High-rise plan for railway hubs

Date:May 4, 2014

Royce Millar and Adam Carey

Residents of Melbourne’s politically sensitive south-east face the possibility of high-rise development at their rail stations including Murrumbeena, under a confidential deal between the Napthine government and a consortium led by the city’s private rail operator.

The deal for the proposed multibillion-dollar upgrade of the Pakenham-Cranbourne rail corridor – contained in documents leaked to The Sunday Age – includes a specific clause about development around sites identified for level crossing removals.

”Key” issues to be negotiated with the Hong Kong-based rail operator Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) and its partners include ”exploring value capture opportunities associated with land development at grade separation sites”.

The Sunday Age is aware that MTM views the Pakenham-Cranbourne project – including property development – as the first of a series of schemes across the Melbourne network.

The ”commitment deed” spelling out the in-principle understanding between the government and the consortium, is one of a batch of high-level leaks to Fairfax Media about ”Project Flinders”, including cabinet-in-confidence documents.

In March the government made a surprise announcement about the upgrade, which it said would deliver a 30 per cent capacity boost along the congested Dandenong corridor. The revamp includes removing level crossings at Murrumbeena, Koornang, Clayton and Centre roads and rebuilding Murrumbeena, Carnegie and Clayton stations.

At the time no mention was made of the potentially controversial property development component of the project. Detail, such as the precise areas to be developed, and planning issues such as height, are yet to be finalised. So too, it seems, is any agreement about the millions of dollars likely to be generated from the sale of apartments, and commercial space.

In Hong Kong, MTM’s parent, MTR, has overseen skyscraper development around its celebrated rail network. Melbourne’s planning politics is unlikely to allow such building height or density.

More likely is the kind of development already overseen by the government-owned rail property agency VicTrack, such as the $70 million, 10-level apartment and commercial development at Glen Waverley. Other VicTrack projects either under way or in the pipeline include stations at Jewell in Brunswick and Alphington, Hampton and Pascoe Vale.

University of Melbourne transport academic Chris Hale said development around a station like Murrumbeena should be 15 levels at least.

Dr Hale said many people want to work in the CBD, and live near rail stations, but could not afford inner-city houses. He said there was a lack of housing opportunities near stations in the middle suburbs, within a 30-minute train trip to the CBD.

He called for care in planning such high density schemes. ”Rather than concrete canyons they should be lively green zones with plenty of trees and grass and great architectural qualities. State and local government needs to become more effective in their stewardship of transit-oriented design and planning.”

On Saturday, Treasurer Michael O’Brien confirmed the government would ”explore” development opportunities through the Pakenham-Cranbourne upgrade. But he stressed the government would drive a hard bargain in any such deals.

”It is the Victorian government, not third parties, that will determine whether and how any value capture opportunities are pursued.

”Any suggestion that the Coalition government has sold a right to develop land around level crossings as part of the Cranbourne-Pakenham rail project is barking up the wrong tree,” he said.

Project Flinders is Victoria’s first ”unsolicited proposal”, a new and controversial policy that allows the private sector to propose new infrastructure, even if the projects identified are not government priorities. It is Australia’s biggest rail public-private partnership.

While the government spruiked the scheme as a $2 billion to $2.5 billion (in today’s dollars) project, The Saturday Age reported yesterday that Victorians would have to pay up to $5.2 billion, or almost $1 million a day in annual services payments to the consortium until 2034.

The Saturday Age also revealed the project had been expedited to ensure contracts were signed before the November state election and that a key ”milestone” was ”contractual close” by September 29, two months before the election

Project Flinders also includes buying 25 ”next generation” high-capacity trains, high-speed signalling and a new train-maintenance depot on green wedge land at Pakenham East.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/highrise-plan-for-railway-hubs-20140503-37p6f.html#ixzz30hCKbwUu

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3 Responses to “Coming Soon?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The comment that “Melbourne’s planning politics is unlikely to allow such building height or density” around train stations obviously knows little about the new planning zones and even less about Glen Eira.

    1) Train tracks and stations are on public land that’s owned by various state government authorities. Council’s have little or no say/control in what happens to that land. As example, take the Elsternwick Plaza, owned by Victrac. Upgrading the plaza was a high priority in Council’s 1998 Open Space Strategy, yet the deal was finally struck in 2014. – the deal was finally struck in 2014. Taking over 16 years to negotiate a 15 year lease in which the leasee pays for the upgrade doesn’t give off a warm fuzzy feeling

    2) Areas around Glen Eira’s train stations that are subject to Council’s planning scheme and zonings are zoned Commercial (as is also any shopping strip – be it Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick, or the small clusters of shops that are still dotted around Bentleigh). Commercial Zones have no height limits. Economic viability is what determines the height of buildings comprising ground floor shops/offices offices and multi-storey residences in Commercial Zones.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    We need these sorts of housing opportunities near stations. Glen Eira Council and the state Government want higher density housing around stations like Murrumbeena, Carnegie and even Hughesdale and I think they should be at least 10 levels.

    1. Anonymous Says:

      Then you will be delighted to know that this same article recommends 15 storeys.

      Mind you the article also recommends that rather than allowing concrete canyons to be built for these transit orientated developments Council should ensure that they include adequate and lively green zones (trees and grass) and great architectural features. But again take comfort in the fact that Council will remain silent and do nothing. Its policy is to let the high density areas evolve, in other words let the developers do what they want without considering anything that remotely resembles planning.

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