Selling off parkland on Buckley Street, Footscray

Parkland has become a hot button topic in the inner Melbourne suburb of Footscray, with 2016 seeing members of the local community lobbying state and local government to allow surplus railway land to be turned over to the public as open space, and not sold for development. But on Buckley Street the government is doing something even more shameful – selling off former parkland as a development site.

The story starts in July 12, 2010 when it was announced that 26 homes and 84 businesses on Buckley Street would be compulsorily acquired by the State Government to make way for the Regional Rail Link project.

154 Buckley Street, vacant and boarded up

The back story

I wrote about the acquisition back in October 2011:

By my count a total of 24 houses are to be acquired on Buckley Street, as well as the Footscray Senior Citizens Centre. Of these, only a few properties around Victoria Street are actually in the path of the new tracks, with the rest of the route running through what are currently backyards and garden sheds.

The original project timeline stated the transfer of properties was to commence in July 2011, with the completion of land purchases occurring by August 31, and demolition work following in the fourth quarter of 2011 leading into early 2012.

But it wasn’t just private properties that were acquired to make room for the new railway – the Footscray Senior Citizens’ Centre was also in the way, and had to go.

Boarded up doors at the Footscray Senior Citizens' Centre

It took up a substantial site on the corner of Windsor and Buckley Streets.

Footscray Senior Citizens Centre on the way down

Also acquired was David Matthews Park, located next door to the Senior Citizens’ Centre.

David Matthews Park, beside the senior citizens centre

The park wasn’t much.

David Matthews Park looking rather unkempt

But it provided as small pocket of greenery among the narrow streets of Seddon and West Footscray.

David Matthews Park still open for the time being

As late as December 2011 the park was still open to the public, despite the neighbouring buildings being long gone.

David Matthews Park still open for the time being

But as the Regional Rail Link project commenced, the entire park was fenced off.

David Matthews Park now closed to public access

Work on the project was completed in 2014, with the surplus land along the north side of Buckley Street being replanted with grass, but fenced off from public access.

North side of Buckley Street now replanted with grass, but everything is fenced off

Including the site of the former David Matthews Park, marked by a trio of tall gum trees.

Trees from the former David Matthews Park still in place, but everything is fenced off

Community agitation begins

A little bit closer to the city was another plot of land, located at 94-104 Buckley Street. Once warehouses, the site was also acquired to make room for the Regional Rail Link project.

Demolished warehouses at 94-104 Buckley Street

During the project, the site was used as a works compound.

Entrance to the works compound off Buckley St

Once work was completed, the land then sat empty, leading local residents to start a campaign for it to be handed over to the community as parkland.

Push for park on surplus RRL land
October 28, 2015
Benjamin Millar
Maribyrnong & Hobsons Bay – Star Weekly

Buckley Street resident Daniell Flood is fighting for the land at 96-100 Buckley Street, compulsorily acquired in 2011 for the $3.65 billion Regional Rail Link, to be turned into community open space.

About 80 homes and businesses along and near Buckley Street, including the Footscray Senior Citizens Centre, were bulldozed to make way for the project.

Surplus land not used when the rail link was completed will be sold to developers unless bought by a state government agency or Maribyrnong council.

“There is no open space in the area yet there are going to be around 800 new apartments built around the site,” Mr Flood said.

“It’s probably the last piece of government- owned land around here.”

The Regional Rail Link Authority has deemed 96-100 Buckley Street to be surplus, along with a 200-metre long strip stretching west from Middle Footscray station at 130-176 Buckley Street.

RRLA spokesman Paul Frawley said the land had been offered for sale to other government agencies and Maribyrnong council as per state government guidelines.

“Any land not purchased by another government body will be listed for public sale in the new year,” he said.

Star Weekly reported in March that residents want 130-176 Buckley Street to be gifted to the community as a park.

Footscray MP Marsha Thomson said she was willing to discuss the future of the sites with Maribyrnong council. “If council is interested in the land then I’m interested in working with them to get the property,” she said.

“The thing that is of interest to all of us is the amount of green space available in Footscray, particularly in regards to some of the apartments approved under [former state planning minister] Matthew Guy.”

Maribyrnong mayor Nam Quach said the council would be interested in discussing the future of the land parcels. “[But] it’s important people realise council doesn’t own the land and there are many aspects to look at, such as safety and location,” he said.

As you can see on this diagram shared on the ‘Buckley St Park’ Facebook page, the number of apartments in Footscray is skyrocketing.

But the campaign for a new park came to nothing – in March 2016 the State Government refused to hand the land over for free, and the Maribyrnong City Council decided against paying $5.5 million to acquire it.

The result – the land was put on the open market.

Purchased by a developer in December 2016 for just under $5 million, they will build a $60 million tower housing more than 100 apartments on the site.

And the final twist of the knife

April 2017 saw the strip of land at 130-186 Buckley Street put up for sale – former home of the the Footscray Senior Citizens’ Centre and David Matthews Park.

Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it – State Government demolishes a park and community facility to make way for a much needed railway expansion project, and instead of giving it back to the community once they are done, they flog it off to property developers to build apartments, putting even more stain on existing infrastructure.

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9 Responses to “Selling off parkland on Buckley Street, Footscray”

  1. Jordan says:

    The problem is these big developers are not giving enough back to the community. You look a Melbourne’s suburban fringe. nothing is being built their except houses and a few parks and shops. where are the other things such as bike paths, sporting ovals, employment outside of the CBD and improved roads and public transport on the plans before anything is built and before there is a problem. An example, the Mernda rail extension should have been paid by multimillion dollar developers not the Victorian government.

  2. Adrian says:

    I agree with Jordan.
    Higher density developments, more people, and everything that comes with it are not necessarily the problems. They become so when the infrastructure and support service like parks, schools, roads, public transport etc are not upgraded/provided for the increased population. It is a problem at all levels of government. Local councils are perhaps the best at trying to fix it but have the least money generally. Policies from state and federal government are exacerbating the problems. The metropolitan areas of Australia are all suffering horribly from these problems and I see very little recognition from the governments. All the people know and feel it. I think it’s a significant reason why city people are sick of the big political parties.

  3. Jim says:

    It’s a crappy place for a park though. Wedged in between a very busy road and a very busy rail corridor, it would have very little amenity. Families would be forced to cross Buckley St either at the pedestrian lights at the eastern end of the site, or risk crossing without signals if approaching from the western end. Meanwhile, the attractive Bristol Reserve is 175m away in John St, and the popular Harris Reserve is 600m away. The council would be far better off following through on its plans to convert the car park at the corner of Paisley and French streets in Footscray into a park. It would service the ever-increasing number of apartment buildings in central Footscray, which doesn’t have a park; It would improve the amenity of Footscray’s CBD; and because it’s adjacent to the library, be a much more usable space for families.

  4. Cat mack says:

    Great article – and an absolute disgrace by state (fingers in the till and committed to ideologically failed planning theory) and local councils (spineless and bound by political aliegences). I note the swing in council elections in NSW is attributed to exactly this problem – over development and lack of open space.

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