Inactivity in Brunswick “Activity Centre”
“Active frontages” has become the ubiquitous catch cry of planners and urban designers – defined as “a building frontage which contains uses that promote activity on the street.”
This often means a series of glazed shopfronts with multiple entries, and the business activity visible from the outside or spilling onto the street. But if you walk north along Lygon Street from Brunswick Road to Moreland Road, you’ll notice that half the ground-level shop fronts in multi-story apartment towers are currently empty (25 out of 48). Many have been vacant for months – or longer. There’s not enough activity in the Brunswick Activity Centre.
At the intersection of Lygon Street and Brunswick Road, five out of eight spaces are vacant. The stretch from 250 – 310 Lygon Street includes five towers, one under construction, others long-established, with spaces at ground-level that are all empty.
Some long-standing buildings such as Elvera (328 Lygon) have an IGA, a laundrette or a fast-food restaurant. Taxpayers have subsidised office space, such as offices for Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice. But north of Stewart Street, there are a large number of storefronts for rent or sale, with small businesses closing in multi-storey buildings. Graffiti and wind-blown rubbish around empty shop-fronts can tarnish the image of neighbouring shops.
A recent ABC story argues: “An expansion in so-called ‘hard-top’ shopping centres and ‘big box’ retailers has taken anchor tenants — plus cash and other tenants — from smaller centres and shopping strips. Large ‘big box’ retailers are facing the prospect of extinction, as sales per square metre grow slower than costs. At the same time, online shopping now accounts for $10 in every $100 of retail spending.” (Ghost shops haunt new apartment blocks as ‘perfect storm’ hits suburban retailers) The ABC story also suggests that bank policies also pay a role, as filling an empty space may trigger higher repayments. In recent years a butcher and a hardware shop have gone from Lygon Street.
Our Brunswick Residents Network Facebook page began a lively discussion of this issue, with comments citing developer greed and high rents along with unattractive concrete spaces. One contributor notes: “It makes more sense financially for developers to leave them empty than lower the rent. Which sucks for us. They should be penalised for doing so. The other thing is they are always huge, and don’t encourage or can’t be afforded by, the sorts of diverse small businesses that make for a really engaging streetscape.”
But real estate agents contacted by BRN suggest a more significant problem is the cost of fitting out a “cold shell” – the empty concrete box left on the ground floor after developers have made their return on investment by selling apartments. For many small businesses, paying the rent can be a challenge, but the cost of fitting out a store-front (lighting, ventilation, grease traps, carpeting, disability-accessible toilets etc) may discourage investment or leasing. Businesses attracted to these spaces are those requiring minimal fit-out, like gyms and convenience stores. Access to parking around segments of Lygon Street is seen as turning away potential businesses (however all these new apartments must be generating increased foot traffic – don’t pedestrians buy things?).
Owners and developers could do more to attract potential investors or lessees, but creating a “warm shell” with basic flooring, lighting etc may still not be enough to attract a diverse range of businesses. Just how many IGAs, gyms and hairdressers does Lygon Street need?
Skyrail and crossing removals
The Victorian State Government made a pre-election announcement that four road crossings in Brunswick and Coburg (Moreland Road, Reynard Street, Munro Street and Bell Street) would be removed on the Upfield rail line. Rather than digging a trench, it’s proposed to raise the railway line on a continuous viaduct or ‘sky-rail.’
But in an exercise of subterfuge and faulty community engagement, the Level Crossings Removal Program (LXRP) have withheld details of the plan, infuriating both Moreland Council and residents.
The State Government announced two community ‘Drop-in sessions’ seeking feedback on this already-decided project design. At the first meeting, on 25 May, LXRP representatives did not have any detailed plans of the proposed skyrail, or associated works like the station buildings: just a large map with coloured lines drawn from north of Bell Street to south of Moreland Road. Despite this absence of information, participants were asked to provide ideas about what they would like to see in the new public spaces along the corridor.
This week, following the consultation sessions but before the closing date for community comments, the government released ‘concept’ photos of Moreland and Coburg stations. Residents are asking why these images – which raise more questions than they answer – were not available at the community drop-in sessions; and whether we were being “consulted” on issues that had already been decided. Pictured at right is a new image of Moreland station – note the lone cyclist is apparently on a shared path, and it appears that mature trees in the Gandolfo Gardens have gone.
