Have a look at this block!

Have a look at this block!
Simon Harvey

Yes, go to Google Maps and have a look! It’s a community test case – the block bordered by Stubbs St, Macaulay Rd, Robertson St, and Barnett St. The big rooftops jump out at you.

The relatively narrow residential strip immediately east of Barnett St is the only part of the block that is residential, and the only section officially outside the Macaulay Structure Plan. The majority of the block comprises four large commercial landholdings, and one public park.

  1. To the east (purple line) is the ex-Vision Australia building on the Macaulay-Stubbs corner. This property has a pending development of 400-plus apartments and 500-plus car spaces.
  2. The industrial estate at 352-400 Macaulay Rd (outlined in green). This property has recently been purchased by the purchased by the developer, Greystar.
  3. The Webb warehouse (yellow line – 402-444 Macaulay Rd) has a pending development of 300 plus apartments.
  4. The block on the north (in red, facing Robertson St) is owned and leased by the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA). To this point I know nothing about the future development of this property.
  5. The square (blue line) on the north-west corner is Robertson St Park, which (according to the latest Macaulay Structure Plan) is planned to be extended marginally to the east.

I have written extensively in both the North West City News (NWCN) and Flem/Ken News about the section of Macaulay Rd south of this block (See NWCN edition two – March 2021 – The Case for a Kensington Precinct Plan).

Last week I met with Greystar, the developer of the industrial estate, which confirmed some of my concerns expressed last year. Developers are permitted, under certain conditions, to build up to eight storeys. Greystar’s initial plans involve a squared-off, eight-storey, horseshoe design, with the closed end facing Macaulay Rd, with the intention of having commercial premises facing Macaulay Rd on the ground floor. Like the development to the east the plan includes some open space within the development, but the space is not visible nor readily accessible to the public.

I have said the development of this block is “a community test case”. So, what could be a reasonable set of parameters for this test? Firstly, this block is labelled as a “mixed use zone”, i.e., a mixture of residential and commercial. What will that mix look like? How about walkability within the block? Public open space and sunlight? Community infrastructure? Planting? Accessible and affordable housing? How will it feel to walk in and around the block? Parking and transport options? How will they pan out – too little, too much? How about bike spaces, and charging points?

In my article last March I described my vision for Macaulay Rd as follows, “… we can see the ‘vision thing’ come into play – Kensington from the top of the hill along Macaulay Rd (down) to Boundary Rd in North Melbourne becomes a people precinct, fed by public transport and characterised by bikes, scooters, pedestrians, small electric vehicles, and enough green open space to feed the souls of residents.”

Whether or not this vision is realised depends to a great extent on what developers do on either side of Macaulay Rd. Despite attention being given to bike lanes and safety along Macaulay Rd, one would have to say the signs are not good. The so called “Macaulay Canyons” on either side of the road are falling into place! For those not familiar with this expression, it refers to the six- or eight-storey facades being constructed on both sides of the road.

The sombre fact is that the built-form controls, which have evolved under the watch of local and state governments, allow these “canyons” to be created. The streetscape on this north-side block has been (is being) designed by three different developers, at three different times; not great for cooperative precinct planning! This is what happens, not a recipe for development in the interest of the community!

Apart from a small section on the south-west corner, which is designed to be four storeys, the remainder will have a six- to eight-storey façade along Macaulay Rd – that is six storeys at the street quickly transitioning to eight storeys. The early designs for the Greystar site include a small public space on the north side of the horseshoe – a positive, but the Macaulay Rd façade is unbroken – a negative. The Assemble design for the Webb warehouse site has a more diverse façade on Macaulay Rd, but little open space within the development.

No firm conclusion can yet be drawn as to the “success” (or otherwise) of this Macaulay test case, much will depend on how the Greystar development proceeds and how the final AWTA site is developed sometime in the future – probably under different built-form controls.

The Kensington Association will do everything we possibly can to amplify community voices. We always have a chance to improve outcomes, which will never be perfect (whatever that means). The questions we ask are always about overall community benefit. We know what makes a difference, however, we recognise that we are wrestling with powerful commercial interests, and with governments which, unfortunately, are too often caught in the same web of capitalistic imperatives •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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