Monday, 25 June 2018

Melbourne Airport Rail Link - The Case for New Stations

Melbourne appears to be inching ever closer to proceeding with an Airport Rail Link, with the Federal Government promising to contribute $5bn towards the project, in spite of the ample evidence that $5bn would be far better spent on the Melbourne rail network by extending it to Rowville, Monash or even finally electrifying the Melton line.

Major credit to the State Government for their response to Turnbull's pure populism play. I've long had a sense that Daniel Andrews knows full well how poorly airport rail stands up to a proper cost-benefit analysis relative to almost any other possible similarly scaled improvement to Melbourne's rail network.

The state government has been insistent that if this project proceeds, it needs to be about more than just getting businesspeople to their flight on time on the dozen or so times a year the majority of them will ever travel.

Sunshine Station in Melbourne's west has enormous potential to develop as a new transport
and employment hub for the entire western region.

Unlocking The True Potential of Melbourne's Airport Rail Link

We've discussed this as nauseum here in the wombat burrow and so I won't bore you further tonight, particularly as the debating horse appears to have bolted somewhat. Some form of airport rail link is going to happen, and so as we've equally insisted before, we are about making sure if it goes ahead that it delivers the maximum benefit to the Melburnians who matter most - those who presently have tenuous access to viable public transport options. Doing it for Zone Two, as we like to say.

The state government is correct to situate the real scope of this project's potential in the context of "unlocking the City's west", and of seeking to ensure, as Melbourne's growth rebalances west now that little opportunities to expand east remain, that we don't repeat the mistakes our planners made over the part 50 years in creating vast greenfields development zones situated in public transport black holes, thereby locking their residents perpetually into inequitable, antisocial and unhealthy transport options largely confined to car dependency.

The Regional Rail Link project remains little understood and unheralded by most Melburnians, but I maintain it is the single most important infrastructure project that a Victorian government has undertaken in my lifetime. It is unquestionably John Brumby's greatest legacy. In years to come Melbourne will realise that this project has nothing to do with V/Line, because it's eventually going to be incorporated into the metro rail system, and it creates the opportunity to plan vast new greenfields residential sites around heavy rail.

As one also suspects that sticking to the original, more ambitious Metro rail project while canning the East-West Link will come to be seen as Daniel Andrews' eternal gift to Melbourne. In time I hope this decision will come to be seen as the first significant move by any Victorian politician to effect a recalibration towards mass transit investment which in turn set Melbourne up to become one of the great, if not the eminent industrial and social fulcrums of the Asia-pacific region.

The government also deserves credit for placing the project in the context of the possibilities to enable fast rail to Geelong. So we're seeing something of project's aims being lifted towards the horizon in two key dimensions - better enabling a public transport-oriented future for the West, and advancing the decentralisation agenda by rendering Geelong a viable commuter city to Melbourne.

I intend today to dwell today mostly in the former dimension as to a large extent the big questions around fast rail are all technical-boring ones regarding how to do it. My main agendas are seeing the line divert via Avalon, and at what point are we going to electrify the regional rail link anyway?

And I have two broad based pleas for the government to insist upon being part of the project if we are to have at least the benefits column of Turnbull's vanity project maximised.

1. Let's Electrify the ENTIRE Albion Rail Corridor Through to Jacana/Craigieburn

The below illustration shows the state government's approximate preferred route for airport rail as the leftmost orange track. Green is the Urban Growth Boundary, light blue is the existing tram network and dark blue heavy rail.

My proposal is to also electrify the entire remainder of the Albion freight corridor to where it reconnects with the Craigieburn line at Jacana (the right hand orange spur).

The point of this is to allow for services running Broadmeadows-Footscray (or potentially further), leaving the airport link free to run express past all but two of my new commuter stations I'm suggesting below. We've then plugged one of the largest heavy rail blackspots in Melbourne, created viable local heavy rail transit options into several existing and potential employment centres, and furthered the goal of de-radialising the network.

Furthermore the entire northwest has indirect heavy rail access to the airport. And this is as much about acknowledging that the airport is actually one of the few existing concentrated employment zones outside Melbourne's CBD as it is travellers.

