‘Retrograde solution’: West Gate Tunnel Project a ‘permanent blight,’ says PIA

A submission by the Planning Institute of Victoria has taken issue with the Victorian government’s plans to connect central Melbourne to the city’s west via a major road and cross-river tunnel.

The Victorian chapter of the Planning Institute Australia has criticized the Victorian government’s West Gate Tunnel Project for failing to follow its own planning guidelines.

The project would connect central Melbourne to the city’s west via a new tunnel and an 18-lane, partially elevated toll road.

In a submission made in response to the West Gate Tunnel Environmental Effects Statement (EES) and the Planning Scheme Amendment (PSA) associated with the development, Victoria chapter president Laura Murray described the project as lacking “strategic justification” and argued that “alternate approaches to addressing the identified land use and transport issues have not been considered or rigorously tested.”

“The proposal as it stands is a retrograde, traffic-engineering-focused solution which is entirely at odds with any appreciation for good place-making and contemporary urban planning,” Murray said. “The proposed 18 lanes of traffic on and above Footscray Road are completely out of proportion with an inner-city location, which will be subject to regeneration and will permanently blight the area.”

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The submission also expressed concerns of “inappropriate methodology and inadequate extent of traffic modelling” which did not go beyond 2031; the “significant detriment” to traffic and future development opportunities likely to be caused by the city exits; and “entrenched inequality for those in the outer suburbs without access to a private motor vehicle.”

One argument made in the submission is that the project will run contrary to the urban and natural renewal aims of several state and local urban design, development and transport guidelines, particularly those of Plan Melbourne,the 50-year planning document that was first released in 2014 and updated by the Victorian government earlier this year.

Plan Melbourne is listed among the national, state and local frameworks and guidelines used by the urban designers in their work.

Wood Marsh and Tract Consultants are responsible for the architecture and urban design of the tunnel and the toll road. Murray did not criticize the designers’ work specifically, but said that the project will remove opportunities for either urban or landscape regeneration in western Melbourne, which contradicts many of the goals laid out in Plan Melbourne.

Murray argued that West Gate works on Footscray Road will result in the “elimination of any opportunity to make Footscray Road an iconic boulevard.”

Plan Melbourne also emphasizes the need to improve water edge parklands, which the PIA argued will be affected adversely by the tunnel and elevated road. Large bridge structures are planned for the Maribyrnong River, which Murray said will “reduce opportunities for further enhancements of the riverside environment over time.”

In both instances, Murray said that tunnelling should be used to mitigate the damage to the city’s urban and natural fabric and that the scope of the project should be reconsidered.

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Murray also argued that the more general goals set out in Plan Melbourne will be unachievable if the project were to proceed in its current state. The PIA “submits that the project does not meet its EES objective in relation to the built environment and the draft PSA has not adequately considered Plan Melbourne and the State Planning Policy Framework’s directions in relation to inner city urban renewal.”

“The introduction of large scale road infrastructure within inner Melbourne is contrary to the emphasis on place-making proposed by Plan Melbourne. This proposal as it stands will create further barriers between urban precincts in an area, which is already highly segmented. Nor will it assist with the integration of the established parts of North and West Melbourne with newer areas to the west.”

Public submissions to the West Gate Tunnel EES closed on 10 July. To view the full submission, go here.

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