Day 11: Good urban design is in the eye of the beholder

By Andrew Herington

Three more expert witnesses and three cracking debates about the flaws in the East West Link design and potential alternatives.

After 11 days, the hearings are starting to get to the meat of the argument with some real discussion about why there is only one design on the table and how it got to this point. (For full details of what each said – check out the Daily Live Blog.)

The Experts testified that viaducts are ugly, noisy and alienate land from useful community use. Increasingly, they are unacceptable in modern road design.

Against this, the LMA  suggested viaducts were compatible with many uses “depending on the height and the location of the pylons”. Yesterday we were shown a modernist Danish  viaduct that dominated a water feature by putting a pylon in the middle.

Document 130 (not yet online) shows Toronto’s remarkable “underpass park” where basketball courts and play equipment “decorate” the bleak spaces beneath a freeway. Notably people are only visible in the architect’s idealised drawings – there were no people in the photos taken after it was built.

Is this the LMA vision for our future?  It’s not just a matter of taste – it’s what sort of community environment we want to live in.

The differing points of view came closer when the LMA conceded that the option of relocating the proposed Part B viaduct to the east so it directly abutted Citylink was “feasible” but had not been studied.

A key strategy of the LMA is to defend the use of general terms like “minimise” and resist inclusion of specific obligations in the “performance requirements” that the Assessment Committee will be recommending for inclusion as a mandatory part of the contract. This appears to be a critical underlying legal issue which we are sure to hear a lot more about.

Rob McGauran, a noted architect appearing for the City of Melbourne, made a compelling case for amendment of the urban design framework. He highlighted a range of alternative designs for both ends of the tunnel to create better urban design.

This came slightly unstuck on the question of whether heritage buildings should be saved for their own sake or whether it was acceptable to replace some in order to get a better overall outcome. But as Mr McGauran observed – a private developer would never get away with proposing demolition of homes to create blank spaces without improving the overall community.

Interestingly, the Counsel Assisting, Chris Wren, again raised the option of the cut and cover section of the western portal continuing beyond Hoddle St with the vent shaft between it and the railway line (adjacent to industrial properties). This does not seem to have been properly considered by the LMA and is an options several parties want discussed.

Stuart Morris QC for the LMA launched into a direct debate on public transport arguing that any rail improvements were in the distant future and argued that an interchange at Victoria Park was unecessary because bus travel was higher in Doncaster than any other suburb.

This seems to overlook the recommendation by Sir Rod Eddington that a major bus-train interchange was essential at Victoria Park as part of the DART upgrade to connect to other inner urban destinations. Mr McGauran got the last word when he observed that more people pass the Hoddle St/Eastern Freeway in a north south direction than go east-west: the majority of them by train

Late in the day, the LMA questioned whether expert witnesses for the City of Melbourne shared their reports and were in breach of the rules applying to expert witnesses (who have a primary duty to the Assessment Committee rather than their employer).  It would be interesting to see whether the LMA’s witnesses met the same criteria.

The day had started with a reminder to the LMA of a list of nine promised documents that had yet to be tabled. It is clear the Committee is actively pursuing information on design alternatives and not allowing key issues raised during the expert witness cross examination to be forgotten as the debate moves on each day.

Tomorrow, the City of Melbourne fields its last witnesses before we move on to hear from the City of Moonee Valley. By the end of the week we will reach the half way mark.

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One Comment on “Day 11: Good urban design is in the eye of the beholder”

  1. chris March 19, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    I didn’t know Stuart Morris was an expert in Public Tranport. They have cherry picked the recommendations of the Eddington Study. Let’s see the alternatives.

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