Melbourne Gardens Masterplan 2019-2039

In April we prepared a submission in response to the draft Melbourne Gardens Master Plan 2019-2039, recognising that the master plan will provide a blueprint for the Gardens as it evolves over the next 20 years, responding to climate change, increased recognition of Aboriginal cultural values, care for the State Botanic Collection, the construction of the ANZAC train station, and the evolving role the Gardens play in the broader life and health of the city.

While we support the draft master plan in broad terms, we do have some concerns outlined below that we request are considered by Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV) and incorporated into the final draft of the master plan document.

To read our submission in full, click here.

Tree Canopy, Removal and Replacement

As a general comment regarding the master plan document in broad terms, we submit that a target for tree canopy cover for the entire site should be developed which sets a benchmark below which canopy cover should not fall. While we support the comments in the plan about the difficulties associated with tree planting, especially in lawn, we submit that there should be an increase in both tree numbers and species diversity. We further submit that there should be a reference to the Royal Botanic Gardens Tree Replacement Strategy document included in the master plan which is used to inform its action in relation to tree removal and replacement.

Climate Change

It is pleasing to see many references to climate change in the master plan as it affects the Gardens. While we support the general thrust of the master plan on this aspect, we do have some further thoughts to strengthen this response. The comment in regard to meticulous record keeping is of vital importance and should include detailed information on trees that might decline, have reduced growth or die under a new climate change. It is important that we know what fails and what works and does not work.

In consultation with our Significant Tree Expert Committee, we submit that second guessing the effects of climate change is biologically and ecologically fraught and so we suggest that the gardens continue to plant cooler climate trees as part of a broad range of species plantings and not just those from warmer drier situations that seems to be suggested by the master plan.

Further, we do not believe it is clear whether any trees are likely to be removed in the course of implementing this plan. While we acknowledge that the Gardens would handle such removals, if any, sensitively, we believe this should be made clear from the outset.

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage

We are pleased to see a deep commitment within the draft master plan towards preserving and celebrating the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the precinct, specifically through increased recognition of Traditional Owners, their values and their connection to Country. We are pleased to see that an Aboriginal Heritage Values document was commissioned by the Gardens in 2017, developed in consultation with Traditional custodians, which identifies these associations and paints ‘a strong picture of a living landscape with ongoing connections to Country for the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung people’.

Melbourne Observatory

We submit that the highest impact on character and cultural heritage within the master plan are the proposals for the Observatory landscape. While the place is managed by the Gardens Board, we submit that it has a different history and landscape character that should be clearly reflected in the master plan.

As outlined in the text report, it is proposed that the character of the Observatory is to be restored, with ‘contemporary interpretation of historic mass and void combined with a utilitarian path system’. We question whether this consideration has been addressed in the Conservation Management Plan and whether the proposed character reflects the historic character of the place. We further question whether the garden beds would be more appropriate than open space, and whether the character zone reflects and interprets the historic boundary of the Observatory.

We further reinforce that the character differences between Melbourne Gardens and the Melbourne Observatory landscapes should be clearly articulated. We question the removal of the dividing fence, particularly its significance as a historic boundary and whether it should be retained or interpreted to demarcate the character of the Observatory. We note that the master plan identifies the character of the Observatory grounds as an open landscape with low island plantings which reads as an extension of Domain Parklands – we further question whether this is based on historic values and evidence.

We submit that the Observatory fence should be retained and reinstated to protect a place of National significance and assist in an understanding of the significance of the place. Importantly, it would help define its own space, and separate the Observatory landscape from the surrounding Domain Parklands and Birdwood Avenue. We believe that to suggest that the Observatory landscape will read as an ‘extension of the Domain Parklands’ misrepresents the heritage significance of the Observatory and should not be pursued.

We submit that the principles of assessing activities based on support for values of the Gardens and impact on the landscape is a helpful inclusion within the draft masterplan, including the development of the matrix diagram . Within this diagram we note that the Observatory is highlighted as the most sensitive area within the Gardens precinct. We question whether the proposed use as an event space for up to 5,000 people is an appropriate use for this space, and in particular what infrastructure would be required to facilitate this use and whether the potential impacts been adequately assessed. We query what the ‘purpose built screened tenant storage’ would look like, which we assume is to service the proposed event space, and what impacts this may have on this area of high sensitivity.

We suggest that the master plan should include a requirement to develop a lighting policy which considers relevant lighting standards for observatories, and addresses the provision of temporary lighting for events to minimise impacts on the Observatory.

We note that the use of the observatory buildings is ‘to be determined’. We submit that this consideration should be subject to further stakeholder consultation.

Overall, we submit that further detail should be provided to guide the proposed future works at the Observatory and to provide certainty about future uses and priorities. We suggest that this should be developed in line with the Conservation Management Plan and be informed by further stakeholder consultation. We question whether an additional plan should be developed following the master plan process to ensure that this issue is adequately addressed. We further suggest that a time frame could be established to guide this.

Public feedback on the draft Melbourne Gardens Master Plan 2019-2039 has now closed. The feedback received during the public feedback period will be considered and the final Melbourne Gardens Master Plan is due for release in September 2019.


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