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Feature article

South Morang Forecourt, South Morang Rail extension Project by Cox Architect_Photograph by C.Dianna Snape Photography

OVGA Message

In the recent State Budget, the Government announced a significant $40 billion investment in transport infrastructure projects to be delivered over the next ten years. City shaping projects such as the Melbourne Rail Link; Cranbourne-Pakenham Rail Corridor Project; City Link –Tullamarine Freeway Widening and the Western Section of East West Link will commit Victoria to a new network plan for Metropolitan Melbourne. Meanwhile other projects such as the Port of Hastings, Ballarat Rail Line and Ballan Station upgrades will continue to support growth in the State’s regions. The Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure (DTPLI) is charged with the delivery of these projects and the OVGA is well positioned to advocate for and support the qualitative aspects of these city-shaping projects.

While political dialogue may be expressed in budget dollars and the scale of civil infrastructure, central to this drive toward a prosperous, connected and liveable Victoria is a concern for quality, people and places. Our experience has demonstrated that such interventions, both urban and regional, have a significant impact on the shaping of our towns, cities and landscapes. These projects will change the way Victorians move through our state and beyond. They will be transformative. At a local level they are urban renewal projects with the capacity to change fundamentally the way existing suburbs and places function economically and socially.   The broader opportunity, considered from the outset, is the ability to leverage significant value not only in terms of private investment, but also more importantly, for local communities. At the heart of this is good design.

It is timely therefore, that the OVGA is relaunching its Good Design and Transport publication. Since the launch of the original publication in 2009 and the creation at that time of a position within the OVGA dedicated to transport infrastructure, we have built significant and productive relationships with transport infrastructure agencies across government including the DTPLI, Public Transport Victoria, VicRoads, Linking Melbourne Authority, MTM, Regional Rail Link Authority and local authorities. While our role is one of influence we have generally found agencies to be open and willing partners and champions of design quality.

Embedded in the processes of transport infrastructure project inception, procurement and delivery, the OVGA is able to champion and advocate for quality and design at every stage of a project. We have assisted in the development of policies, strategies and guidelines; have been involved in formal tender assessment and selection processes; facilitated design workshops; and provided project specific advice and design review. We have also worked with the Department of Treasury and Finance and VicTrack using design thinking as a means of unlocking the potential of strategic assets. This targeted approach has allowed a focus on the quality of significant city shaping projects while affording a unique position from which to reflect on how such interventions can assist in positively shaping our cities and towns in the future.

Lessons learned

In these highly engineered projects it is critical to embed a collaborative design approach from inception to delivery and ensure the inclusion of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture capability in civic infrastructure teams. This allows engineering strategies to be overlaid and enriched by an integrated consideration of urban design opportunities and constraints. Too often the routes and options for major projects can focus on engineering and planning issues without the support of urban designers to identify other potentials with less impact and greater opportunity for the place and community.  Applied later, design is too often regarded as a band-aid to repair or rectify the impact of the intervention rather than as a means of testing the rationale and nature of the intervention.

The establishment of a vision that prioritises people and place can give greater strength and purpose to the client and design teams, understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its ‘rail’ and ‘road’ parts. In the case of the Regional Rail Link (RRL), the OVGA championed the need for an Urban Design Strategy, which was instrumental in raising the ambition of the project. The client team was asked to establish a vision and objectives clearly identifying the role of the project, ‘to connect communities and link people” in the context of “Melbourne’s West and Victoria’s regions.’ It provided an overarching spatial framework and design guidance, clearly expressing the design vision and principles, citing relevant benchmarks not just for the project itself, but for future developments in the immediate precinct.  It addressed infrastructure requirements and integration with the surrounding new and existing urban areas, and encouraged a high quality and integrated design approach across the RRL project as stages were subsequently delivered by a number of design teams. This is an approach that continues to be promoted for other major infrastructure projects.

Such urban design strategies require consideration of the long-term vision and opportunity offered by the project for a place and its community. Complex government or public projects delivered in partnership with a range of stakeholders benefit from such strategies by providing useful tools to reinforce the ambition for urban design excellence to the market – giving clarity to the bidders during the evaluation process and in monitoring design progress.  We have also found that when design is a rewarded key criteria in large scale projects, it reminds bidding consortia that an integrated design approach is required – affording leverage to the design team to ensure good design is brought to the fore and measured at all stages of the project.

In the case of the South Morang Rail Extension Project incentivising design quality provided a useful tool and a reminder to the consortia that the quality of the project was a measurable outcome with immediate financial reward. This motivated the consortia to support the design team’s proposition to develop a Masterplan for the future potential of the South Morang precinct that considered local network links and development opportunities. This may, otherwise, have not been provided. The acceptance of the Masterplan ensured that its ambitions were accommodated by the project and they now form the basis of the urban design framework for this precinct, further developed by the local authority.

It is at this broad level that we can identify both the impact and contribution of such interventions on an area – whether established, identified for urban renewal or part of a new growth area. Applying this logic, for example, to the planning and delivery of the State Government’s program of level crossing removal projects – although a complex undertaking – offers a unique opportunity for major public investment to be leveraged, unlocking opportunities for urban regeneration and redressing poor existing conditions. Therefore, a typically linear project might suddenly become a more complex and integrated undertaking, and provide an opportunity to stitch a place together – bringing cohesion, renewal and economic life to an area.

In urban renewal areas, the timely provision of infrastructure becomes an important consideration requiring a response that addresses established movement patterns as well as anticipated short, intermediate and long term needs. The ambition for high quality, sustainable and vibrant communities in urban renewal areas such as Fishermans Bend, warrants a strong and timely investment in public transport. The State Government’s commitment to a new railway station is a welcome long-term initiative. In the interim, the introduction of a new light rail integrated as part the area’s central civic boulevard would complement the heavy rail initiative and provide Fishermans Bend with a strong connection to the city along with a sense of identity, place and civic pride.

This idea of the civic nature of infrastructure projects is important. For example, a train station often plays a role within a local community that goes well beyond its function as a transport facility. As we move forward with the delivery of major transport infrastructure projects, it is important to challenge assumptions around their role as nothing more than engineered transport corridors and facilities. Instead these interventions need to be framed as significant urban opportunities to shape our cities and towns, which contribute to the social and economic renewal of places and respond to the needs of our growing population – leaving a legacy to future generations of Victoria.

Kim Irons, Principal Policy Officer Architecture + Transport
With thanks to Sophie Patitsas, Emma Appleton & Jill Garner