Hands off the roundabout!

By Sean Car

Local residents living near the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) have sent a direct message to Lord Mayor Sally Capp and the City of Melbourne to retain the Queen St roundabout as part of its upheaval of traffic arrangements in the precinct. 

The council intends to demolish the roundabout and remove mature trees as part of its ongoing push to renew QVM later this year. But residents have urged it to “stop” and reconsider those plans, which they argue won’t solve any traffic issues in the area. 

And in a last-ditch effort to save the roundabout, a large group of residents gathered at the site on January 22 to send a direct message to Lord Mayor Sally Capp holding signs that read: “Wrong way Sally, go back”.

The plea from local residents comes after Heritage Victoria approved “critical” market infrastructure as part of the council’s $250 million incremental renewal program in December, of which traffic reconfiguration will form a key component. 

In December 2019, the council endorsed the discontinuance of sections of Queen and Franklin streets to facilitate the southern development site along Franklin St – a parcel of land transferred from the state government in 2014 to help fund the market’s renewal. 

While the state government’s condition of the land transfer was to rezone QVM’s current car park as a public open space (Market Square), the council intends to sell the southern site off for private development in the process. 

In doing so, Franklin St will be converted into a one-way street to traffic travelling from Queen St to William St, while traffic lights at a new-look intersection will replace the current roundabout – a move residents say will be detrimental to the area. 

The council argues that removing the roundabout will improve safety. But CBD resident Bob Evans, who lives a stone’s throw from the market, said the move represented nothing more than a “land grab” by the council in a bid to maximise yield on its southern development site.

“There have been two accidents in the 20 years I’ve lived here,” he said. “The way the roundabout functions at the moment is very smooth. It slows traffic down.”

“It’s not a danger to pedestrians, cars or cyclists that we can see. And what we’re losing is a purposefully-designed streetscape which is the entryway to the market that’s got mature trees and a sculpture.”

“We’re appealing to the council to stop the destruction of the roundabout, take a deep breath because no one knows what’s going on with the property market, what they may or may not be able to do or sell to developers in the wake of COVID-19.”

“Having inherited the previous plans from council, this council seems hellbent on driving a bulldozer through this and knocking the trees down as fast as possible with the aim of selling the land to a developer. It doesn’t solve the traffic problems – it’s going to be a road to nowhere and that’s our great concern.”

A render of the new Trader Shed at QVM.

But in a statement to CBD News, the council said that planning for the realignment of Franklin and Queen streets was continuing with the removal of the roundabout expected to take place later this year. 

It added that its urban forest team was planning to replace the trees at the roundabout with a greater diversity of species, which would be more resilient to climate change, as well as delivering more trees in the new 1.75-hectare Market Square. 

But Mr Evans and other residents argue that the traffic plans don’t consider the 1000-plus apartments still mooted in various developments in the area, nor the market’s 1000 new car parks inside the Munro and southern development sites. “It will become a bottleneck,” he said. 

In December, a significant milestone in the market’s ongoing renewal saga was reached after Heritage Victoria approved the council’s plans for a new “Trader Shed” and a new “Northern Shed” at Queen St. 

While the heritage permits were issued with many conditions, as well as a rejection of the Northern Shed’s canopy structure designed to cover a new loading area, Lord Mayor Sally Capp said she was “very pleased” with the outcome. 

“Now, more than ever, we need to deliver this significant project that will protect this important National Heritage-listed site and ensure Melbourne’s top visitor attraction is ready to welcome visitors back,” she said. 

The new Trader Shed will replace the current meat and seafood delivery dock built in the 1980s, with loading docks, a four-level basement with climate-controlled storage, improved waste and recycling facilities and 32 underground customer toilets. 

The Northern Shed basement at the northern end of Queen St will house centralised waste and recycling facilities for the entire market, along with segregated loading facilities at ground level and streetscape improvements.

In its approvals, Heritage Victoria issued a number of conditions associated with the design of the Northern Shed’s mechanical vent, and its placement in a “pedestrian thoroughfare”. Archaeological investigations are also required to take place underneath both the sites before works can begin. 

But while the council said the infrastructure emanated from the Lord Mayor’s People’s Panel process in 2018, many traders continue to raise concerns around loading, large vehicle access and moving waste management facilities and public toilets underground. 

Chair of the market’s Trader Representative Committee (TRC) Jenny Pyke said, “How is the central waste management system to work, considering Queen St is to be a major pedestrianised area? Where are the physical models to explain how this is to work, and if there is a model why has this not been presented to the TRC so we can have input?”

President of lobby group Friends of Queen Victoria Market Mary-Lou Howie argued that the People’s Panel’s first recommendation to review storage and amenities for traders found new amenities were unwanted and unnecessary. 

“Traders were adamant that they did not want gold plating,” she said. “The two existing showers are never used.”

“What is the council’s entire vision for the market? The untested, extremely expensive and unwarranted waste management system will now form the centrepiece between the two halves of the market under Queen St.”

Planning applications for the new facilities have been lodged with City of Melbourne as the responsible authority, with plans set to be considered at a Future Melbourne Committee meeting early this year.

Subject to approvals, the council said further work would be undertaken with traders on detailed design and operations, with staged works expected to commence next year and facilities to be operational in 2024.  

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