Their journey would necessitate one change at the new Keilor Park station (more below) to connect with the airport rail link proper, but Melbourne folk are only unused to interchange travel because of the existing radial nature of the network.

The point of this full electrification is really about giving people in the northwest a viable heavy rail transport option to local employment centres, while also facilitating the growth of those centres.

2. Let's Build FIVE New Commuter Stations

I can already hear the armchair experts slingshotting out of their recliners. "Don't be a fool, you know every new station adds a huge amount of time to the journey, and we need to be competitive with road."

Well, bulldust. The main benefit of airport rail to commuters is RELIABILITY. So long as we can tell people exactly what time they will be at the Tullamarine terminus, they will plan their journey accordingly. They will not do a mental calculation on exactly how long a hypothetical road journey might take.

Regardless, as per above, we will only catering to two of the new stations on the actual airport rail link.

So, my proposed airport rail would have stops at the CBD obviously and travel via the Metro Tunnel to stop Footscray, Sunshine then three new stations - Keilor Park, Airport West and Tullamarine Airport, which would provide for a reliable service that is time-competitive with road and which delivers maximal integration with the existing commuter network.

The picture is completed with new stations at Sunshine North, Keilor East and Gowanbrae, all servicing either existing employment centres or greenfields residential, approximately in the locations set out below.

Future Proofing the West

You will also note the above diagrams include the sometimes mooted extension of the 59 tram line to the airport. It's really an afterthought, but I was interested in seeing what the airport's potential public transport catchment looked like with that added. I think it's fair to say this would not be used by travellers, this is purely to create a maximally public transport enabled employment centre whose effective catchment would now reach all the way down to Essendon.

I intend to spend more time breaking down some of the more recent journey to work data to gain some idea what percentage of Tullamarine airport and related facility employees, live within this catchment, and ideally that data would inform the decision of whether the tram connection was worthwhile.

And to ice this cake properly, if we scale back a little and look at a similar treatment for the inevitable Upfield Line extension (which already exists as unelectrified single track, shown in red below), and further back still to incorporate the Regional Rail Link (royal blue), with its potential for well planned and managed greenfields public transport oriented development, then the risen creation looks something like the image below.

Now, that starts to look more like my definition of a NETWORK - a decentralised lattice of interconnected nodes. And if we accept the other great wombat thesis that a radically decentralised rail network is necessary to secure Melbourne's future, the city's west suddenly looks full of potential for building great, sustainable communities with easy rail access to decentralised job centres.

Transforming Melbourne at Scale

And if we were to scale back even further, and if readers will allow me to bleat once more  about the transformative potential for Melbourne of one or more outer suburban orbital tunnel/s (see HERE for the detail of THAT complete scheme), then ultimately I would suggest this entire project be considered but stage one in a much grander scheme linking all the major current and potential northern suburbs employment locations with heavy rail that operates radially IN to them as destinations in their own right.

Now, that to me looks properly transformative. And we are at the point where we need change on that scale for the sake of Melbourne's future. The current process of incrementalism is really just locking in the car culture by fiddling with small capacity improvements for rail while roads soak up the majority of the available resources. But one of those resources - space - is very finite, and we are surely approaching the point where we are physically unable to cater to much more incrementalism.

Let's make Turnbull's airport rail boondoggle the beginnings of Melbourne's quantum leap into a 20 minute city that actually exists outside the usual rhetoric.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

MVHA: Protecting Significant Mid-century Modernism in Moonee Valley

Moving to Protect Moonee Valley's Modernist Heritage

We're extremely pleased that Moonee Valley City Council has recently moved to commence a new study of post-war heritage properties across the borough. Council deserves real credit for this - it certainly places them in the vanguard of Australian local government in protecting its inventory of significant modernist and other major post-war building styles. Provided the process is properly seen through to conclusion.

This exercise has proven particularly fraught elsewhere - Bayside Council in Melbourne's Southeast sits on arguably one of the largest and most significant inventories of mid-century modernist residential buildings in Australia, and the heritage community was looking forward to the conclusion of their recent study extending protection to a number of buildings that are notable not merely on a local basis, but certainly on a national, and even arguably (given the preeminence of a number of prominent Australian architects within the international mid-century modernist movement) international scale.

