News / Skyrail

Be bold on Sydney Road, urges residents’ network

Submission makes 27 recommendations to council about level crossing removal project 

The closure of the Upfield line and shared path during construction of the skyrail will force more traffic onto Sydney Road.

Mark Phillips

MERRI-BEK Council must “bite the bullet” and use Brunswick’s skyrail project to also improve pedestrian, cycling and public transport access on Sydney Road, says a prominent residents’ group. 

In an 11-page submission to Merri-bek Council, the Brunswick Residents Network says the council must act fast to resolve long-standing mobility and safety issues in Sydney Road before the looming disruption to be caused by the level crossing removal project (LXRP). 

This includes advocating for the installation of accessible tram stops along the full length of the number 19 route, the group says. 

The BRN has prepared its submission in response to an “issues and opportunities discussion paper” released by the council in December. 

The discussion paper – along with the outcomes of three community round tables in February and a public meeting in Brunswick earlier this month – will form the basis of a policy position for the $1.5 billion project that will be recommended for councillors’ approval next month. 

This will then become the official position of the council in all negotiations with the Level Crossing Removal Authority. 

The authority will oversee the removal of eight level crossings between Park Street and Albion Street by 2027. An elevated rail bridge will be built to replace that section of the Upfield line, freeing up several hectares of open space underneath. 

The project was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews in September, ahead of last year’s state election. 

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The BRN submission seeks to highlight issues that were ignored in the initial discussion paper and should be prioritised in the council’s final policy position. 

It makes 27 recommendations across a range of areas including the road user hierarchy, equity and access, the number of train stations, heritage and neighbourhood character, flooding and open space, and engagement and transparency. 

BRN spokesperson Nic Maclellan said the community roundtables and town hall meeting were “a good start” but the council had to adopt a proactive stance on how the entire skyrail project could best serve Brunswick because the Level Crossing Removal Authority had a narrow focus on construction of the elevated railway only. 

He said lessons had been learnt from the lack of genuine community consultation by the Level Crossing Removal Authority during the design and construction of the Moreland Road to Bell Street skyrail, and the same mistakes had to be avoided this time. 

“The bottom line is we’re supposed to come out of this with a nicer Brunswick, but that’s not the Level Crossing Removal Authority’s job or its mandate so other people have to step up to address the wider implications,” he said.  

“The council has started that process. They didn’t step up when Coburg was done but this time they have organised workshops and roundtables which is a good start but they have to continue that engagement [for the next few years].” 

The BRN submission says there will be a major impact on Sydney Road during the design and construction period of the skyrail between now and 2027 due to the Upfield railway line and shared path being closed for much of this time. 

This will force more people to use Sydney Road by car, bike and public transport, making the road more dangerous and highlighting accessibility issues for the elderly and disabled. 

“There’s been discussions for years about addressing the uses of the road by cars, cyclists and pedestrians and it’s time to bite the bullet and fix it now,” Mr Maclellan said. 

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Elsewhere, the BRN submission raises concerns about the long-term impact of the removal of level crossings on traffic flows into Brunswick. This will again put more pressure on Sydney Road and on narrow roads in older parts of Brunswick to the east of the Upfield line, with the BRN calling on the council to mitigate against the funneling of traffic into residential streets. 

The BRN also says the council should avoid signing any memoranda of understanding with the LXRP that would limit its capacity to share information with local residents and businesses. 

“The Level Crossing Removal Authority have a community engagement process that from all reports is pretty tokenistic, so even though the council can’t force the authority to do things they will have to pick up the mess afterwards,” Mr Maclellan said. 

“The council has a pretty weak hand but they can go to the state government and they need to be proactive rather than say this or that is LXRP’s job, our hands are tied.”