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Early Works for Melbourne Metro Rail Project begin at St Kilda Road

UPDATE: Early works are now underway at St Kilda Road in preparation for the construction of Domain Station, one of five new station proposed as part of the the Melbourne Metro Rail project. Works have been approved by Heritage Victoria, and include the removal of 18 trees, temporary bluestone kerb and guttering removal, and the realignment of tram lines. Permit conditions require the preparation of a tree management plan, the replacement of the trees with super-advanced specimens, and the reinstatement of bluestone kerbing and guttering. To read a copy our submission to Heritage Victoria regarding this permit, please click here.

The National Trust has prepared a comprehensive policy statement on the Melbourne Metro Rail Project – St Kilda Road/Domain Precinct, based on a review of the Environmental Effects Statement and participation in the independent Inquiry, the advice of the Trust’s Significant Tree Expert Committee, and extensive consultation with the community and the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority.

Summary

The National Trust accepts the strategic justification for the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, including the transport objectives to increase capacity across the metropolitan rail network. We believe that the Environmental Effects Statement and subsequent Inquiry by an independent Inquiry and Advisory Committee has provided an appropriate process to consider the impacts of the project, of which heritage is just one, as well as providing an opportunity for community consultation to occur and for community concerns to be considered.

It is our view that St Kilda Road and environs is a place of outstanding value to the nation, as well as having a high level of significance to the local community and the state of Victoria, and that all care must be taken to avoid or minimise negative heritage impacts associated with the Melbourne Metro project. We believe that it is essential for heritage impacts to be minimised and managed appropriately, in the context of St Kilda Road’s environmental and cultural values as an urban landscape which has evolved over many years.

On balance, the National Trust supports the MMRA’s preferred location for Domain Station. We understand that the Melbourne Metro Tunnel contractor will be required to meet a number of performance requirements relating to heritage management and environmental outcomes. It is the National Trust’s expectation that the St Kilda Road boulevard will be reinstated, as close as practicable, to its current configuration following the completion of the project, including the planting of super-advanced tree specimens. We also expect that environmental conditions, including soil volume and irrigation, will be improved following the completion of the project. The National Trust does not support the relocation of the Domain Station to the Shrine of Remembrance reserve, as it is our strong view that this would result in unacceptable impacts on memorial plantings and the setting of the Shrine.

Background

The Melbourne Metro Tunnel comprises twin 9km rail tunnels from Kensington to South Yarra As part of the project, an underground railway station and train/tram interchange (Domain Station) is proposed at the intersection of St Kilda, Domain and Albert Roads.

As part of the planning process, an Environmental Effects Statement was prepared, which was publicly exhibited from 25 May to 6 July 2016 and reviewed by a specially appointed Inquiry and Advisory Committee, which held a public hearing from 22 August to 7 October 2016. Following the inquiry, a report was prepared for the Minister for Planning, In December 2016, the Minister for Planning released his Assessment under the Environment Effects Act 1978, which concluded the Environment Effects Statement (EES) process for this project.

The National Trust’s views are informed by consultation with the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority, participation in the EES process, community consultation, and expert advice provided by the National Trust’s Expert Tree Committee.

Environmental Effects Statement and Inquiry

On 19 September, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) made a submission to the Inquiry, supported by advice from the National Trust’s Significant Tree Expert Committee, including significant concerns about heritage impacts in the Domain Parklands and along the St Kilda Road corridor. Below is a summary of the National Trust’s key submissions relating to the Domain Parklands and St Kilda Road corridor:

Domain Parklands

  • The alignment option above CityLink would have an unacceptable and detrimental impact on the heritage of the Domain, including the loss of up to 81 trees in Tom’s Block, and the long-term impacts of soil stabilisation methods.
  • The National Trust strongly advocates for the lower alignment under the CityLink Tunnels, as the upper alignment poses an unacceptable risk to the state significant Domain Parklands.
  • Shrine Reserve
  • Trees in the Shrine Reserve should be retained where possible as part of the detailed design.
  • If some specimens cannot be retained, their species and significance should be adequately recorded to replace the plantings and plaques as soon as possible, either in situ, or in a new location nearby agreed by relevant stakeholders.

St Kilda Road

  • The National Trust supports alternative excavation methods in St Kilda Road with the aim of protecting trees.
  • The National Trust supports the evidence presented that block replacement is the best horticultural method of replacing avenues, however the community’s appreciation of the heritage significance of the avenue, and the amenity value of the trees, should be considered as part of succession planning.
  • The National Trust would expect that any tree removal on St Kilda Road would be demonstrated to be completely unavoidable.
  • Sufficient soil volume and irrigation must be provided to re-establish an avenue with equal or improved landscape characteristics, namely large trees with touching canopies planted at similar regular intervals to emulate the existing trees.

