By Andrew Herington

It seems that the next few days are destined to settle into a pattern of ‘lawyers versus experts at ten paces’.

The LMA has introduced its arguments and laid out the case. The Councils are now seeking to demolish it brick by brick whilst the LMA try to defend their original choice of design without conceding any variation. This is perhaps the serious part of the debate.

Monday saw three of the Melbourne City Council expert witnesses take the stand to give their professional opinions about the issues raised by the proposed East West Link. They were subjected to some classic legal strategies for cross examination.

A well established technique for cross examination is to break a self evident truth into a series a small questions and try to prove one of the links in the argument is wrong.

The first witness in the firing line was Melbourne University’s Emeritus Professor of Landscape Architecture, Dr Carolin Bull.

Stuart Morris QC went step by step through Royal Park seeking Professor Bull’s agreement that this element was recent or that element was separated from the rest of the park.  Chopping out the Zoo, State Hockey Centre, golf and tennis facilities and the transport corridors left him failing to see the trees for the park facilities. He tried to reduce the value of the park to the south east corner of native grasslands with the remainder alienated in one way or another.

In contrast, Professor Bull saw a landscape with natural and built features that had to be appreciated as a whole. She held her ground and disputed that just because part of the park was a golf course didn’t mean it didn’t have trees and natural vistas which comprised a legitimate part of the total package.

A lot of discussion focused on whether it would be harder to cross Elliot Avenue currently (where it is at grade with a median but only two sets of traffic lights) or in the future when it is grade separated with a large cutting but a pedestrian bridge along the tram line. Somehow this diverted into a discussion about whether people would have a picnic in the median strip just because there were trees there.

Discussion about the Moonee Ponds Creek seemed to boil down to if the creek was degraded by the Citylink Viaduct, would it be any worse with another viaduct on the other side. Professor Bull thought definitely worse but the lawyers pointed to other creeks with viaducts and bike-tracks which they thought were pretty neat.

The next witness was Professor Mardie Thompson of Deakin University an environmental and health sociologist who went through a range of research results which found that green areas were associated with better health amongst those living in the vicinity.

This brought out another favourite cross examination technique of ‘any scientific study you can quote, I can Google something saying the opposite’. This is closely related to ‘give me a scientific paper and I can find a sentence, out of context, that qualifies the conclusions’.

The last witness for the day was Craig Czarny, an urban design consultant retained by a group of West Parkville property owners. He gave a detailed peer review of the CIS Urban Design Framework and made a number of pertinent points about the reference design and several of the alternatives that have been put forward so far.

The members of the Assessment Committee are clearly listening intently and after ten days are well across the minute details of the proposal.

A suggestion of a noise demonstration in the sitting room has been deflected to an on site demonstration near an existing freeway for the Committee members only. There is to be another conclave meeting to discuss technical issues associated with the tunnel and the Design and Development Overlay in the planning scheme.

The bright spot for the day was the first of the individual submissions from Chris Lester, a Travancore resident and active birdwatcher who highlighted the lack of depth in the fauna monitoring so far and the lack of seasonal coverage.

This was pressed home with some nice photographs of rare birds he had taken in Royal Park. He used his full ten minutes to set out all the main arguments against the road and give a clear indication of the strength of the community response likely over the last two weeks of the hearing.  His presentation is here: east-west-link-presentation-17-march-2014

bird 1 cropped


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