News / Council

Contaminated soil forces council to stump up $715,000

Council wrap-up: Sydney Road special charge; accessible tram stops

The park as a construction site last week.

Mark Phillips

ANOTHER signature project in Brunswick has suffered a cost blow-out with Merri-bek Council forced to approve an extra $715,831 for the new Frith Street park because of soil contamination.

Completion of the park is also expected to be delayed by several months until August or September this year.

The extra spending shows just how perilous the council’s $112.6 million capital works program is over the next 12 months and follows a warning in the draft council budget that uncertainty about building costs could impact on its ability to deliver the full program.

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The park, which is being developed on the site of the former Fletcher Jones offices a block to the east of Sydney Road, will still cost $6.6 million, but the construction contract awarded in February last year has had to be increased by 13% to just under $6 million.

This follows the discovery of more contaminated soil than had been expected, causing an extra $816,057 to be spent to remove it. Part of this cost will be covered by a contingency built into the original contract.

Councillors approved the contract variation at their monthly meeting on May 10.

Cr Mark Riley, who was Mayor when the project first began last year, said the council had no choice but to approve the extra spending.

“Unfortunately, we’ve encountered contamination and it’s quite significant and we need to make sure we get on top of it,” he said.

“We probably thought this was going to happen and unfortunately it has. So we need to unfortunately cough up and just bite the bullet on this one.”

The park is being built on 2700 square metres of former industrial land in a block bordered by Frith, Lobb, Howarth and Beith streets.

On completion it will have 1520 square metres of green space and will include a climbing wall, a basketball half court, table tennis, and a picnic and barbecue area.

The designs will retain some parts of the Fletcher Jones building and an adjacent steel factory for heritage reasons.

Shoppers in Sydney Road.

$2 million marketing budget for Sydney Road retailers and venues

COMMERCIAL property owners or tenants in the Sydney Road Brunswick precinct will pay an annual levy of up to $1900 over the next five years to continue funding a $1.95 million marketing budget for the shopping strip.

Merri-bek Council has renewed a contract with the Sydney Road Brunswick Association that will see the money raised from the special charge distributed quarterly to the association to promote the area as a shopping and tourism destination.

The levy was first introduced in 1993 and has been extended every five years since then.

In total, 601 properties along Sydney Road between Brunswick Road and Moreland Road will be required to pay the special charge, which will raise $389,570 a year.

The levy scheme has not changed, but it will raise an extra $45,000 a year due to increased property valuations in the five years since the previous scheme was introduced.

The amount of the levy is based on the capital improved value of a property, and there are eight tiers of charges. Fifty-eight properties with a capital improved value of up to $400,000 will pay an annual charge of $260; while in the top tier, 24 properties valued at more than $4 million will each pay $1900.

Speaking before the levy was approved at the council meeting on May 10, SRBA President Mary Gurry said in addition to funding advertising for the strip, the money would help provide workshops and information to traders, street beautification programs like the recent graffiti removal blitz and resources such as the recently opened traders’ hub.

A handful of property and business owners objected to the compulsory levy during a consultation period, but Cr Mark Riley said the majority were very supportive of it.

“They feel they get value for money for it,” he said.

Protesters hold up a tram in Sydney road in March last year to demand accessible tram stops.

Backing for accessible trams campaign

MERRI-BEK Council has thrown its support behind a new campaign for accessible tram stops in Sydney Road ahead of a community rally next month.

The campaign has been launched to have accessible tram stops installed before the Upfield railway line closes for the level crossing removal project in coming years.

Cr Sue Bolton, who put forward a motion at the council meeting on May 10 to support the campaign, said the railway line could be closed for up to 18 months, leaving Brunswick with no form of accessible north-south transport during that time.

Sydney Road currently has no accessible tram stops in a 5.5km stretch between Brunswick Road and Bakers Road in Coburg North, which effectively puts the Brunswick and Coburg shopping strips out of reach for people in wheelchairs or mobility devices and often also for parents with children in prams.

The failure to install accessible tram stops already puts the State Government in breach of the federal Disability Discrimination Act which stipulates that public transport in all states and territories were required to be fully accessible by the end of 2022.

Brunswick resident and motorised wheelchair user Christian Astourian told the council meeting on May 10 that accessible tram stops would improve the quality of life for himself and anyone with mobility issues.

“It makes my life really difficult because I work full-time, I am a manager of a disability advocacy program and I need to travel a lot for my work,” he said.

“Obviously I have the same rights like everybody here but I don’t have the same opportunities when it comes to public transport.”

In its Reshaping Brunswick vision for the level crossing removal project, the council has identified accessible tram stops as a priority before the level crossing removal works begin, along with temporary separated bike lanes in Sydney Road during the construction period.

“We really shouldn’t need this campaign but we do because more level crossings get removed than accessible tram stops installed,” Cr Bolton said.

A new coalition which includes the Disability Resources Centre, Walk on Merri-bek, Merri-bek Bicycle Users Group and Brunswick Residents Network will launch its campaign for accessible tram stops at a public rally in Brunswick on June 17.

Councillors voted unanimously to provide promotional resources to the campaign and to allow it to use the Brunswick Town Hall free of charge.

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