News / Transport

Revitalised Upfield path opens to the public

New open space is equivalent to two MCGs, but not everyone is happy

A cyclist passes the new Moreland Station on Sunday. Protests were held nearby early last year over the felling of numerous mature trees to make way for the level crossing project. Photo: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Mark Phillips
Monday, August 23, 2021

TABLE tennis, art works, a dog park, children’s play equipment and 2.5km of uninterrupted cycling path are all part of the equivalent of two MCGs of new public space under the Upfield railway line which opened yesterday.

After months of engineering works, the entire space between Moreland Road and Bell Street is now open to the public, although COVID-19 restrictions will limit access to some facilities for the next few weeks. The opening of the public space signals the official completion of the controversial Bell to Moreland level crossing removal project.

The new space is a byproduct of the construction of an elevated section of the line which begins north of Albion Street and finishes on the northern side of Bell Street to allow the removal of four level crossings at Bell, Munro and Reynard streets and Moreland Road in November last year.

The two new station buildings at Coburg and Moreland opened in the middle of December. The overall cost of the project was $542.2 million.

One of the major transformations will be separate 2.5km paths for cyclists and pedestrians. The cycling path is wider, with upgraded surfaces and additional lighting.

A key feature of the project in Brunswick is an activity hub on the south side of Moreland Road made up of three concrete table tennis tables, two half basketball courts, parkour and mini skate areas.

There are two children’s playgrounds at Moreland and Coburg stations and a fenced off park for unleashed dog exercise near Audley Street in Coburg.

Exercise equipment and bike repair stations are situated along the route.

An artist’s impression of the new “activity hub” on the south side of Moreland Road. The space won’t be ready to open to the public this Sunday. Image: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Different zones along the route are indicated by the colour of the pylons near them. Yellow is for activity spaces, while pink is for spots to rest. The entrance to Coburg Station is indicated by orange.

Native plants, including young Kanooka gum trees, and water retention basins have been incorporated into the landscaping design. The University of Melbourne has collaborated with the Level Crossing Removal Authority to create a native floral garden along parts of the space.

Two new works of public art have also been commissioned for the project. West of Moreland Station is Transformer, a sculpture by Louise Paramor, whose work was recently exhibited at Brunswick’s Counihan Gallery.

To be installed later this year in the Brunswick recreation hub, Cultural Reflections – Community Intersections by Barkindji man Kent Morris is an Indigenous ground pattern artwork.

No-one from the Level Crossing Removal Authority was available to be interviewed, but in a statement provided to Brunswick Voice, the program manager of the Bell to Moreland project, Matt Thorpe, thanked residents for their patience while the construction team has worked in Brunswick and Coburg.

“We hope everyone enjoys using the almost two MCGs worth of new open space created underneath the Upfield rail line,” he said, adding that the new open space was intended to cater for all ages and abilities.

Residents protesting against the removal of trees at Gandolfo Gardens adjacent to Moreland Station. Photo: Facebook

The design of the open space was informed by community consultation in 2018 and 2019 which identified separate bike and pedestrian paths as a key priority.

But the project was not welcomed unanimously, with community protests and acts of civil disobedience early last year when mature trees and a weatherboard signal box were removed from nearby Moreland station.

South Ward Councillor James Conlan, who was a spokesman for the Upfield Corridor Coalition group during the protests, said the wider cycling and pedestrian paths were an improvement, but the trees could have been saved if the Level Crossing Removal Authority had agreed to shift the elevated station building away from the park so it straddled Moreland Road.

“The community will never forget that the Gandolfo Gardens didn’t have to be destroyed,” he said.

“We had a simple design solution to move the station 50 metres south of its current location which would have saved the park which was the key concern for the community and which has been pretty distressing for everyone.

“This would have improved the overall project, but consultation on the whole thing has been a farce from the very beginning to the very end. They just treated the community with disdain.”

Cr Conlan said residents were now organised to fight for better designs should level crossing removals eventually occur further south along the Upfield line.

The Andrews Government is removing 85 level crossings in Melbourne, with 47 already gone. There are no current plans for more crossing removals in Brunswick but these could be considered in any further extension of the project. The future use of the two original station buildings at Moreland and Coburg is also yet to be determined.