AUGUST HAS been a busy month with regards to the Warrandyte Bridge upgrade project.
On August 29, Manningham Council discussed and passed a motion to grant a conditional planning permit to Abzeco Pty Ltd on behalf of VicRoads for the roadworks associated with the bridge upgrade on the Manningham side of the river.
Cr McLeish made amendments to the original motion to include details around the use of local stone and for a “safe crossing point” where the bridge meets the roundabout.
This alternate motion was carried by the Council, which effectively means once VicRoads produce the required amendments, they will have their permit.
The ammended motion comes after Council, VicRoads and the objectors met in a Submitters meeting.
At the meeting, a number of proposed changes were put forward.
The Diary asked the WCA for comment on Manningham’s decision, Mr Gillan, on behalf of the WCA told the Diary they were happy with the addition of the pedestrian crossing but “disappointed the other conditions were not adopted”.
Reports that bridgeworks would start in late October sparked conversation in the community last week.
With the bridge project always earmarked for completion “before the next fire season”, the prospect of major roadworks during the region’s most dangerous time of year is unsettling.
This news conflicts with comment from Manningham councillors who stated they were told works would be delayed until after the fire season, the Diary spoke with Manningham Mayor Cr Michelle Kleinert.
“With any upgrade there is always going to be disruption, we are in one of the top 10 places in the world for fire hazard — traffic is lighter over school holidays but we have this factor of bushfire,” she said.
Manningham council also stressed that this is a VicRoads project and legal responsibility for safeguarding their workers and the community lies with them.
Once construction commences, the roadworks will include:
- Road space to accommodate the three traffic lanes on the bridge (one northbound and two southbound).
- Pedestrian footpath widening to accommodate the three-metre-wide path on the east/downstream side of the bridge and the 1.8metre wide path on the west/upstream side of the bridge.
- A dedicated left turn lane onto the bridge going northbound.
- Guard rails for traffic and pedestrians.
- New retaining walls.
- The removal of five native trees/shrubs.
On the Nillumbik side, there were six objections to the planning application for roadworks and vegetation removal on the north side of the river, Nillumbik’s planning officer is currently talking to Melbourne Water about the application and the Diary is led to believe a decision will be made very soon.
As we go to print, we have also learned Nillumbik Shire CEO Mark Stoermer has written to VicRoads relaying concerns that the “Warrandyte Bridge serves as a critical, single access point for both the local community and emergency services during emergency events, particularly during the bushfire season”.
Nillumbik Council also told the Diary:
Council is waiting on a response from VicRoads confirming that the bridgeworks will not affect emergency responses to and from the area.
That VicRoads will provide an outline of the measures proposed during days of elevated fire risk.
And a communication plan informing residents of any possible closures so residents can make informed decisions about their safety.
Council expects a response from VicRoads by mid-September.
The Diary have pressed VicRoads for comment regarding bridgeworks over the summer, as we go to print, we are still awaiting comment.
When considering the application, Manningham council reported the key issues in this application are environment impact, landscape impact and heritage consideration.
A number of environmental (ESO 2 and ESO 3) and heritage overlays at the site for the bridgeworks mean a planning permit is required for the roadworks associated with the bridge upgrade and as such, a number of conditions need to be met if the planning application is to be approved.
The report indicates the removal of the five trees has resulted in the recommendation that 92 plants must be planted to offset the loss of the trees, this means 14 canopy trees and 78 indigenous trees, shrubs, climbers or grasses all of which must be indigenous to Manningham and will be located within the “Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority Boundary or Manningham City Council municipal district”.
The report also suggests the addition of an aerial wildlife movement pathway is also condition for approval.
The Council’s heritage advisor is quoted in the report as saying:
“This application has been assessed in relation to the impact of the proposed development on the precinct as a whole.
“Given the extensive nature of the precinct and the amount of mature vegetation that exists within it, it is not anticipated that the proposed works will impact on the distinctive landscape character of the precinct.
“It is also noted that there is potential for the proposed works to contribute to the appreciation of heritage values associated with the area by reducing traffic congestion at this key intersection, and by increasing potential for use and enjoyment of the area by pedestrians and cyclists”.
The department of City Strategy (Open Space) asked the plans to address the following elements:
- The new roads and kerbs need to match existing stonework projects within Warrandyte and conform to the township’s heritage guidelines.
- A new footpath between Yarra Street and the river on the Western side of the bridge.
- Signage to help pedestrians identify the pedestrian crossing point on either side of the roundabout or to give them the option to walk under the bridge, along the river.
The Council report also noted there is an amendment in place to minimise any modifications to the existing bus stops around the Bridge intersection (eastbound at the toilet block and westbound in front of the War Memorial) but there is a provision for a semi-mountable kerb opposite 217 Yarra Street (approximately located above the Lions Club tennis courts) for a bus parking area.
With the bus parking area and the new northbound slip-lane, the number of parking bays between the lolly shop and the bridge are likely to be significantly reduced.
The Council report noted there were 10 objectors to the Manningham application, these objectors were made up of two local groups and eight private objectors.
Their objections centred around environmental and natural impact relating to the removal of the trees, the aesthetic and heritage impact of the bridge, the disruption during construction and the threat of increased traffic flow once the upgrade is complete.
On Thursday August 24, VicRoads, Manningham Council and the 10 objectors held a Submitters meeting at Manningham Council offices where the objectors were able to voice their concerns and discuss their objection to the planning application.
Following this meeting, Kyle Gillan, representing the Warrandyte Community Association (WCA), invited a few of the objectors along to a meeting with the Diary to discuss their objections to the Warrandyte Bridge upgrade project.
The Diary asked the group about the Submitters meeting on August 24; Mr Gillan began with a summary of what the WCA had taken to the meeting, in reaction to the council officer’s report.