Residents’ questions for LRXP and State Government MPs include:
1. Will the trees at Gandolfo Gardens and other significant vegetation along the corridor be retained or not?
2. How will important heritage structures such as Coburg and Moreland Stations, gatekeepers’ houses and historic signalling be incorporated into the design?
3. How will noise, safety, and other amenity impacts be managed for nearby residents and businesses?
4. How will the viaduct be designed? Options for height, structural spacing and layout have not been provided.
5. What are the amenity impacts of viaduct design elements?
6. How will the new stations be designed, including location, access points, and facilities (waiting areas, complementary facilities, stairs, lifts or ramps, myki gate locations, platform positions, weather protection)?
7. How will station location be decided? At the drop-in sessions, some people were told that Moreland Station would have to be north of Moreland Rd, while different LXRP engineers told others there was no reason why the platforms couldn’t straddle Moreland Rd or even move south of Moreland Rd. The newly released images show the station incorporating the existing building.
8. What will happen with the railway ramps and the open space at either end, especially the large parcel of VicTrack land south of Moreland Rd? The community is keen to see the open space benefits extended as far as possible.
9. When will construction begin and how long will it take? The community is concerned about the conflicting timeframes that were provided at the Drop-in session
10. How much of the project design has been decided and what requires further work? This was unclear at the Drop-in session.
11. There were conflicting proposals for managing conflicts between different shared path users, such as bike riders and pedestrians.
A coalition of people from Moreland representing sustainable transport, climate action, urban forest and residents’ groups organised their own community consultation session to develop their vision for the Upfield Corridor. On 25 May, 70 members of the local community attended a meeting held at Coburg Library, called in response to the LXRP Drop-In sessions. There was a good attendance, advertised on social media (a variety of Facebook groups active in Brunswick, Coburg and beyond, email groups and Twitter), council’s website, leafleting at stations, the Upfield Shared User Path and other informal channels.
Based on what they had seen and heard at the LXRP Drop-in session, participants expressed their main concerns, which were distilled into five broad areas: heritage, public transport, safety and amenity, open space, and cycling and pedestrian access. In the second half of the workshop, participants gathered in groups to brainstorm solutions to these problems.
A statement of the “community vision” developed by this 25 May community meeting, which details resident feedback on these 5 areas, is available on the BRN website. Cyclists and pedestrians, who can currently freely cross east-west roads while the railway boom gates are down, are concerned that pedestrian lights are responsive so they are not held up by increasing traffic flows. There were 480 pedestrians and cyclists crossing Bell Street on the Upfield path, in the 2-hour morning peak when a count was taken last week. Cyclists have also argued for a velo-way to be attached to the skyrail to give a free run to commuter cyclists. Moreland residents want the Gandolfo Gardens west of Moreland Station to be protected, and new buildings to be in sympathy with their heritage station buildings.
Many in the local community have expressed serious concerns about the so-called consultation process being run by the LXRP and State government. Moreland Council also passed a resolution noting they had not been given information in a timely and transparent manner.
The level crossing removals offer the chance for more green space, better public transport, and safer bike and pedestrian pathways. But a minimalist design will just mean more cars, going faster (until they clog up again) through Moreland. Local people are keen to see the possible design options and to understand the constraints on them, to ensure the best outcomes are achieved and any potentially negative impacts are managed. The process thus far has not engendered confidence that the positive opportunities of the project for the people of Coburg and Brunswick will be fully realised.
To get involved in the campaign, email email@example.com. You can request to join the Moreland Level Crossings Removal Community Action Group via Facebook
Elm Grove “Subby”
Efforts to retain and embrace the heritage electricity substation in Elm Grove, abutting the ‘East Brunswick Village’ development site, are continuing. It remains under threat due to a proposed development on abutting land that would require its destruction. The proposed plans show the vehicle entrance partly passing through the footprint of the substation building, which is on abutting public land.
The heritage significance of the 85 year old structure is being confirmed by specialist advice commissioned by Council. Despite this, there appears to still be resistance among some Council officers to retaining and featuring it as the last remnant of the rich industrial past.
