Time to abandon the City Rd Master Plan?
The president of an emerging Southbank residents’ group has called on the council to consider abandoning the City Road Master Plan, arguing the 2016 strategy is no longer fit for purpose.
In his submission to councillors at the first-ever Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting held in Southbank on November 22, Southbank3006 president David Hamilton described the City Road Master Plan as an “outdated concept”.
Led by former City of Melbourne planner Leanne Hodyl, the master plan was endorsed by the council in 2016 following years of consultation, with the strategy setting the scene for more pedestrianisation, traffic calming measures and street greening.
The master plan conceptually split City Rd into three sections: “Alexandra Avenue”; City Rd East”, between the St Kilda Rd overpass and Power St; and “City Rd West”, between Power and Clarendon streets.
In acknowledging City Rd’s use as a major arterial road connecting Swan Street Bridge to the Monash Freeway, the strategy for Alexandra Avenue and City Rd East was largely underpinned by a need to improve pedestrian safety and connectivity.
However, the vision for City Rd West is vastly different. While the plan seeks to improve street greening and connectivity along the entirety of City Rd, wider footpaths, bicycle connections and traffic calming measures seek to transform its western end into a “great central city street”.
Proposals put forward in the 2016 Master Plan to achieve this included new pedestrian crossings, lowering traffic speeds, providing active street frontages, separated bike lanes and a new community activity node at the Kings Way undercroft.
The master plan includes six actions. With City Rd being a state-managed asset, three of the actions are the council’s to fund and have been mostly completed.
To date, only the Alexandra Avenue pedestrian crossing, some expansion of Southbank’s bicycle network, limited street greening and slip lane removal as part of the Southbank Boulevard upgrades have been completed.
Connecting the Arts Precinct to City Rd will now be delivered by the landscape transformations that come with the construction of NGV Contemporary.
The elusive final two actions are City Rd East, which is the state government’s to fund, and City Rd West is a shared project. This year, the council is progressing designs for both sections of City Rd with a view to seeking the state’s support and funds in 2023.
While the council’s current annual plan for 2022/23 lists “delivery” and “advocacy” of the master plan as one of its “major initiatives”, Mr Hamilton used part of his submission on November 22 to call on the council to “repudiate” it.
Speaking in response to the council’s report on neighbourhood plans in Southbank, Mr Hamilton – a long-term resident with a decorated background in government, planning and economics – urged that funds for City Rd be redirected to “low-traffic neighbourhoods”.
Much like laneway culture and the council’s outdoor dining parklets had reclaimed street space in the CBD, Mr Hamilton said more attention was needed on creating pocket parks and meeting places in Southbank’s local streets.
“How do Southbank3006 and residents work with the council to make Southbank a centre of low traffic neighbourhoods with the creative use of open space to enable community gardens and pocket parks to meet in?” Mr Hamilton posed to councillors.
What is clear is that the City Road Master Plan will only exacerbate the existing traffic management problems along the full length of City Rd … let’s jointly agree to abandon the City Road Master Plan and replace it with strategies to address the traffic management of the entire neighbourhood recognising that City Rd is a State Highway and major arterial and needs to be made to work.
“We would strongly advocate that the council repudiates the City Road Master Plan as an outdated concept and cease relying on it as a panacea for Southbank’s economic or traffic management.”
The City of Melbourne recently finalised its “Southbank Neighbourhood Portal” – a one-stop-shop for locals to access council services following its “Participate Southbank” process, led by the council’s “neighbourhood partner” for Southbank, Ash Lee.
Mr Hamilton said Southbank3006 was disappointed that the economic development strategies identified as “neighbourhood priorities” as part of this process has focussed on hospitality and retail on City Rd.
In describing Southbank as a densely populated “dormitory suburb” whereby residents predominantly work outside the area, he said Southbank’s “economy of the future” required a bigger vision “than coffee shops and dining” .
The council’s deputy chair of planning Cr Rohan Leppert, who was serving in the planning portfolio at the time the City Road Master Plan was conceived, said it was included in the Council Plan “not because of its traffic-calming potential alone, but for its local economic and health benefits”.
“I remain a believer in the potential of the City Rd West upgrades in particular to transform Southbank into a place that is easy and pleasant to walk around. That’s quite a transformation of course, but if we can convert a hostile traffic barrier into a low-traffic, tree-lined ‘High Street’ with generous footpaths, new local hospitality offerings will flourish and the entire local road network will benefit,” Cr Leppert said.
"I suspect that the council and Southbank3006 share the same objectives for a greener, high-quality public realm, but in lieu of better alternative proposals, I do think the City Road Master Plan is the best plan to get us there."
As a major initiative of its current annual plan, the council’s master plan activities for 2022-23 include …
- Completing the design, planning and tender for the upgrades to the City Rd northern undercroft and City Rd Park, and beginning construction on both; and
- Continuing to advocate to the state government for upgrades to City Rd East and West by undertaking further traffic studies.
The council included $9 million in its current budget to progress the Kings Way undercroft, and says it’s working closely with the site’s owner the Department of Transport to extend its tenure. It’s also due to submit revised concept materials to the state government for funding consideration this month.
This included attracting more technological and knowledge-based industries to the area, as well as understanding how existing arts, entertainment and educational practices integrated with the wider community.
“Using it [City Rd] to underpin the ‘economy of the future’ as a ‘neighbourhood priority’ devalues the entire Participate [Southbank] process,” Mr Hamilton said. “What does the economy of the future look like for Southbank? – it has to be more than coffee shops and afterhours dining …” •