Planning to Fail: East West Link

Last Monday the largest and most destructive planning permit in Melbourne’s recent history was granted by Planning Minister Matthew Guy. The contentious East West link toll road is now approved to cut a swathe of destruction through Melbourne’s inner north. Coinciding with the announcement was the public release of the Assessment Committee report, the outcome of the 30 day hearing into the project.

The Assessment Committee’s findings contain massive criticisms of both the planning process and the proposed project. Whilst it does ultimately recommend that part A of the project from the Eastern Freeway to Citylink is approved, it does so through gritted teeth and a very long list of changes and protections. It makes no such recommendation for Part B of the project which they felt was inadequately addressed in the Comprehensive Impact Statement (CIS).

Will the project work from a traffic perspective?

Comments from the Assessment Committee

By 2031 with the Project constructed, there will be marginal changes to total vehicle trips, vehicle hours travelled, traffic speed and public transport trips compared with not having the Project constructed. The  Project  will  clearly  reduce  travel  time  on  the  route  between  Hoddle  Street  and CityLink /Tullamarine Freeway.   However, traffic volume increases on the approach routes and CityLink /Tullamarine Freeway, combined with the Zenith model neglecting intersection delays, show the benefits will not be as significant as the LMA document suggests.

R+BA Comments

The Assessment Committee went on to find that many aspects of the reference design were not warranted having been presented with all of the available traffic data. Subsequently their recommendations included the removal of the Elliott Avenue entry and exit and also the removal of the connection at Citylink to the south. The flyover at Hoddle Street was also recommended to be deleted due to insufficient traffic demand. The Planning Minister in response has only agreed to the removal of the Elliott Avenue entry / exit in Royal Park and its replacement with a connection to Flemington Road.

The Reference Design

Unlike a typical planning application, the Linking Melbourne Authority achieved their planning approval via a reference project. This reference project is indicative only and will ultimately not what is built.

Comments from the Assessment Committee

The Committee considers that the process of reaching the design that is the Reference Project has not been one that follows a logical path of identifying viable options, evaluating them, engaging the community in the process at an early stage when such input can be incorporated, testing the preferred option against robust criteria, adjusting it and then proposing it with supporting justification.

The reliance on the Reference Project as the key expression of how the Project might be delivered has created angst and confusion in the community.  In essence, the Reference Project, while not a real project, has been considered and assessed as such, and it has failed to deliver an appropriate outcome

As the Reference Project is a concept and not a ‘real’ project, it has made it difficult to fully assess the impacts of the Project, as they may occur or not, depending on whether the final Project is quite similar or very different to the Reference Project.  In practical terms this has caused the following issues:

• Lack of certainty on key technical issues such as tunnelling approach leading to difficulty in fully assessing potential impacts;

• Lack of certainty on other issues such as social and economic effects;

• The generation of significant community concern and stress about Reference Project elements that may not be in the final Project

At the end of the day it is not up to the Committee to redesign the Reference Project.  As put by LMA, the Reference Project is purely a concept for assessment purposes.  However the Committee is concerned that even the Reference Project appears to be based on a limited design brief that would likely produce suboptimal outcomes when viewed across a range of community objectives, not just road design.

R+BA Comments

The community has been let down massively by the use of the reference design in lieu of the actual proposal. If anyone other than the state government tried this method of seeking planning approval they would be laughed out of council and/or VCAT. The State Government should be setting the highest of standards for how the planning process should run, not scraping the bottom as they have done in this case.

The Eastern Section

The Eastern Section of the project involves the tunnel portal near the Hoddle street and Eastern Freeway Connection. The critical issues around this area include the acquisition and displacement of residents, the design impacts upon heritage streetscapes and the beautiful Clifton Hill shot tower and traffic issues.

Comments from the Assessment Committee

The Committee finds that there is no justification for the Hoddle Street flyover shown in the Reference Project based on traffic volumes and other impacts discussed later in this report.  There is insufficient justification for the construction of the proposed sidetrack.  Further, the Committee considers there is an opportunity to investigate relocation of the tunnel portal or portals east of Hoddle Street, and it has recommended accordingly.

The Committee considers that the design of this intersection, as well as the proposed land acquisition for the temporary sidetrack on Alexandra Parade, is the consequence of road design taking precedence over other considerations

The tower is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register (No. H0709) and is classified by the National Trust (B3798).  It is, in [heritage Architect] Mr Nigel Lewis’ opinion, [that the tower] is of “global significance” as it has the most distinctive design for  a shot tower due to  its scale, design  and patterned brickwork.   Mr Lewis cited two international experts who have visited the site, one of whom was impressed with the visual impact of the tower on the surrounding area and how it dominates views from many locations due to its isolated location on relatively flat ground. Mr Lewis considered that it is imperative that the aesthetic and landmark values of this “remarkable structure” are not devalued by the Project.

