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Skyrail vision to ‘reshape Brunswick’

Merri-bek Council is set to endorse a policy position for the level crossing removal project

Pedestrians wait for a train to pass at the Hope Street level crossing in Brunswick.

Mark Phillips

BRUNSWICK’S level crossing removal project offers the chance to reshape the suburb for decades to come, according to a policy document set to be adopted by Merri-bek Council later this month. 

The council policy position argues that the project must do more than simply remove eight level crossings and build an elevated railway line; rather the $1 billion-plus project is a unique opportunity to deal with dozens of backlogged issues and set Brunswick up for a brighter future.  

But it also warns the project will cause immense disruption for the residents of 940 dwellings and at least 30 businesses within 50 metres of the Upfield railway line. Dozens of residents are likely to have to relocate temporarily during construction and some businesses may go out of operation. 

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The 52-page document, Reshaping Brunswick, will be used by the council in all negotiations with the Victorian government’s Level Crossing Removal Project authority over the massive project, which will not be completed until 2027. 

It acknowledges that important details of the project – including how many railway stations will be retained and where – are still unknown, but says the council must act now to stake out a position rather than wait until when it may be too late to have a real impact. 

As a result, the document is full of broad aspirations but light on specific details. 

Reshaping Brunswick is the result of a consultation program by the council throughout summer when hundreds of Brunswick residents and businesses had their say on the project. 

Merri-bek Councillors will be asked to endorse the policy position at their monthly meeting on April 12.  

“Brunswick is a place that is growing and changing,” the document says. 

“The population is increasing, and projected to continue to grow. This is putting pressure on existing usable green open space and other local facilities and amenities, as well as increasing the unaffordability of homes, creative spaces and small business premises, which leads to displacement and erodes sense of place.  

“In this context, it is important that this major project enhances and protects local character and the local community, and stays true to Brunswick’s unique spirit.” 

Reshaping Brunswick identifies 15 key outcomes which the council wants to see delivered for the Brunswick community from the level crossing project. It says the Brunswick project poses particular challenges unlike anywhere else in Melbourne because the surrounding area is more densely developed and there are so many apartments and businesses adjoining the railway line that will be directly effected by the construction. 

Some of these priorities, such as support for nearby local businesses and residents, including temporary relocation, deal with the practical impacts of the construction project. 

Others are related to a vision for the design of the final project, including a sustainable, cool, green corridor and useable green open space, the retention of trees and historic buildings, and incorporation of Aboriginal culture into the design. 

A third area of focus is how it will change the way people move around Brunswick, including establishing a clear hierarchy with pedestrians, cyclists and accessibility at the top and cars and trucks at the bottom. 

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To deal with these priorities, the council is likely to develop a new urban design framework for Brunswick along with a local traffic impact assessment. 

A section of the Reshaping Brunswick document has been dedicated to revitalising Sydney Road, which will incur significant disruption as it is used more heavily by cars and other forms of transport while the Upfield railway line is closed for construction of the skyrail. 

Sydney Road is already clogged with traffic, is unsafe for cyclists, lacks accessibility and has a harsh urban environment, the report says. It says its lack of amenity is causing shoppers to flee to more appealing areas. 

But any changes to remove on-street car parking to make Sydney Road better and safer for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users could impact on the viability of shops and other businesses. 

At the very minimum, the council will call on the Department of Transport to upgrade Sydney Road’s tram stops to make them fully accessible before the skyrail works begin. 

Another vexed issue is the number of railway stations that will be incorporated into the skyrail. Cutting the existing number of three stations to two would lessen their impact on nearby residents, but there are concerns this would reduce accessibility for people with mobility issues. In the end, the council has shied away from recommending a preferred number of stations. 

If Reshaping Brunswick is adopted on April 12, the council will then begin advocacy to relevant state government ministers about the objectives set out in the document. 

The council has already agreed to establish an Upfield Rail Corridor roundtable co-chaired by Mayor Angelica Panopoulos, South Ward Councillor Lambros Tapinos and a government MP. 

Later this year, the Level Crossing Removal Project is expected to begin its own community consultation program about the Brunswick project. 

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Be bold on Sydney Road, urges residents’ network