Officers had mistakenly believed the ‘EBV Development Plan’ approved in 2010 committed to the demolition of this building, however this Plan does not extend to Elm Grove roadway, so it cannot dictate the future of this building which is located on it.
Councillors have asked the landowner to modify plans to avoid clashing with the existing building, but they declined. They were made aware of this issue in 2017, but have resisted addressing it, seeking demolition of a neighbouring building they do not own. The application for the abutting development will now be determined by Council, probably at its Planning meeting on 26 June.
We are urging Councillors to include conditions requiring the applicant to make changes to avoid conflicting with the retention of this piece of history. Support your Councillors in pressing for an outcome that contributes to the character and interest of the Elm Grove walkway linking Fleming Park with the EBV development. It would make a great platform for interpretation of the past of this locality, along with a point of community focus – what are your ideas for it?
Improving local transport. .
Road closure trial in John Street
Under the new Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy (MITS), Moreland Council plans to trial selected road closures as a measure of traffic calming and management.
First cab off the rank is a proposal for John Street, Brunswick East, a street which is part of the Brunswick East Shimmy, the primary bike route connecting Brunswick to the Canning Street bike boulevard.
John Street is estimated to have a significant increase in through traffic in coming years with future developments in the area. The main north-south East Brunswick Shimmy bicycle path cuts through Fleming Park and along John Street, alongside the major East Brunswick Village (EBV) project – a site which will put thousands of cars into surrounding streets every day.
Vehicles will enter and exit EBV’s residential car-park via John Street: an estimated 800 vehicle movements per day. (Many residents we have spoken to are unaware of this) Pictured right: This recent EBV image clearly shows the two exits/entrances for residents, into John Street. They are indicated by blue arrows.
The proposed three-month trial closure of the intersection of John Street and Albert Street will allow bicycles and pedestrians to pass through, as well as emergency vehicles with a retractable bollard, but will block cars (which can still enter from Glenlyon Road). A proposed priority for cyclists crossing Albert Street will improve safety along a quieter residential street, allowing cyclists to avoid busier arterial roads like Nicholson Street (where new PTV tram stops do not include a dedicated bike lane). While the proposed closure will inconvenience some motorists, Council policies state that local streets “should prioritise pedestrian and cyclist amenity and safety” in the hierarchy of transport use (MITS, p 43).
Improvements to the traffic island at the intersection of John Street and Glenlyon Road should also be designed to improve safe north-south movement for cyclists and pedestrians.
Hutchison Street runs parallel to John Street to the west, and local residents are concerned that the closure of John Street will increase rat-running through their street, which has a large number of residential properties. Brunswick Residents Network believes that this is not a reason to abandon the closure, but that Moreland Council needs to address resident concerns through a range of measures, for example:
- Given Council’s commitment to introducing trials of 30kph speed limits in residential streets, the East Brunswick precinct near John Street is a suitable area for such a trial.
- Conducting traffic counts in John Street and Hutchinson Street before and after the closure.
- Discouraging non-local traffic from all streets in the precinct, including new traffic calming measures in Hutchinson Street (including further closures) and in nearby Albert Streets, that could discourage rat-running and slow down traffic moving through this area
Rat-running and traffic congestion in narrow local streets is already a concern for residents. The John Street closure will ensure the additional traffic generated by EBV will exit via Glenlyon Road instead of filtering through minor streets like Albert and Hutchison. It will also provide a safe route for children and dog-owners to get to Fleming Park, as well as for pedestrians and cyclists.
You can make a submission on the proposal in writing by 5pm next Friday 21 June 2019. You can post your submission to Council addressed to Seiha Eng, Senior Transport Engineer, Moreland City Council, Locked Bag 10, Moreland 3058 quoting ‘John St Traffic Diversion Experiment’; or email Seiha at Transport@moreland.vic.gov.au
Parking theory and practice
At their June meeting, Moreland councillors agreed to begin the public process of introducing new parking measures into activity centres in Brunswick and Coburg (see our April newsletter for details). The proposed changes will go out to consultation and a planning panel, with transitional arrangements to be trialled for two years. Last month, neighbouring Darebin Council withdrew its attempt at parking reform before the draft policy was even considered by Councillors!
