open in March.

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