By David Schout
A four-kilometre green trail along the Yarra would represent Melbourne’s “biggest transformation” since the opening of Federation Square in 2002, according to Lord Mayor Sally Capp.
The $300 million “Greenline” project, a key election pledge from Cr Capp, would see a pathway established along the river’s Northbank from Birrarung Marr all the way to the Bolte Bridge.
City of Melbourne councillors unanimously endorsed draft plans for the project on May 4.
Plans revealed a vision to better connect pedestrians and cyclists between a series of “reinvigorated, lively riverfront precincts”; via the riverside pathway and associated bridges and boardwalks.
It also sought to celebrate the river’s historical importance to Aboriginal culture and improve its overall health.
“The north bank of the Yarra River Birrarung is currently under-utilised, and broadly characterised by a lack of cultural expression, limited ecological or habitat value, poor pedestrian and community connectivity, and a lack of social amenity. The Greenline addresses these challenges,” the draft plan said.
There was no timeline yet for the project, however the draft implementation schedule indicates work would continue until 2028.
Cr Capp said Greenline would be one of Melbourne’s most important projects in decades.
“Greenline would deliver one of the biggest transformations of the city since the completion of Southbank Promenade in 1990 and the opening of Fed Square in 2002,” she said after the plans were publicly released.
“We want Northbank to become one of the city’s premier destinations for workers, residents and tourists! Our investment in the waterfront would create jobs for Melburnians and encourage investors to open their cheque book and deliver new projects.”
Cr Capp made Greenline a key part of her 2018 by-election and 2020 general election strategy, winning on both occasions.
Greens councillor Rohan Leppert, who contested the 2018 by-election, said Cr Capp’s results indicated public support for the project.
“That  election was won on Greenline. A second election has been won on Greenline – there is no denying that there is an overwhelming political mandate for this project,” he said at the May 4 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.
“This is an exciting project, it is a genuinely transformational project whether you look at the economic uplift opportunities alone, the job impacts, or the international or interstate tourism drawcard that a Greenline will create.”
Northbank an “underwhelming experience”
The draft plans revealed a scathing assessment of Northbank’s current condition.
Despite possessing a “rich history and distinctive features”, it was described as of “poor quality”, “lacking activity”, “prone to safety and security issues”, and was an “overall underwhelming experience”.
According to the report, the northern side of the Yarra River was poorly integrated with the Hoddle Grid despite its close proximity.
“Connectivity from the CBD to the Northbank is currently poor. Overhead rail infrastructure and vehicle traffic on Flinders St separate the Northbank from the CBD both visually and physically. Many of the streets that lead to the Northbank are unpleasant for pedestrians.”
The report said that this contrasted with Southbank, which featured “sunny, attractive, and generally well-maintained pedestrianised public spaces and active building frontages”.
However, the project sought to differentiate itself from the river’s southern side.
“Rather than recreating the outdoor dining, arts and events focus of Southbank, the Greenline is an opportunity to build on the existing character of Northbank to create an enhanced connected river front experience that remains authentic to these unique attributes.”
Initial project plans identified five key precincts for the four-kilometre trail, each separated on the basis of land management, activity and character attributes.
These are (from east to west):
Yarro Yarro (near Queens Bridge)
Salt Water Wharf
The council would seek funding contributions for the project from upper levels of government and the private sector.
In a huge win for community-led group Yarra Pools, as part of the Greenline project the council also resolved to explore the feasibility of a large pool facility at Enterprize Park, next to the Melbourne Aquarium.
Group president Felicity Watson said the decision was “justification” for years of hard work, and vindication that the proposal was a credible one (see our report on page 9 for more).
“We believe, after much discussion, believe that it is an appropriate time to formally assess that proposal,” Cr Capp confirmed.
“Many fingers in the pie”
The fragmentation of controlling authorities along the river meant the project would need to jump through a significant number of hoops before it gets off the ground.
The City of Melbourne does not own or independently manage the waterways or banks of the Yarra River (now referred to by the council as “Yarra River Birrarung” in a nod to its traditional name). Key stakeholders included the state government, Development Victoria, Parks Victoria, VicTrack, Melbourne Water and other landowners.
Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher told CBD News collaboration could make or break the project.
“The key to its success will be for state government to take co-ownership of the plan and to overcome the silo effect created by the many government departments involved in the current jurisdiction of Northbank,” he said.
“Until legislation changes to create a Lower Yarra River Authority, or at least a strong planning overlay, great projects like Greenline will proceed only spasmodically because of all the fingers currently in the pie.”
Cr Capp said she did not underestimate the project’s scale. “There is still a lot of work ahead, I absolutely understand that.”
The “key guiding document” for Greenline is the council’s in-depth Yarra River Birrarung Strategy, endorsed in December 2019.
One of the 15-year strategy’s primary ambitions was to improve reconciliation with traditional owners.
According to the strategy, for traditional owners’ water bodies such as rivers were and are inextricably connected to life’s meaning and have powerful cultural associations.
Cr Capp said they hoped to reflect those values in Greenline designs.
“The Greenline would tell stories of Melbourne’s history and increase visibility and understanding of the area’s Aboriginal culture and heritage,” she said.
The council was now set to implement a final Greenline implementation plan by the end of 2021 •