Moreland’s new Integrated Transport Strategy (MITS), which promotes transport mode shift through parking policy, draws on the research of Melbourne-based academics like Monash University’s Elizabeth Taylor. In a newly published article, Taylor looks at the history of parking in Melbourne, and conflicting uses of land and space in the inner city:
“While a right to free parking outside one’s home has a ‘common sense’ standing, all institutionalised rights compete with other rights, and these competing rights have substantial political and practical implications for cities . . . The vast majority of this parking space is free of charge to the user, disguising its direct underlying construction and land costs, as well as the opportunity costs of what that space might otherwise be used for.”
Taylor’s previous Melbourne survey interestingly found that “the majority (77–83%) of on-street residential parking use is by residents of detached housing. Most users of on-street parking have sufficient off-street parking, and half use garage space for storage or housing purposes. Residents of new flats and apartments account for disproportionately little on-street parking use, are excluded from on-street permits, and have closely controlled off-street parking spaces of which a third are unused.”
Uber alles . . .
So Uber Air wants to use Melbourne as a site for its proposed aerial taxi service? Have a read about Uber’s destructive business model, and let us know your thoughts…
Cladding Action Group
The Victorian Building Authority has reported that there are 145 buildings in Moreland identified as having flammable cladding. Although we’ve avoided the worst of the fires, like at the Lacrosse building in Southbank, there have already been cladding fires in Brunswick (see previous newsletters).
Last month, a roundtable on the cladding crisis issued a joint statement, noting: “Residents face substantial costs to rectify their buildings, increased insurance costs and loss of value in their homes, while not one loan has been issued under any Cladding Rectification Agreements (CRS). The cladding crisis was due to a failure of regulation; residents and owners purchased homes in good faith, believing that they met appropriate standards when it is now clear they did not.”
If you live in an affected building, you can get more information and support from the Cladding Action Group (CAG), an independent, community-led initiative that links property owners affected by the combustible cladding crisis across Victoria.
CAG notes: “Our mission is to reach a solution to the crisis that involves support from government, regulators and industry, as it was policy, regulatory policing and industry practice failure through with which the crisis derived, not through any fault of owners affected. This group has been created for and by Melbourne owners of homes with dangerous, illegal cladding. Together we will be in a better position to stand up for our rights. We shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s mistake.”
You can contact CAG through their Facebook Group and ask to join. This will give you access to a lot of relevant information and contact with other people across Melbourne affected by the cladding quagmire
Flammable cladding costs could approach billions for building owners if authorities dither, The Conversation, 6 June 2019
McDonalds case settled in VCAT
In 2018, McDonalds presented plans to Moreland City Council for an expanded site at the intersection of Holmes Street and Albion Street in Brunswick. The expansion proposed to create a double lane entrance to the takeaway ordering service, following the purchase of land at 53 Albion Street between their existing site and Dunstan Avenue. The proposed changes mean that Dunstan Avenue would now become the western boundary of the store.
The plans, which included redevelopment to the existing site, were recommended for approval by Moreland City Council planning staff. Councillor Sue Bolton took community concerns to the Planning and Related Matters Council Meeting, which overturned the planners’ proposal in October 2018.
Resident concerns related to amenity and safety. The 700mm high wall on McDonalds’ frontage to Albion and Holmes Streets was to be removed. However given the history of accidents at the intersection, locals believed that the wall played an important safety role. The wall also blocks litter from McDonalds’ car park blowing into surrounding streets, which already suffer frequent littering.
The planning application also proposed demolition at 53 Albion Street, including the high brick wall on the western boundary. This would mean Dunstan Avenue was to be opened up to McDonalds, as only a narrow plantation was proposed for this boundary. Car park traffic lights and noise would invade the lower end of Dunstan Avenue, and shortcuts between Dunstan Avenue and Holmes Street would have made the plantation ineffective and unsightly.
McDonalds appealed Moreland Council’s 2018 decision in VCAT, but the case was settled in May this year to the satisfaction of community and the Council. The VCAT orders provide that any redesign of McDonalds’ frontage to Albion and Holmes Street must include a 500mm high wall. In Dunstan Avenue, McDonalds must also replace the existing brick wall with a metal wall to a maximum height of 2 metres.