2-3 Oriana Ct, Flemington
On the left is a genuine and apparently in tact Lend Lease Sundowner (an Aussie modernist classic), paired with a 1963 effort from Brine Wierzbowski & Associates

Unfortunately the response from affected property owners in Bayside was particularly ignorant and particularly shrill. To such an extent that Council staff appear to have been placed under severe political pressure by Councillors to turf out the entire basis on which heritage listing is supposed to be applied in Victoria. 

Bayside Councillors have shamefully and immorally voted to ABANDON the heritage study, and instead sought to implement a scheme whereby property owners may voluntarily nominate their properties for heritage listing, which of course none of them will, and which will result in no protections being applied to a number of highly significant buildings. Read more about the issue HERE.

The Sporting Globe Bar and Grill, Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds
We don't know much about the history of this building, but it's clearly late modernist, with a splash of 'Route 66'
We look forward to learning more in the study, it's the most significant retail building we've identified for nomination.

This is of course not the methodology that is supposed to be mandated by the planning process in Victoria, and it follows a similar debacle at the City of Boorondara.

In fact these schemes undermine the entire basis of heritage protection everywhere, and we call again on the Planning Minister to now take the initiative and seek to implement a regime that MANDATES what heritage studies need to have performed, and which mandates a methodology that ensures heritage protection must be applied to a significant property no matter how loud the owner screams.

39 Nicholson St, Essendon
A fascinating two storey brick veneer residence with unusual casement windows
(possibly inter-war)

What's in a Listing?

The idea that heritage listing negatively affects the value of a property is not, in fact, borne out in reality. Most listed properties sell at a premium, with the certainty and the certification offered by the heritage listing most usually a key driver of the outcome, and this has been borne out in numerous studies (pdf link).

Nonetheless, we can expect another round of "what, you can't list this old piece of garbage!" from property owners at the conclusion of Moonee Valley's pending study, and activists and Council need to be ready for all this in advance. Council will need to stick to its guns having commissioned this study or risk undermining its own credibility and legislated authority. It is very specifically Council's duty to apply protection to all the significant heritage properties under its remit, and that duty neither begins nor ends at any specified date.

This survey already comes sadly too late for at least one recognised property of note. The property at 14 Brewster St, Essendon was a brutalist building known as the 'Richardson House', designed by Graeme Gunn for L. H. Richardson in 1962 (and many thanks to our friends at the Mid Century Domestic Architecture in Australia Facebook Page for their support in compiling much of this data). The building won the Victorian Architecture Medal in 1966, but we all know that brutalism can be a difficult style for many to love. Unfortunately a quick check for this building on Google Earth today reveals the following image 😞

How You Can Contribute

Council is presently seeking input into the study, and have asked for YOUR nominations of any properties to include. Unfortunately they have muddied the waters a little by specifically calling for nominations of typologies that would usually be regarded as "inter-war" rather than post-war - Old English and Spanish Mission Revival being prominent amongst them, and these are two typologies that Moonee Valley is particularly strong in.

Therefore we urge readers not to be too worried about the actual dates of any of the sites you nominate, if you're in any doubt and you're definitely looking at a modernist building - INCLUDE IT, there are professionals who are paid good money to sort this stuff out and this is exactly what they are there for. More importantly, there is also an inter-war study happening in the background that was commissioned a few years ago, and we have been assured by Council that anything that's nominated here but is technically too early will go in to that study.


NB, you won't find all the houses listed here on the actual map, as it was broken for some weeks, so we've submitted a number of properties manually. See the end of this blog post for a complete list of the "missing" properties.

11 Inglebrae Court Essendon
'D.S. Series' Project Home. Designed by Cocks & Carmichael for Design 70 Pty Ltd circa 1968.

Moonee Valley Council Has a LOT More Work to Do

The other point is that in wandering around the suburbs for this study, it's become painfully obvious to MVHA that there are MASSIVE tracts of the borough that are choc full of obviously notable heritage buildings that are all completely unprotected. Entire streetscapes on of in tact period homes that the community would expect they should never lose are all completely without any sort of heritage overlay protecting them, and they are under threat from inappropriate development as we speak.

