The social and physical destruction of Acland Street

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By Andrew Broadway, local resident

Much has been written and spoken about the physical changes that will occur to the Acland Street retail strip. The plan that has been rubberstamped by the Port Phillip Council, State Government and associated authorities was a done deal before any of the general public knew that the plan existed.

While every business operator in the precinct should be ready for huge changes to the support they currently enjoy, little has been discussed about the residents of the area and how it will affect them.

Let’s look at the issues that will affect us residents:

Removing traffic from approximately 70% of the Acland Street retail strip means that nearly all of the 50 odd carparks currently available will disappear. The current parking restrictions for these parks is one hour! Multiply that by the normal open hours for a retailer and you have the opportunity for 400 turnovers in a business day. People coming and going, doing business, picking up and delivering, spending money! Parallel parking is an essential element for any strip shopping centre. Ask the traders of Bridge Road Richmond what happened when the clever Public Transport bureaucrats decided that the most successful section, the Richmond Hill, between Punt Road and Church Streets should have four elevated platform tram stops. Each stop eliminates seven carparks. And now this fantastic retail centre once frequented by busloads of visitors as far away as Brisbane and Adelaide is in total decline. Multiples of empty shops line the street and general lowering of the quality and nature of the entire retail area.

So if residents like the idea of hopping in the family car for a quick trip to Woolworths for bread and milk, don’t think that the current carparks will have spaces because these will be the first to fill. Luna Park pay parking area will be constantly full as well the adjacent streets. This of course may change once the visitors work out that it’s going to be too hard. A decline in business will occur and no doubt some businesses will close. The Council’s “improvements” to Fitzroy Street have certainly proved that point.

At a public meeting about transport in the Port Phillip area at Port Phillip Town Hall, our local member was asked if he agreed with the Acland Street proposal? His answer was interesting “It needs to be changed or improved”. Yes, I agree it does need some improvement because it is currently the same as it was 80 years ago! But Acland Street is narrow. It has coped with trams coming and going for decades. Now it has reached saturation point due to the 24 m reticulated trams using the space designed for a 10 meter tramcar. The next generation of trams are going to be 33 m in length which will completely fill the space. We are of course promised a mall however, with 33 m reticulated trams running up and down to make certain that pedestrians cannot use it. I’m not sure that I would want to see Acland Street turned into a mall! It is a fact that malls attract beggars and pickpockets! As if we don’t have enough of these people already. And this is not a may be it is a fact internationally. Ask the people of the beautiful Norwegian capital, Oslo, what their malls have done for the misfits and thieves primarily transience and illegal migrants.

The member for Albert Park, the Honourable Martin Foley MP, is now the Minister for housing, a responsible position and a position of considerable influence! Surely, he should be asked to provide the government’s reasons for allowing such a destructive project in an area designed and built for suburban retailing. Also, the question should be asked if the project has been reviewed due to the level of dissatisfaction amongst local traders and residents. The question deserves more than his Port Melbourne throwaway line.

And what about our elected officers? After all we elect our politicians and counsellors to responsibly run a system that protects the electorate from bad or stupid public actions. Perhaps it’s time to put these elected “offices” under pressure and get straight answers. Don’t forget there is a minister for local government. Her name is the Honourable Natalie Hutchins MP. Have we heard from her or has anyone asked her about this project? As Minister for local affairs perhaps she should come and actually look at the site and plans. After all any straight thinking person who examines a suburban street that is about to be destroyed by a totally unsuitable infrastructure should at least respect a comment from the appropriate minister.

Then we have our own council to consider. Our local councillor is Serge Thomann a once deputy mayor! What is his opinion about the “upgrade”?

Let’s face it, if any of these people proposed such a project for just about anywhere else in the metropolitan area, it would be met with massive objections. This will be one of the few infrastructure projects that has to destroy a perfectly functional and historically important part of our community to supposedly improve our public transport.

St Kilda has had a hard fought historic success in recent decades. In 1979 a group of residents from West St. Kilda along with some business operators and community organisations got together and opposed the open manner in which prostitutes and their clientele used public places and in some cases front gardens to ply their trade. Cars trawling the residential streets of West Saint Kilda became a constant procession. The organisation was called West Action. It lobbied a then politically divided St Kilda Council which under the Mayoral leadership of the late Brian Zouche, eventually capitulated and modified traffic flow through Dalgety, Bernette and Gurner Streets. Added police activity in the area cleared the problem once and for all. The ladies of the day and night appeared to be quite happy to be limited to the Grey Street area.

Whilst these examples and outcomes are totally different, it does prove that residents pressure can be used to make change!

What is about to happen is bureaucratic vandalism proposed by the current operator of Melbourne’s public transport. I think we all deserve better but unless we apply pressure where it has the best effect, the bureaucratic powers will get away with it.

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