The ‘North East Brunswick Responsible Development Group’ has followed this process through the planning system at some time and cost. They believe that delegation of decisions to Moreland planners in cases where there is widespread community disquiet represents a serious erosion of democratic rights. As this case makes clear, if Councillors did not have the right to overturn the planners’ decision, the community would have had to take an appeal to VCAT – with a fee of some $3,000 on each occasion.
Park Street monster requires amended plans
VCAT has issued an interim decision on the controversial project at 699 Park Street, next to Princes Park, and thrown the challenge back to the developers JW Land Pty Ltd. VCAT sent away the developers to re-submit amended plans, noting that: “while the proposal has a number of positive attributes, there are unacceptable elements that cannot be addressed by permit condition. We have decided that the circumstances of this case justify an interim decision that allows the applicant the opportunity to prepare amended plans that address our concerns.”
Moreland City Council oppose a proposal for a mixed-use development of multi storey buildings up to 12 storeys, with frontages to Sydney Road, Park Street and Brunswick Road, Brunswick. The redevelopment of the site incorporates demolition of a heritage transformer station. A total of 252 dwellings are proposed with a child care centre and retail premises at ground level.
Council concerns relate to excessive height of the central tower, inappropriate street walls, inadequate setbacks to the west, poor presentation to Brunswick Road, unacceptable loss of a heritage building and poor energy performance. Resident concerns focus on building height, vehicle access, traffic, character of the locality, heritage issues, impact to Princes Park, amenity and management of site contamination.
In May, JW Land decided to submit amended plans to address the issues set out in the VCAT ruling, including the reduction in height of all three buildings, retention of the heritage sub-station, provision of a pedestrian path through the site, increased setbacks, compliance of the apartments with Victorian Apartment Design guidelines, and “resolution of the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in plans, elevations and renders”. More to follow when the plans are submitted in July . . .
Other VCAT rulings
Public Transport Development Authority v Moreland CC  VCAT 692 (13 May 2019)
The Melville Road tram runs through Brunswick West, and VCAT has mostly backed Public Transport Victoria (PTV) in its dispute with Moreland Council and local residents and business, over the location and features of the tram terminus.
269 Stewart Street Pty Ltd v Moreland CC  VCAT 495 (5 April 2019)
VCAT’s ruling on the controversial 6-storey project in Stewart Street, Brunswick, near the CERES environmental park.
Wusty Holdings Pty Ltd v Moreland CC  VCAT 551 (30 April 2019)
VCAT varies and issues a permit for 6 Hennessy Street, Brunswick, approving construction of five triple storey dwellings (with basement car parking and roof decks) and a reduction in the standard car parking requirements in a Residential Growth Zone – three stories is the new norm in residential streets in growth zones.
Community and culture
New Brunswick mural shows compassion
Following the Christchurch massacre in Aotearoa-New Zealand, photographer Hagen Hopkins took an iconic photo of NZ Prime minister Jacinda Ardern, embracing a Muslim woman. The image of Ardern went viral shortly after it was published.
The image has now found a home on a silo in Tinning Street, Brunswick, thanks to muralist Loretta Lizzio. Despite some Islamophobic trolling, the crowd-funded mural has won has won widespread plaudits, as the famous photo dominates the skyline.
Lizzio, a Gold Coast-based artist, has previously pained large murals in Vancouver and London. Her six-storey mural Selene, a collaboration with fellow muralist Cam Scale, can already be seen opposite Brunswick cafe Steam Junkies on the Upfield Path. (Pictured here)
Cam Scale is another prolific muralist, with images around inner-city Melbourne. In Brunswick, his work ‘Trying to find a balance’ can be found on the pharmacy wall on the corner of Sydney Road and Albert Street, while “No War’ is one of many murals in the back lanes off Ann Street and Trafford Streets.
Brunswick’s skyline now has massive controversial tribute
‘Humanity hoisted above the humbug’: Art critic’s verdict on Ardern mural: The Age
‘What is wrong with people!?’: Jacinda Ardern mural artist Loretta Lizzio hits back : News.com.au
Cam Scale murals
Brunswick cinema loses sparkle
At their February planning meeting, Moreland Councillors approved a planning permit for a new cinema complex at 1-5 Weston Street, Brunswick. However, it now looks like the cinema is not going to happen.
