A promise by the Andrews government to build a transport “super hub” at Sunshine station that would fuel an economic boom in the working-class suburb may not proceed, putting the government on a collision course with a council in Melbourne’s west.
Staff from Rail Projects Victoria told Brimbank councillors in a private briefing two weeks ago that upgrades to the station as part of the $8-$13 billion airport rail project would be treated predominantly as a “transport infrastructure-led project” rather than an opportunity for urban renewal, Brimbank Council’s mayor Ranka Rasic has said.
Sunshine railway station in 2018.Credit:Jason South
Councillors walked away from the briefing with the impression that upgrades to Sunshine and Albion stations would be “relegated to secondary priority”, Cr Rasic said. It comes as state and federal governments have removed references to Sunshine station being a “super hub” in press announcements and departmental websites.
When the Andrews government announced before the 2018 state election that it would build a rail line to the airport, Premier Daniel Andrews promised this would include a major redevelopment of Sunshine station, turning it into a key transport hub for regional, suburban and airport passengers.
At one of several airport rail press conferences at Sunshine station in 2018, Mr Andrews said Sunshine would have a “much-expanded station, a much bigger station” that would include residential and retail development.
“There will need to be a really big redevelopment here,” he said. “The really exciting part is this could include retail, housing, all sorts of different options. We can create one of those brand new spaces if you like, and see a real boom for this area from economic activity.”
A proposed new rail bridge at Ballarat Road, unveiled by the Victorian and federal governments last month as part of the airport rail project.Credit:Rail Projects Victoria
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said that same year that Sunshine station would be “another Southern Cross” and require “significant redevelopment”.
But mayor Cr Rasic, wrote to Ms Allan on March 29, raising alarm about signs the government is turning away from these promises.
In the letter, Cr Rasic warned abandoning plans to build a “super hub” at Sunshine would stymie desperately needed economic growth in a suburb particularly disadvantaged by COVID-19.
“The continued watering down of the role of Sunshine station in the project has provided council with the impression that any tangible and timely benefits associated with Melbourne Airport rail are likely not to be seen or experienced by Brimbank residents and the western region for many years to come, if at all,” Cr Rasic said.
The letter was sent on the same day the government released concept designs for a new bridge over the Maribyrnong as part of the project but did not mention plans to develop Sunshine or Albion stations.
“Today’s announcement, coupled with a briefing we received from [the] Department of Transport last week, again highlighted a changed narrative and diminution from previous commitments,” Cr Rasic wrote.
Rail Projects Victoria told councillors in the briefing there may be little opportunity for community feedback on the major build, while the government does not appear to have developed a master plan for Sunshine station, despite construction starting next year.
This has raised fears about poor planning and comes as developers have called for more transparency on plans along the rail corridor, where nine major developments are being proposed, including nearly 2500 residential units, two hotels and $230 million in construction activity.
Developer Orb Property Partners, which owns property along the alignment, has called for a “more collaborative approach” on Sunshine station’s design in a public letter to the council in response to a new draft strategy on upgrades needed in Sunshine by 2050. The firm warned “council and private landowners are being kept in the dark about Rail Projects Victoria plans for the airport rail link and the Sunshine super hub”.
Brimbank Council’s 2050 strategy – which was based on submissions by more than 2000 locals and endorsed by former premier Steve Bracks, the former Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, and a slew of major developers – shows a major station precinct uplift could bring $8 billion of investment and 50,000 new jobs to Sunshine.
The strategy envisions specific upgrades for airport passengers that would include “check-in” facilities, luggage storage, waiting lounges and a tourist visitor centre. The precinct would include cafes, restaurants, shops and offices, and artwork. Long-neglected Albion station would undergo a major redevelopment, which would include better connections with Victoria University and cycling and walking paths to Sunshine station.
Ballarat Road – which will now have an airport rail overpass built above it – was set to be a multi-modal corridor, including light rail, dedicated bus and cycle lanes and a tree-lined boulevard with high pedestrian amenity.
A government spokeswoman said Sunshine station would be “one of the most important transport interchanges in Victoria” and the government would make further announcements about its design soon. She called the station one of the state’s most important interchanges.
“We’re continuing to look at the wider transport precinct at Sunshine,” she added, promising the government would have more to say soon on “this thriving centre in Melbourne’s growing west, and how the community can have their say on the project”.
She said once the airport rail link and other projects were operational, there would be the ability for “more than 24 trains an hour [to run] through Sunshine to the city during the peak hour as well as V/Line services”.
A business case for airport rail has been under way since 2018 and was supposed to be released last year, but is not yet complete.
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