Errol St businesses divided over pop-up greenery and seats

Errol St businesses divided over pop-up greenery and seats
Spencer Fowler Steen

Errol St will soon have more seats and trees thanks to a pop-up trial run by the City of Melbourne (CoM) and the North & West Melbourne Precinct Association (NWMPA).

While one Errol St business slammed the initiative as a “waste of money” which would not bring more customers amid claims the strip was a “ghost town” and faring worse than during lockdown, NWMPA executive officer Rebekah Symons said the trial was a “necessary process” to allow for permanent greening.

By piloting flexible pop-up installations during the six-month “Greening Errol St” trial, the council and the NWMPA hopes to experiment with different types of greenery and seating arrangements without altering the existing footpath and road spaces.

To begin with, 25 native trees with understorey grasses in 1.3-metre concrete planter boxes will be introduced. Most will be incorporated into outdoor dining spaces, with a few by the post office.

Four bench seating areas will be created on either side of the street, including one that will be inset into a carpark in front of Neighbourhood House, The Centre.

But Hotham Juice and Gelati owner Sia Kaveh said he had already asked the council to move an “ugly, concrete” planter box outside his business because it blocked car parking.

“We’ve already got a table and chair outside, there’s no room,” he said.

“If you put it there it’ll waste one car park as well. If we keep cutting off the car park, we’ll lose more customers, and there’s already no customers.”

Mr Kaveh suggested that the council should instead bring festivals back to Errol St to reinvigorate the strip after being hit by the lack of international students, tourists, local office workers and backpackers.

“Errol St is like a ghost town,” he said.

“Close the street from top to bottom and bring festivals back. I remember almost every second month we had festivals full or people, music, food – I don’t think people are interested in coming out and looking at a tree.”

“It’s worse than lockdown and I don’t think the government knows about Errol St, they only talk about the CBD. No one knows that Errol St is here, so we need advertising for the whole street.”

Happy Hanger Dry Cleaning owner William Jia also questioned the initiative, saying a new public bench seat and concrete planter box outside his shop were “not that beautiful” and blocked access to his business.

“If the plant is in the ground rather than the big concrete pot, it’d be better,” he said.

“The pots are actually huge – it’s not that beautiful, it looks quite industrial along the shopping strip.”

“It does block some access to our shop. Make them [the planter boxes] a bit more beautiful, not plain concrete, and put a few separate smaller benches rather than one long bench that nobody can walk through. Now, they either have to walk around it or walk over it.”

Marcus, owner of Errol St’s 7-Eleven, said business had been “very quiet” despite North Melbourne being open again, and echoed calls for more events in Errol St.

The City of Melbourne said it expected that there would be minimal impacts to on-street parking, with seven car-parking spaces having already been repurposed for dining parklets.

However, Mr Kaveh said plants in a dining parklet next door to his shop had died because they had not been watered.

“They took out all the plants and now it’s just timber and fake grass and no one’s using it. It’s useless and it wastes the car park,” he said.

The council anticipates the greenery and seating will boost ambiance, wellbeing and visual interest for people walking and driving through.

Increased habitat for insects and birds, as well as more foot traffic to local businesses are also listed as expected benefits.

The council and the NWMPA also predict enhanced safety for pedestrians through the design of concrete planters as collision barriers.

Asked whether festivals would become a regular fixture for Errol St, NWMPA executive officer Rebekah Symons said the decision would be informed by community feedback.

She also refuted claims by some businesses that the planter boxes were obstructive.

“Most of the planter boxes are on Errol St footpaths, which are very wide, allowing for plenty of walking space and the greening does not interfere with seating, outdoor dining or foot traffic,” Ms Symons said.

“It should be noted that when the trees were first introduced to Errol St, there were two trees mistakenly placed that did obstruct car parking, however they were removed immediately when the City of Melbourne was informed.”

Ms Symons also said marketing for Errol St was already part of its strategic plan for the precinct.

“The best way for local businesses to have their say in how the strategy is implemented is to join as a member and nominate for the committee or other working groups,” she said.

The trial is being funded by the Victorian Government’s Melbourne City Recovery Fund and has been identified within the NWMPA’s Strategic Plan 2021-26 as a priority activity.

For the duration of the trial, the council will absorb the costs of installation and permits and manage the irrigation and health of the trees.

Current plans would utilise one additional car-parking space to create a public seating area.

While the trial will be focused on Errol St, four of the planter boxes in the initial trial will be placed in Queensbury St.

The CoM and NWMPA are interested to gauge interest from the broader North Melbourne retail precinct.

Feedback will be collected throughout the trial period, with an independent analysist engaged to evaluate how the temporary changes influenced local perspectives of the street.

These findings will be presented to the council and published online mid-2022.

Every person who has contributed their views towards this consultation between December 20, 2021, and June 3, 2022, and provided their contact details will be entered into a draw to win a $100 North Melbourne Precinct voucher.

For more information or to have your say visit

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