The  Committee does  not  support  the  above ground structures (apart  from  necessary overhead  signs,  lighting  and  sound  barriers)  at  the  Eastern  Freeway/Hoddle  Street interchange to preserve the visual integrity of the Shot Tower.

 Comments from the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy

I have rejected the committee’s finding that the option for a flyover at the eastern end of the project would be unacceptable for the following reasons.

(a)    The Project is of such significance to the state, and the interchange so critical to the design, that it is necessary and desirable that the eastern portal and access be resolved sooner rather than later and with this approval

(b)    In rejecting the flyover the Committee relied upon the possibility of an alternative design. No alternative design was exhibited and no alternative has been tested in the manner of the flyover. I do not agree that it is appropriate to describe the exhibited project as unacceptable in the absence of a demonstrated proven alternative.

I do not accept that the flyover should be rejected on the grounds of cultural heritage. Any detrimental impact on cultural heritage values is more than offset by the benefits of the project and the landmark potential of the flyover.

Linking Melbourne Authority image view from Smith Street

Linking Melbourne Authority image view from Smith Street

Linking Melbourne Authority image view from Wellington Street

Linking Melbourne Authority image view from Wellington Street

R+BA Comments

The approach shown here by Matthew Guy in my view is alarming, arrogant and misguided in the extreme. Firstly, Mr Guy is of the view that it so important that the project start immediately that he is not willing to allow time to properly design the project. Anyone who has ever started any construction project would be aware that failing to take time to plan and design can only lead to a poor result. To take such a foolhardy approach on the biggest transport project in the state’s history is baffling.

Another alarming aspect of Guy’s comments relate to the provision of alternative designs for the eastern section. He has somehow implied that it is the objector’s responsibility to provide a better design than the LMA reference design and that by failing to do so, no such design is possible. To someone with no legal qualification this seems like the equivalent of reversing the burden of proof. Councils, organisations and individuals were given no budget by the state government to commission their own designs. The planning system should not require them to prove a better solution, just that the proposed solution is unacceptable. To take this back to a smaller project example what the minister has said is that if you don’t like your neighbours extension you must redesign it for them or risk having it approved.

Atelier Red + Black and Safety Net for Royal Park worked pro bono for many weeks in order to provide an alternative design to save Royal Park. If they had the resources to work for free on the Eastern end as well, maybe the minister might have considered a redesign of this aspect.

The final outrageous point from Mr Guy is that the Clifton Hill Shot Tower is less important historically and culturally than the proposed Hoddle Street Flyover which will act as a monument to Mr. Guy. Mr Guy has a poor record of understanding heritage issues pertaining to architecture and the built environment. In January he was quoted in the Herald Sun newspaper as saying

“People use the term brutalist architecture to legitimise ugly buildings”

If this is the extent of Mr. Guy’s knowledge of heritage he should be taking the advice of experts rather than dismissing them.


The suburb of West Parkville is arguably the most impacted by the East West Link reference project. The proposal put forward by the LMA involves the destruction of the Ross Straw Field, sensitive ecosystems and 55 homes to provide the ‘western portal’ to the tunnel and connection to Citylink.

Comments from the Assessment Committee

The location of the western portal shown in the Reference Project is unacceptable, as is the horizontal and vertical alignment of the ramps from the western portal to CityLink. The Committee recommends further alternatives be investigated.

The impacts on these communities [In Parkville West] have been subject of cursory assessment and consideration. The Committee does not accept that the application of the UDF [Urban Design Framework] will have the capacity of “mitigating these visual impacts”. The Committee considers that the impacts need to be avoided through adoption of a different design outcome.

The resultant negative impacts of these southerly links on the residential communities of Parkville West, Travancore South, Flemington Public Housing Estate and Kensington residents are of such a scale that in the view of the Committee, they should not form part of the approved Project and that further work needs to be done.

The Manningham Parklands are the most visually impacted part of the Project area. The Committee considers that the evidence in support of the Reference Project in this area is unconvincing, and it was persuaded by the evidence and submissions made by experts, community groups and individuals.

 Comments from the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy

The Committee considered that the visual and related impacts of the Reference Project within Precinct 3: Royal Park represented an unacceptable intrusion into Royal Park. The Committee found that the reduction in open space, the permanent loss of trees, the realignment of the tram line and the increase in road and traffic-related infrastructure within the Park were matters which can and should be avoided.

