Will E-Gate curb suburban sprawl?Posted: March 10, 2011
I like the (very) notional plans for redevelopment of the old E-Gate site in west Melbourne to accommodate up to 12,000 residents published in The Age (Thursday, 10 March, 2011).
Putting what might be 6,000–9,000 dwellings on 20 highly accessible hectares on the edge of the CBD makes a lot more sense than the mere 10,000–15,000 mooted for 200 hectares at Fishermans Bend.
But I do take issue with the claim by the Minister for Major Projects, Denis Napthine, that it’s a very significant development for Melbourne “because we want to grow the population without massively contributing to urban sprawl”.
The Age reinforces this take by titling its report “New city-edge suburb part of plan to curb urban sprawl” and goes on to say that it’s the first big part of the Government’s “plan to shift urban growth from Melbourne’s fringes to its heart”.
I’ve always liked the idea of E-Gate being redeveloped but, as I said on February 19 in relation to a similar report on proposals for Fishermans Bend, the significance or otherwise of the project for fringe growth has to be assessed in the context of the total housing task for Melbourne.
In the twelve months ending 30 September 2010, 42,509 dwellings were approved in the metropolitan area, of which around 17,000 were approved in the outer suburban Growth Area municipalities. That’s just for one year. E-Gate’s 6,000 – 9,000 dwellings would be released over a long time frame, probably at least ten years and quite possibly longer (the Government says Fishermans Bend will be developed over 20-30 years). Existing leases on the site run till 2014 so it’s likely the first residents won’t be moving in for a long time yet.
Of course it all helps but the contribution of the three redevelopment sites identified by the Government – E-Gate, Fishermans Bend and Richmond station – to diminishing pressure on the fringe will be modest. They don’t collectively constitute a sprawl-ameliorating strategy. Melbourne still needs a sensible approach to increasing multi-unit housing supply across the rest of the metropolitan area. The “brownfield strategy” is in danger of becoming “cargo cult urbanism”.
It also needs to be borne in mind that what’s been shown for E-Gate so far (and Fishermans Bend and Richmond station for that matter) is little more than froth and bubble. There’s a host of issues like infrastructure supply and the range and balance of land uses that no one knows much about yet. There are also other visions for E-Gate.
Glossy architectural visions for under-utilised sites are all well and good. No doubt the Government is anxious to see off the criticism that it’s been slow off the blocks. But what’s really needed is more information on options and in particular the justification and rationale for what sites like E-Gate would be best used for in the context of the Government’s vision for the whole metropolitan area.