“The submission the WCA made was asking for four additional conditions to be imposed on the permit,” he said.
The WCA’s additional conditions were:
- The retention of the pedestrian crossing between the bridge and the roundabout.
- Yarra Street is not to be widened to accommodate the northbound slip lane.
- Crash barriers redesigned or removed because they are an “eyesore” and “not consistent with the heritage overlay”.
- The use of natural stone (similar to stone used in the recent footpath works east of the bridge) on all paths, abutments and retaining walls.
Mr Gillan later clarified the objectors at the Submitters meeting wanted this crossing changed from a pedestrian refuge to a zebra crossing.
“At the moment there is a pedestrian refuge so what everyone’s asking for is a zebra crossing which gives pedestrians priority and legal protection, so if they are on that they are protected”.
“A lot of the councillors, particularly Cr Sophy Galbally of Mullum Mullum ward was very concerned about pedestrian safety as she herself has mobility issues.
“The VicRoads plan will be quite bad for people with mobility issues or for children who are catching the bus,” said Mr Gillan.
Other objectors to the Manningham planning application expressed their concern about the cultural and environmental impact of the works.
Pamela Hipwell is worried about the future of the stonework underneath the War Memorial.
Her concern lies in the non-existence of any statement which suggests the stonework around the War Memorial will be protected at all cost.
“They were built by sustenance workers in the 1930s depression and they are of unique historic and aesthetic value and they link up with the War Memorial and that is very very precious to Warrandyte.
“What I am concerned about is that will chip away, they’ve got their slip lanes and then they will be gouging out more because Yarra Street won’t cope with the extra traffic flow and they’ll want more,” she said.
All the way through the extensive discussion the Diary had with the objectors, concerns over protecting the township’s heritage and the environment were at the core of their arguments, but there was also genuine concern that the bridgeworks will do nothing to alleviate the peak-time traffic congestion.
Theresa Dawson and Jeremy Loftus-Hills, who are also on the Urban Design Advisory Panel (UDAP), expressed doubts as to the benefits the bridge upgrade will have.
“My first and major concern was once they widen the bridge and then there is no room — yes the traffic, for a split second over the bridge, will move faster but then it is going to come to a dead halt on either side of the bridge,” said Ms Dawson.
Mr Loftus-Hills objects to the current plan in its entirety and says it has been stunted by Government budget constraints.
“We are better off without it… my objection is to the design that’s been built into the bridge has been lowering the performance of the existing bridge,” he said.
Mr Loftus-Hills later explained why he thinks the bridge is constrained by budget.
“If you read the feedback they gave us in November last year, they say they cannot do that for economic reasons and for environmental reasons but …the last FOI response I got from them said they hadn’t done any costings, there is no paperwork to show you, that’s now before the commissioner,” he said.
The Manningham Council report contains a response to objections about funding for this project.
The report states the bridge offers “significant community benefits” and states the “extensive consultation” which has occurred over the past three years “cannot be revisited under the planning assessment”.
The key issue around the bridge upgrade is the comment by Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner, Craig Lapsley, who identified the Yarra crossing in Warrandyte as a real weakness for traffic flow, in both everyday congestion and in emergency evacuation during bushfire.
During the interview with the Diary, objectors raised concern this context to the bridge upgrade was muddying the CFA’s “leave early” message.
The Diary put this concern to Warrandyte CFA Captain, Adrian Mullens.
“Potentially yeah, the hardest part is to get into people’s heads that they have to leave early,” he said.
Captain Mullens went on to say the high turnover of population in Warrandyte and that there have been no significant fires in Warrandyte since 2014 has led to a state of complacency in the community.
The take-out from this is that the bridge’s effectiveness during emergency evacuation is indeed an important aspect of the upgrade project and an aspect which should be put under heavy critical analysis.
However, awareness of the risks of bushfire and the message of “leave early” is something that, as a community, we need to be proactive about.
Time to come together
It is becoming clear the Warrandyte Bridge upgrade will eventually happen, the government feels it has invested a lot of money into this project and VicRoads will not want to be seen backing down on this issue, especially with the link between the bridge widening and the threat of bushfire.
Objections to the bridge project centre on protecting heritage and environmental overlays, as well as defending the “independent township” culture of our suburb.
An idea that has been fought for by long term residents for many decades and it is these same residents who now argue the point of the fight is to maintain the identity, as it is, for future generations.
“From the very start I said ‘don’t let this happen because it is not about what happens today, it is about where it will go in the future’, so you have to look outside of here to fix the problem and that’s what everyone has to get on board with, it’s leave us alone and we have to push them to move outside the area — do the Ring Road,” said Ms Dawson.
Mr Gillan added: “It’s not the residents of Warrandyte that are causing this, it’s the growth in the sprawling suburbs of Melbourne, the northern growth corridor.
“That’s why we have the heritage overlay, that’s why we have the Green Wedge protected by the Environment act and those things have to be respected,” he said.
The conversations the Diary has had with different sides of the bridge debate and the type of conversation seen on Social Media would suggest there is a growing divide between the residents who have been in the Township for 20,30,40 years and those who have not.
Warrandyte has fought hard to maintain an aesthetic and amenity which makes Warrandyte the lovely place it is but the suburbs around the Green Wedge and along the northern growth corridors are pushing more cars and more people through Warrandyte and the surrounding area.
The Warrandyte Bridge upgrade debate illustrates the clash between maintaining our village-like heritage and functioning as a suburb of a growing Melbourne.
To have the qualities that define Warrandyte as a special place and accessibility to modern infrastructure is always going to be a difficult balance, but this is a special place and we are a determined community.
With some intelligent conversation and some empathy towards other people’s views we can have the best of both worlds.