A condition of my approval decision for the Project is that the Elliott Avenue interchange is deleted and that a connection between the Project and Flemington Road be examined. I note that a connection between the Project and Flemington Road has not yet been the subject of detailed design. For this reason I have included a condition on the approval decision that a Development Plan showing the design for the connection between the Project and Flemington Road be submitted to me to my satisfaction.

Planning status in Parkville

Planning status in Parkville

R+BA Comments

It is welcoming that the minister recognised that the proposed impacts upon Royal Park and West Parkville by the reference project were unacceptable. Indeed the deletion of the Elliott Avenue interchange is to be commended. What is less positive is the planning situation that the entire suburb of Parkville now faces. The project has approval but the roads are to be redesigned. Individuals and community groups are in the dark about what the changes are and are effectively locked out of the future planning and design process. This feels undemocratic and disrespectful towards the impacted communities.

Part B and Arden Macaulay

Part B of the East West Project involves essentially duplicating the elevated Citylink freeway along the Moonee Ponds Creek and then terminating at the Melbourne Port. The key issues with this precinct are the environmental impacts on the Moonee Ponds Creek, The social and amenity impacts on Debney’s Park and the nearby public housing and the viability of the proposed Arden Macaulay Structure Plan to revitalise the underutilised area.

Comments from the Assessment Committee

The Committee is not convinced that the LMA has adequately researched design alternatives for Part B, including consideration on the east side of CityLink or further in‐tunnel options. In addition on traffic grounds Part B is not justified in the short to medium term.   

Since the Committee hearing concluded, there have been a number of statements issued by the  State  Government  in  relation  to  works  on  CityLink,  and  in  particular  the  CityLink connection to the West Gate Freeway.  This connection was mentioned a number of times during the Hearing as being a major contributor to congestion on the Bolte Bridge, even though CityLink appeared to have spare capacity.

The occupation of part of the Vision Australia property in Barrett Street, very recently upgraded as a national facility, suggests an inadequate planning and evaluation process and supports the perception that the Project has been designed [with] inadequate attention to its impacts and [designed with an alignment] following the ‘line of least resistance’

The  Committee  considers the  intrusion  into this  proposed  “dense,  mixed‐use  inner  city suburb”  is  unacceptable,  due  to  its  impacts  on  the  planned residential  and  mixed  use redevelopment  ambitions  outlined within the Arden‐Macaulay  Structure  Plan Area.

The Committee considers that in terms of its significant visual impact on the Moonee Ponds Creek  corridor  and  buildings  and  public  spaces  adjacent  to  the  route,  the  extent  of residential  property  acquisition  that  is  to  be  acquired  and  its  proximity  to  residential properties that are not to be acquired, Part B is an unacceptable design outcome.

The Committee acknowledges that the Reference Project does meet some of the many Urban Design Principles, but it remains concerned that any alternative design for the Project may not be a more complete example of the Urban Design Principles in action than the Reference Project.

The Committee considers that the Reference Project is not an acceptable response to the Urban Design Principles

Part B has not been adequately assessed, and should be set aside until the proposed Widening of CityLink and the Tullamarine Freeway, and the proposed WestLink connection is better understood and resolved.  This should take into account a number of key issues, including:

(a) Resolution and development of Part B with greater integration with the Arden‐Macaulay Structure Plan.

(b) Key locational impacts such as the Vision Australia premises, SP AusNet site, the Flemington Housing estate (and its playgrounds, gardens and the community centre), and the apartments at 18 Bent Street.

(c) The  alignment  of  the  Moonee  Ponds  Creek  and  the  potential  to  enhance  its function as an open space corridor as part of the Arden‐Macaulay redevelopment.

(d) The reservation of the proposed WestLink alignment.

Comments from the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy

I have determined that Part B should be approved at this time subject to the design and implementation addressing as appropriate the recommendations of the Committee. Accordingly, the resolution of the design of the southern connection between Parts A and B of the Project will be addressed by the conditions I have imposed on the approval decision which require the preparation of a Development Plan for certain aspects of the Project including the southern connection. The Development Plan will be required to be in accordance with the Urban Design Principles and the Performance Requirements …and must be prepared to my satisfaction.

I intend to establish an advisory group comprising the Chair or Deputy Chair of the Committee, the Victorian Government Architect (or Associate Victoria Government Architect) and representatives of the DTPLI Planning group, VicRoads and the Department of Treasury and Finance to advise me on the Development Plans that I have required be submitted to my satisfaction.

R+BA Comments

By approving Part B of the East West Link, the Minister has essentially ripped up a four year long detailed planning process that resulted in the Arden Macaulay structure plan. This plan would have facilitated a revitalisation of the precinct and supported a contemporary medium density community environment. The backbone of this work was the opening up of the Moonee Ponds Creek as an environmentally sensitive public open space. This parkland would have provided high quality amenity and provided sensible justification for higher density residential developments. The East West Link will now doom the creek to be little more than an overshadowed drain.

