Activating Acland

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By: Ed Kennedy

The Route 96 tram upgrades remain a source of controversy within the local community and wider Melbourne. Residents and traders are divided over whether the introduction of the super-sized ‘E’ class trams and widening of the tracks at Acland Street will modernise the line or strike at the heart of St Kilda culture and lifestyle.

An iconic route on the Melbourne tram network, Route 96 traverses through much of the inner-city heartland. Beginning in Brunswick East, it ambles along into Fitzroy then through the Melbourne CBD through the Bourke St mall, rattling past Southern Cross station, the casino and South Melbourne before coming to a stop in St Kilda just a short walk from the beach. Just like the cable cars rolling down San Francisco hills or the ferries sailing over Sydney Harbour, the No. 96 is an iconic urban sight.

For traders, a chief issue remains the City of Port Phillip’s plans to “activate” the Acland Street Precinct to complement the tram works and upgrade the area – such as by creating a new plaza. Some traders and residents feel these plans are an upside to the tram works underway – and they placate many who may have been otherwise concerned about impact the words will have on the area, especially the loss of parking spaces along Acland Street to make way for the new tram tracks.

Johnny Iodice of the Vineyard Bar and Restaurant says he would embrace any artistic or economic stimulus planned for the strip and looks forward to hearing Council’s activation plans post tram works. Though he does understand these things can take time, he feels it is important the council also seeks to “quickly” assure the traders’ association that the future of the precinct remains a bright one.

For its part, Port Phillip Council has stressed it is aware of the desire for progress on the issue.

“Council has been working constructively and in close partnership with PTV and Yarra Trams to deliver this significant infrastructure for the community. We consider the activation of the Acland Street Precinct an important placemaking and transport project,” Mayor Amanda Stevens said.

“Council is currently going through the process of preparing a public tender for consultants to commence a precinct masterplan and detailed design of the streetscape, including the new civic plaza.

Cr Stevens said that community engagement would be a strong focus of the project and would begin as soon as consultants were appointed.

However, Carolin Hemingway of Red Projects Homewares and Gift Shop rejected Cr Stevens’ claims.

“If it is ‘in line’ with the previous consultation, the decision has already been made and anyone contributing is wasting their breath. Also, it is a further waste of our tax-payer dollars – just so Council can be seen to be doing the right thing,” she said.

“Acland Street would love some attention to increase trade after a tough year – but putting a super tram stop in the middle of it and deleting car parking and car access will not ‘activate’ it.”

However, the City of Port Phillip claims the majority of the public are in favour of the upgrades, and that two economic reports have indicated the Route 96 works will increase foot traffic to the area with no adverse economic impact expected.

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