We had hoped that Council's "gap studies" approach, of which this study is the latest iteration, would be enough to ensure protection of all the necessary buildings. It's now painfully obvious that it won't, and our job moving forward will be to campaign for huge tracts of Moonee Ponds, Ascot Vale, Essendon and even Flemington to have in some cases some very large precinct overlays applied to them. More on this in our next blog post, and probably ad nauseum for years to follow.

 39 Brewster Street, Essendon
Smith, Tracey, Lyon & Brock (c.1959)

 Post-war & Mid-Century Modernism - Some of Our Favourites

We thought we'd close by including a selection of some of the places we've already nominated (nb the map was broken for some time, so we've supplied most of these to Council directly) that may help inspire you to do likewise for your favourite places in your own neighbourhood. If you have any questions about any of this, please contact us directly -
But please hurry - nominations close on June 16.

12 Nicholson St, Essendon

46-48 Warrick St, Ascot Vale
This is a really bad photo, this double storey duplex (probably architect designed) is one of the finest and grandest examples of the type you will find anywhere. Better without solar ...

39 Lucknow St, Ascot Vale

Properties submitted by Moonee Valley Heritage Action not shown on Council's interactive map 
(again with thanks to Steven Coverdale and the good folks at his Mid-century Domestic Architecture in Australia Facebook Group - you can join up via that link - for their assistance in crowdsourcing many of the details here)

The Modernist Australia website is also a treasure trove that any lover of the style should also be familiar with.
3 Oriana Court Flemington
Lend Lease Sundowner

2 Oriana Court Flemington
House designed by Brine Wierzbowski & Assoc. in 1963

14 Brewster Street Essendon
'Richardson House' - DEMOLISHED

21 Brewster St, Essendon
designed by Clarke Hopkins & Clarke, 1965

31 Brewster St, Essendon
Smith, Tracey, Lyon & Brock (c.1959)

17 Albion St, Essendon

41 - 43 Nimmo Street, Essendon VIC
(Already identified in MV Thematic Places Heritage Study, 2012-13)

11 Inglebrae Court Essendon VIC
'D.S. Series' -Project Home
Designed by Cocks & Carmichael for Design 70 Pty Ltd circa 1968.

53 Willonga Street, Strathmore
Albert Ross, 1963

43 Woolart Street, Stathmore
Ian Napier, 1966

1 Noble Avenue Strathmore
Doesn't look like much from the street, but pretty sure that it's by the legendary Ernest Fooks, built in 1951, so one of his earliest

31 Wickham Grove Strathmore VIC
'Abbey House' - Designed by Earle & Bunbury for William Abbey circa 1958

31 Wickham Grove Strathmore
33 Bournian Avenue Strathmore
Former Angus Abbey house, Earle and Bunbury 1958 - 61 with stage 2 designed by Reg Curtis 1968

269 Napier St (Corner Henshall Road) Strathmore
Macfarlane & Martin, ca 1961

18 Watson Rise, Keilor
Designed by Tom Paciocco, 1990 (POSTMODERN)

44 Horseshoe Bend Road &
15 Barwon Avenue Keilor
'Gallery' - Project Homes
Designed by Sergei Halafoff of Chancellor & Patrick Architects for Inge Bros. Pty Lty circa 1968
This house design was a winning entrant in the 1968 RAIA Competition

18 Borrell Street, Keilor
18 Borrell Street Keilor
'V375' - Service Plan
Designed by Jack Clarke of Clarke Hopkins Clarke for The Age RVIA Small Homes Service circa 1962

22 Garden Avenue Keilor
'Glen 5' - Project Home
Designed by John Chamberlin for Glenvill Homes circa 1969.

6 Patrick Court Airport West
'Farmhouse Prototype' - Project Home
Designed by Chancellor & Patrick Architects for Vindin Suares circa 1968.