Eltham Gateway trees remain under threat
by JAMES POYNER
9th March 2020
THE CLASH between utilitarian necessity, and community and environmental amenity is all too familiar to many residents of Warrandyte and surrounds.
The latest battleground is the Eltham Fitzsimons Lane Roundabout at the Eltham Gateway.
Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV) is planning to remove the roundabout and replace it with a multilane, traffic-lighted intersection, as part of its $2.2 billion Northern Roads Upgrade project.
Planned works also include the removal of the roundabout at Porter Street in Templestowe and the redesign of the Foote Street intersection.
The work at the Eltham Gateway to replace the roundabout with an intersection will involve the removal of hundreds of trees which will significantly change the look of the area, threatening what many see as the visual gateway into Nillumbik’s Green Wedge, as well as damaging the character of the area and disrupting community amenity for residents.
Eltham Community Action Group (ECAG) has been campaigning for an alternative design which will help ease traffic flow without damaging the amenity and character of the area.
“People see those trees and it makes them feel like they have come home”, said Carlota Quinlan, a representative of ECAG.
Following what many see as an ineffective campaign by MRPV to share the proposed design in September 2018, the impact of the works — the extent of the removal of the trees — was not fully visualised to both commuters and the broader community until late 2019, when ECAG tied red ribbons to all the trees planned to be removed at the Eltham Gateway, as well as publishing mock-ups of the proposed design.
ECAG also submitted a petition with 3,000 signatures to the Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, requesting the project is halted and more a sympathetic design be sought, with more up to date traffic data.
In November 2019, the Diary ran a story on the ECAG red ribbon protest and asked MRPV if they were planning to alter the plans, given works are scheduled to begin in 2020.
At the time, MRPV told the Diary: “Updated preliminary designs will be published on the Major Road Projects Victoria website in the coming weeks.”
Nearly three months passed with no update, so the Diary contacted MRPV again for an update on the works, MRPV has now released information regarding alterations to the proposed 11 lane intersection.
Major Road Projects Victoria’s Delivery Director, Steve Cornish, told the Diary the design balanced important community feedback about the local significance of the Eltham Gateway with the needs of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
“We’ve listened to what’s important to the community and investigated a number of design options,” Mr Cornish said.
“The design changes we’ve made will reduce the number of trees that are impacted, while still ensuring we can deliver vital safety benefits and reduce congestion.”
The new design slightly reduces the footprint and, according to MRPV, reduces the number of trees being removed.
But details in their latest update are vague.
Following a meeting between the project team and ECAG on Wednesday, February 26, ECAG spoke to the Diary, and indicated they were still “very disappointed” with the planned works.
“They have not taken on board community concerns,” said Ms Quinlan.
Although the updated design reduces the number of trees that need to be removed, the trees which currently stand in the middle and around the roundabout are still going, which has been the whole point of ECAGs protest.
Ms Quinlan told the Diary ECAG includes members who have experience in urban design, engineering et cetera, and that the group has submitted alternative design ideas to MRPV, which meet the expectations of both MRPV and the local community, but these have been declined.
Ms Quinlan also reinforced the sentiment that ECAG is not against the road improvement project in principle.
She said the community action group simply want a design which maintains the character and amenity of the Eltham Gateway.
Whilst ECAG continue to negotiate with MRPV for a better deign, the project continues to grind through the necessary bureaucratic processes needed for works to begin with the necessary planning amendments gazetted on January 16.
Construction is still scheduled to begin later this year.
The Diary asked MRPV for specific details regarding the number of trees saved in the new design, as well as comment on how traffic flow will be impacted by the North East Link.
“Design refinements, since the initial reference design was released in September 2018, have resulted in a total of 150 fewer trees needing to be removed.
“This includes a most recent saving of 50 fewer trees needing to be removed with the design revisions released in February 2020.
“Major Road Projects Victoria’s traffic modelling showed that while traffic volumes on Fitzsimons Lane are expected to reduce with the opening of North East Link (2027), the existing roundabout would continue to create congestion, long queues and risky driver behaviour without an upgrade.
“Every iteration of the design has taken into account how future traffic volumes will affect the intersection.
“The updated design has reduced the overall footprint of the upgrade, while still delivering significant improvements to safety and congestion to Fitzsimons Lane.
“Major Road Projects Victoria will continue to inform and consult the community through web, electronic and mail updates, door knocks to nearby properties, community information sessions, and pop ups at events.”
The recent “artist’s impression” released by MRPV as part of the February update has also come under fire from ECAG on social media with a post on the groups Facebook page haranguing Major Roads for an artist’s impression which is misleading and not to scale.
There is still time for the community to voice their concerns or seek clarity on any aspect of the design.
MRPV is hosting a Drop In Session at Eltham Library on Wednesday, March 11, from 6pm.