Developer Eddie Tamir is purchasing The Ritz Cinema in Sydney, which might explain why his proposed Sparkly Bear Cinema in Brunswick posted ‘for sale’ notices on its Weston and Edward street frontages last month.
CBRE commercial real estate are marketing 1-5 Weston Street and 12-14 Edward Street as a 2516 square metre site. Mr Tamir paid $3.3 million for the Edward Street site in September 2017 and another $7.9 million for 1-5 Weston Street in July 2018. The site is described as “a warehouse/retail development opportunity.”
Tamir already owns three cinemas in Melbourne (the Lido, Classic and Cameo) but it now looks like the Brunswick cinema will not move ahead, despite the permit approval. Will another developer pick up the cinema approval and fight it out at VCAT? Or will something totally new appear for planning approval? Stay tuned.
Underpaid cafe staff get wage justice
Popular Albion Street cafe ‘A Minor Place’ have admitted to the Fair Work Commission to underpaying nine employees $2,633, with a largest individual underpayment of $598. All underpayments have been rectified. Across the Brunswick and Richmond cafes, 23 of 26 underpaid employees were young workers aged 25 or younger, including a 17-year-old at Richmond’s Café Touchwood. Some underpaid workers were visa holders, including from South Korea, Germany, Japan, the UK and India, with some on student visas. The companies concerned and their director Cindy Huynh have made undertakings and be externally audited for three years. See Fair Work’s media release.
Soccer for girls
Sam Kerr and the Matildas are still in the running to win the Women’s World Cup. For aspiring players who’d like to join the team in future years, the Brunswick Zebras Football Club runs a skillZ girls’ squad on Saturday mornings. It’s a terrific space to learn the great game amongst friends with female coaches.
BRN facelift & gmail update
Did you spot our new header? We now have a beautifully designed image heading this newsletter, and our Facebook pages and website. Special thanks to local graphic artist Antje Dun for her great work, showing new and old Brunswick in 2019.
We’ve also updated our gmail address, to the easy-to-remember firstname.lastname@example.org – but our old gmail address (albertstreet2020) still works. We’re printing some flyers with this address – if you can help letterbox or distribute them, or would like to make a donation towards the printing costs, please let us know.
If you are able to offer some time to volunteer to help organise our campaigns, and support our work, please get in contact. Our work includes organising meetings, leafleting and letter boxing, graphic design and publicity, and research; on planning, greening Brunswick and traffic management.
Next Moreland Council meetings
All Council meetings – held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month – are normally held at: Council Chamber, Moreland Civic Centre, 90 Bell Street*, Coburg.
Council meetings for the remainder of 2019 are scheduled for:
- Monday 24 June 2019 – 6 pm – Adopt the 2019/2020 Budget
- Wednesday 10 July 2019
- Wednesday 14 August 2019
- Wednesday 11 September 2019
- Monday 23 September 2019 – 6 pm – Consider the Draft Annual Report
- Wednesday 9 October 2019
- Monday 28 October 2019 – Ceremonial Council Meeting
- Wednesday 13 November 2019
- Wednesday 11 December 2019
The next Council planning meetings is:
Dates sometimes change, so check for all meeting details at the Council website. Council meetings can be watched online, either live, or later – you can find details here along with the agenda for the next Council meeting.
- *Hint: If you go to an evening meeting at 90 Bell Street and find the doors locked, you can probably get in through the back door via Urquhart Street.
Contacts for our local councillors
Mark Riley (Deputy Mayor)
Mobile: 0499 807044
Mobile: 0433 419 075
Mobile: 0419 560 055
MAILING LIST AND FURTHER INFORMATION
Welcome to new readers! To contact organisers of the Brunswick Residents’ Network, or to offer help with future activities, please email email@example.com. (This gmail is our preferred address, rather than replying to this email).
Please forward this e-letter to other Moreland neighbours who’d like a say in the way their community is changing. It’s easy to sign on, or edit your details to include your interests – just go to http://eepurl.com/VX4a9.
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