Council convenes key groups to help fix southern end of Elizabeth St

Council convenes key groups to help fix southern end of Elizabeth St
David Schout

The Lord Mayor has said that a “targeted approach” was required to make a problematic area near Flinders Street Station “safer and more welcoming”.

The City of Melbourne has brought together Victorian Government, Police and other key representatives to find solutions to growing safety issues at the southern end of Elizabeth St.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp acknowledged a new approach was needed to make the area, one of Melbourne’s busiest pedestrian spots given its proximity to Flinders Street Station, “safer and more welcoming”.

On January 25, the council hosted a roundtable discussion with stakeholders including Victoria Police, the State Government, Yarra Trams and Metro Trains to find solutions to the growing issues on the block between Flinders St and Flinders Lane.

Town Hall also sought feedback from local resident and trader groups via an online questionnaire.

The locale has long been an area of concern due to drug activity and overall safety and amenity issues.

Cr Capp said in 2021 that the “hotspot” at the intersection of Flinders and Elizabeth streets had caused “trauma” to residents and traders.However, in recent times issues had compounded at what is a gateway to the CBD.

Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle said the area was now a “confluence of two groups”; those who have always gathered there, and those who once gathered at the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets, but who have moved on since Metro Tunnel works forced the closure of several outlets.

“It’s almost like a funnel, where people from all parts of the city funnel into location for a couple of reasons,” he told ABC radio late last year.

 

One, it’s a transport hub. Two, that’s where all the fast food outlets are. So, if you want to get something to eat at two o’clock in the morning, that’s the place to go.

 

Major Nottle said a number of these outlets were “horrendously understaffed”, which created further issues.

“You’ve got kids working in those places who are doing a tremendous job, but there’s not enough of them. So, you get this build-up of rubbish inside and outside these cafes and restaurants, and there’s this sense that ‘well, anything goes’. And that’s where you end up with not just graffiti and rubbish gathering, but you also end up with violence and all sorts of things happening.”

The block between Flinders St and Flinders Lane features many 24-hour fast food and convenience stores, which has contributed to making it an area of congregation.

Some have argued this was another aspect required to drive change.

“A good outcome would be to have an area that is inviting, safe with a diversity of businesses and activity that add to the experience,” Stan Capp, president of residents group EastEnders told CBD News.

Once described by former Lord Mayor Robert Doyle as “grotty” and the “ugly duckling of Melbourne”, upgrades to the street’s southern end have been slow.

The council promised to upgrade the streetscape in 2017, however these works, which saw new trees, bluestone paving and street furniture installed, did not take place until 2021.

New pedestrian space roughly the size of a basketball court was created as part of the works by permanently closing the southbound traffic lane, in a move that was hoped to improve pedestrian safety, however this has created more gathering space for what Major Nottle said were “a really difficult, hard to reach group”.

The council’s decision to convene key decision-makers in the vicinity underlined the growing issue it had become.

“We know having a safe, accessible and vibrant city is vital to our residents, businesses, students and visitors,” the Lord Mayor said. “The City of Melbourne continues to invest in Elizabeth St south through cleaning, greening and additional safety measures.”

“We are now bringing together a range of key stakeholders to work on a targeted approach to make the southern end of Elizabeth Street a safer and more welcoming space.”    

 

Elizabeth St’s future plans imminent

The start of 2024 looms as important for the future of Elizabeth St, and not just due to the late-January roundtable.

Forgotten plans to pedestrianise large parts of the prominent CBD street, as part of the Elizabeth St Strategic Opportunities Plan, will be back on the agenda.

Endorsed in May 2019, the plan features wholesale changes to redistribute space away from vehicles.

Research has indicated that on average nine in 10 people on Elizabeth St are pedestrians or tram users, however the street is largely arranged for people travelling in cars, which account for just six per cent of users.

Since then, however, the plan has been beset by delays, combined with silence from Town Hall about when it might, if ever, be enacted.

Only stage one works (between Flinders St and Flinders Lane) have been completed.

Stage two, which proposed to pedestrianise almost all of Elizabeth St between Little Collins and Little Bourke streets, was forecast to start in 2020-21 but has not had a significant update in several years.

In June 2022 councillors requested that management present Elizabeth St plans by March 2023 at the latest, however this was yet to be presented.

Late last year the council said a feasibility study for future phases of the plan were imminent, and likely to be presented in March 2024.

The City of Melbourne did not respond to questions about the delays. •

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