During the Inquiry hearing, the MMRA confirmed that the tunnel alignment would be below CityLink, negating the National Trust’s key concerns about impacts on Tom’s Block. A number of the National Trust’s other concerns were addressed through amendments to Environmental Performance Requirements, including maximum tree retention (EPR No. AR1). The Minister for Planning further added a requirement that no trees should be removed through early works that are not associated with early works (EPR No. AR1). Heritage was also explicitly included as a consideration for requirements relating to Landscape and Visual Performance Requirements (EPR No. LV1)

Early Works

In December 2016, the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority submitted a Permit Application to Heritage Victoria for a permit for Early Works on St Kilda Road, including the removal of 103 trees, and the removal of bluestone and concrete street elements.

The National Trust made a submission in consultation with the Trust’s Significant Tree Expert Committee, and submitted that the scale of proposed tree removals on St Kilda Road would have an adverse impact on the recognised significance of the place. We submitted that all care must be taken to ensure that impacts are minimised and mitigated through sensitive detailed design and construction methodology. We submitted that the application contained insufficient justification for proposed tree removals, or details regarding the reinstatement of the trees and remediation of the St Kilda Road corridor. We further submitted that the application was based on a worst case scenario, and as such, had the potential to see unnecessary tree removal. The National Trust’s submission sought permit conditions requiring landscape reinstatement, including tree replacement, and the storage and reuse of bluestone removed during the works.

On 27 April 2017, the Executive Director of Heritage Victoria issued a permit for Early Works, permitting the removal of 18 trees, temporary bluestone kerb and guttering removal and replacement, tram realignment and installation of associated infrastructure. It is the National Trust’s understanding that the permit allows the removal of the minimum number of trees required by the works, and that further tree removal may be sought for future stages of the project. Conditions of the permit require the preparation and approval of a Tree Management and Protection Plan, the replacement of all trees prior to the completion of the Metro Tunnel Project, the preparation of a detailed tree planting methodology and maintenance schedule, the reinstatement of bluestone kerbing and guttering, and financial security in the form of an unconditional Bank Guarantee.

On balance, the National Trust is comfortable with the Early Works permit, and the permit conditions address many of the National Trust’s key concerns.

Boer War Memorial

Following participation in consultation regarding the Boer War Memorial and the review of documentation accompanying the MMRA’s permit application to Heritage Victoria, the National Trust supports the removal, storage, conservation, and reinstatement of the Boer War Memorial under the supervision of qualified professionals, and in consultation with relevant stakeholders. The National Trust does not support the relocation of the memorial to the Shrine reserve, and would expect that the memorial is reinstated to as close as possible to its current location, and that the station design is sensitive to the heritage values of the memorial.

Alternative Station Proposals

Shrine Reserve

The National Trust understands that during the EES Inquiry process, an alternative design for Domain Station was submitted for consideration, proposing the relocation of Domain Station beneath the Shrine Reserve. The Minister’s Assessment included the following statement (p18)

In this Assessment, I have concluded that the environmental effects of the Project as proposed for the Domain can be adequately mitigated and managed, however I have also said that the opportunity for refinement of the Project to achieve an even better environmental outcome should be facilitated.  Moving the proposed Domain Station in the way considered by the IAC may result in potential traffic management, amenity, heritage benefits (particularly in relation to tree 19 retention), and urban design and landscape opportunities during and after the construction phase, and is something I think should be further investigated.

We understand that as a result of this Ministerial direction, the MMRA undertook investigations into the feasibility of relocating the station underneath the Shrine reserve.

It is the National Trust’s strong view that this alternative proposal would result in significantly more adverse heritage impacts than the MMRA’s preferred alignment, given the national significance of the Shrine reserve. The proposal would also require the removal of a large number of memorial plantings dedicated to various individuals and groups, which we believe would be an unacceptable outcome. The National Trust does not support this alternative alignment.

Fawkner Park

In May 2017, the National Trust received information regarding an alternative proposal to relocate the station to Fawkner Park. Following a review of this proposal, and discussions with MMRA, we understand that this option is not feasible, as it would not meet the transport objectives of the project. For this reason, the National Trust does not support this alternative alignment.

Nomination to National Heritage List

On 16 January 2017, St Kilda Road and Environs was nominated for the National Heritage List. On 13 February 2017 the Minister used the emergency listing provisions to include St Kilda Rd and Environs in the National Heritage List. The Australian Heritage Council is required to make a recommendation by 1 December 2017, and on 28 April 2017, the National Trust wrote to Dr David Kemp, Chair of the AHC, supporting the inclusion of of St Kilda Road and Environs on the National Heritage List.

Potential Nomination to World Heritage List

On 12 May 2017, the National Trust was provided with a copy of a letter submitted to the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy, requesting an emergency nomination of St Kilda Road and Environs to the World Heritage List. The National Trust supports further research to determine the viability of a World Heritage nomination.

 

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