Lygon Street in East Brunswick, where I live, is unrecognisable from a decade ago. Over that time, at least a dozen new apartment blocks have sprouted four to ten storeys above the clothing factories they replaced. Some have elegant white curves while others are cement boxes.
Beneath these towers, we locals watch the traffic crawl slowly by. We elbow our way onto the packed morning trams while those on the nearby Upfield line wait 20 minutes for the next train. According to data obtained by the Greens, the 96 tram along neighbouring Nicholson St carries more passengers than any route in Melbourne. Patronage has boomed over the past decade and now 53,000 passengers use this route each day. So it’s no surprise to hear people complain that apartments are being added to Brunswick faster than public transport can keep up.
I hear this more than any other concern from every part of the electorate of Brunswick. People describe different parts of the problem: population growth, too many cars, buildings too tall, lack of green space, and the inability of public transport to cope. But most can see the connections between these issues, and many acknowledge that we should fit more people into the inner city to stop Melbourne’s suburbs spreading into our farmland. They know rents and house prices are prohibitively high.
Speculators buy and sell factory sites, making millions and pushing up the eventual price of the resulting apartments. Successive state governments have not allowed Moreland Council to set mandatory height limits along the shopping streets, allowing only “discretionary limits”, meaning the council is usually over-ruled at VCAT when it attempts to limit building heights. Moreland Council has had a structure plan, allowing for five storeys of apartments along much of Lygon St, but it means little until the state government gives it teeth. There is a perception that state governments have been quick to respond to developers’ needs but slow to look after the community.
The Greens want to address this (see our planning policy) by allowing Council to set mandatory height limits, reducing the opportunity for disputes to go to VCAT, and reducing the buying and selling that jacks up the price of housing. Height limits would be those in Council’s structure plan which allows for a substantial increase in population.
Apartment developments should meet our city’s needs. Much of Brunswick’s character comes from its social mix. To avoid locking Brunswick up for the wealthy, we want to set aside a percentage of new apartments for public and affordable housing for low income workers, including artists and students – at least 30% in big developments, and built to be accessible for all abilities.
Open, safe, and shady spaces need to be provided as part of new developments, and apartments taller than five storeys should provide at least half of their roof space toward solar panels or green roofs.
Growth needs to keep up with new services. the Greens have announced plans for buses and trams to run more frequently, especially later into evenings and throughout the weekend where we have seen an explosion in patronage.The crowded Upfield train line must have about the lowest service frequency in Melbourne. This can be increased to a ten minute “turn up and go” service.
Brunswick is close to the city, and one in eight people already ride to work, already exceeding the number taking the train as young people now rely less on private cars. And as other modes of transport struggle to meet demand, bicycle lanes offer a simple solution to crowded and dangerous roads. A dedicated lane for bicycles can carry at least four times as many people as in cars alone. We need to be future-proofing our transport routes for a time when our roads can no longer fit all our cars. On some of these roads we must physically separate bike lanes from car traffic to protect and encourage cyclists. The blockages on the Upfield shared path mean we need to seriously consider bold steps like a dedicated, separate, and safe Sydney Road bike lane.
The people of Brunswick wake every morning to the sound of building works and heavy vehicles. Several large projects are underway or soon to start. We already live with traffic jams. But there is still time for our state government to intervene and put open space, transport, and housing on the same drawing board. The Brunswick of the future will be grateful.