The way in which the permits were granted has left the majority of the project up to a further redesign process to meet the satisfaction of the planning minister. The question is how can the community trust this Minister given how he has recklessly disregarded so much of the expert independent report?


This project has been a rushed political propaganda exercise from its inception. It is suffering from terrible planning, woeful design and a community consultation process that is hopelessly inadequate. The planning process has remarkably left a greater level of uncertainty upon its conclusion than it had going into the Assessment Committee two months ago. If ever there was an example of how not to build infrastructure this is it.

As a final remark I would also like to extend my sympathies to those who have had their lives turned upside down by this ordeal. Hundreds will be displaced from their homes and thousands will see their neighbourhoods and parklands be permanently torn apart by this political idiocy. There is no justification for the level of hurt this is causing.

Architecture is for Everyone.



About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in all posts, construction industry, East West Link, Government Policy, Heritage, News, Uncategorized, Urban Design and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Planning to Fail: East West Link

  1. livsmith21 says:

    I’m so confused about this whole situation.

    For presumably political reasons I don’t understand, there is a rush on this project which the committee acknowledged is one of the causes of the LMA’s poor design, let alone the rushed process.

    I think it’s important to compare the process to what would happen if a homeowner wanted to do an extension.

    Our homeowner, let’s call her Lee, decides she wants to subdivide her suburban property. First, she will spend some time deciding if this is the best option for her. She will consider many things she could do, sell, rent, hold, rebuild. She will consider the probable financial outcomes of each scenario. She will probably keep records of what she thought would happen in each situation to refer to later or to discuss with her husband.

    Ideally, our state government would look at the problem of congestion along Alexandra Pde and consider all of the options. Where do people want to go? When? What other options would suit? And even is this the best way to spend transport budget across the state. They would compare this problem with regional transport issues and find out where their money could best be spent. They would also be able to show their working. They could show the public their calculations and reasons for choosing to build a road. We are the ones paying for it, after all.

    So now Lee has chosen to subdivide and build a second house and the government has chosen to build a house. Lee’s next step might be to figure out a design. She will probably consult with a design expert, her husband, her daughters, her neighbors and local council in order to find a design which works well. There will be iterations where people provide feedback and serious concerns will be taken on board. There are rules guarding people who live near her. If she wanted to cut down any of the trees in her front yard, she would need special permits and she would have to plant trees to make up for it.

    Ideally, the government would follow a similar process. If they were planning to remove park or houses or community assets or change communities or ruin council plans or put elevated road structure next to homes or remove heritage buildings for a temporary road, then they would include all involved parties in the planning. They would find a way to compensate anyone who would lose out.

    Now let’s suppose everything is planned and we want council approval.

    Lee has to take her project to council. There will be a giant yellow sign in front of her house advertising the planning process. People nearby will have letters advising them about the process. If council decides she can build the project, a single neighbor who disapproves can take the case to VCAT, a branch of the Supreme Court.

    Ideally, the government would have to follow the same process. What actually happened is that the media told us about the what we thought was the project.

    Of course, this was only a reference project. The only place on the process for community feedback is not based on an actual plan. It could change in unknown ways. We don’t know what is certain.

    Through community and the internet, some of us found out that there was going to be a planning panel hearing. We wrote submissions, we took time off work, we prepared presentations, we spoke to the panel. This was our only hope of having a say in the process.

    Many of our neighbors didn’t know about the process. It wasn’t clear that the second stage was part of the process. Anyone who struggles with the internet or English was underrepresented.

    The planning committee were great. They listened to 30 days of submissions. And they came out with a detailed set of recommendations, including significant redesign.

    Matthew Guy “looked at” this report and took on two of the recommendations. He approved stage 1, and he removed the terrible Elliot Avenue interchange.

    He seems to have ignored pretty much everything else in the report.

    So now Matthew Guy has approved an undesigned project. There need to be detailed designs drawn up “subject to the Minister’s approval.” It is not at all clear what the Minister will approve.

    For a final comparison, if Lee wanted to change the location of one of her street facing windows, then not only does she have to go back to council, but council will most likely re advertise, seeking public opinion again.

    Why is the government not held to the same standards as the rest of us? Why can they spend our money without showing a business case? Why can they ruin homes and communities at will? Why have they left me crying over planning permits?

  2. Pingback: Surprise! Planning Minister approves the East West Link | Yarra Campaign for Action on Transport

  3. Pingback: Fixing the Victorian Planning System in the wake of East West Link. | The Red and Black Architect

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