New public space on the cards for North Melbourne

Brendan Rees

A new public space could open next to the North Melbourne Town Hall under a proposal to be considered by the City of Melbourne.

The council will assess the “benefits, opportunities and impacts” of a new forecourt or park which would be situated on Queensberry St.

The idea was discussed at the council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting on June 14 after planning portfolio deputy lead Cr Rohan Leppert led a motion to assess a “variety of options” within the area of Queensberry St between Errol and Leveson streets.

“It’s something we know the community has been talking about for decades … which is now particularly worthy of exploration given that there are clearer policy and funding imperatives to do this now,” Cr Leppert said.

That funding would include using a $100 million North Melbourne, West Melbourne and Docklands Transport and Amenity Program (TAP), which is a suite of streetscape improvement projects “to help to alleviate and leverage some of the effects and benefits” of the West Gate Tunnel Project, particularly for local and arterial roads in the City of Melbourne.

TAP projects are a 50-50 funding arrangement between the Department of Transport and the council – with up to a maximum of $100 million available over the next four years.

Under the TAP, the council would explore traffic calming measures in Queensberry St and open space opportunities as a project for future consideration, which would be subject to state government approval and funding decisions.

The proposal comes as the community has long called for the council to nominate a place within the City of Melbourne, preferably a public and civic space in North Melbourne, to honour the legacy of local activists in social and environmental planning, Ruth and Maurie Crow.

Cr Leppert said the public open space was a “beautiful opportunity” but maintained, “I’m not saying let’s do it here and now, I’m saying let’s explore it as a worthwhile opportunity”.

“A project like this is on the long list on TAP, but I thought I’d pull these threads together in a single motion and say this is something worth exploring.”

North Melbourne resident and professor of urban planning at the University of Melbourne Brendan Gleeson believed it was an “excellent and timely idea”.

“Given the expected future population growth in the area, there will be a strong need for new and enhanced public spaces as well as further traffic calming to ensure amenity and resident safety is protected,” he said.

“The rich history of the area should be recalled and celebrated in the new square. This is a terrific proposal that would help to honour [Ruth Crow’s] important contributions to the North Melbourne and wider Melbourne communities.”

Protectors of Public Lands deputy president Fiona Bell said her group was always in favour of creating open spaces so long as heritage wasn’t compromised.

“Any additional parkland especially with increasing population and an increasing desire to use open space – mental health and other reasons – it’s always a good thing,” she said.

“Even if that opens as a little court area where people can just sit and have a cup of coffee under a tree would be very nice and good for people.”

This sentiment was echoed by Margaret O’Brien, a member of the Friends of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens.

“There is intense competition for our existing open space … the way every public space is used, arguably, overused,” she said.

“And those spaces in parks and gardens, of course, are the very spaces that the majority of the population now seek and need because their homes are smaller and for most, any trees are now only in public places because developments don’t have either open space or trees and are relying on public areas.”

A report will come back to council in April 2023. •

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