More room to roam: minister unveils $15m plan for new parks

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio had anything but a ruff Sunday morning, cuddling half-a-dozen furry friends as she unveiled a multimillion-dollar plan to create 18 new parks across Melbourne.

The funding is part of the Andrews government’s 2018 election pledge to create 6500 hectares of parkland, equal to 170 Royal Botanic Gardens, in metropolitan Melbourne.

A cheeky Koukla watches on as Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio announces 18 new parks. Credit:Penny Stephens

The announcement comes less than a fortnight after The Age revealed a new underground rail line through Melbourne’s south-east under stage one of the $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop would scupper plans for 355 hectares of new parkland the government promised, and permanently reduce the size of a number of existing parks along its route.

Some $15 million that Ms D’Ambrosio announced on Sunday will go towards five off-leash dog parks in Essendon West, Balwyn North, Elwood, Mitcham and Ringwood North; and 13 new “pocket” parks in St Albans, Sunshine North, Footscray, Prahran, Oakleigh South, Frankston, Dandenong, Notting Hill, North Melbourne, Moonee Ponds, Montmorency, Eltham and Glenroy.

Pocket parks are created by repurposing unused land in built-up areas to create green space.

Ms D’Ambrosio said the coronavirus pandemic had highlighted the importance of being able to visit a park close to home.

During Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19, when Melburnians were under tough restrictions to suppress spread of the virus, one of the luxuries they could enjoy was visiting parkland and walking trails in their neighbourhoods.

“We’ve become far more attuned to the small areas, the larger areas near to where we live, when we go out, stretch our legs, get some fresh air,” she said at Redleap Reserve in Mill Park.

“We’ve come to appreciate just being out in the open space.”

However, Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien chastised the government over its hypocrisy in announcing new parks while simultaneously “killing off” open spaces for major transport projects.

Michael O’Brien says the government doesn’t know “whether it’s Arthur or Martha” on the issue of parkland.Credit:Joe Armao

“Everyone loves a park, but this government really doesn’t know whether it’s Arthur or Martha,” Mr O’Brien said.

“You’ve got the environment minister announcing new parks, at the same time you’ve got the transport [infrastructure] minister cancelling major parks – they’re going to be chewed up by the Suburban Rail Loop. ”

Documents released in December showing where the $50 billion rail line’s 26-kilometre first stage will run detail plans for the Southern Stabling Yard in Heatherton, where dozens of trains running solely on the suburban loop would be stored. The train stables would take up 35 hectares zoned “green wedge”, which both Labor and the state opposition have vowed to protect.

The 13 pocket parks Ms D’Ambrosio announced on Sunday are in addition to the 18 the government committed to before the last state election, which were predominantly in inner-city electorates Labor hoped to wrestle from the Greens.

An artist’s impression of the proposed Mount Street pocket park in Prahran – part of a new $15 million investment in green spaces.

Of the 18 announced three weeks before the election, 14 were in marginal electorates. Two new parks had been promised in the state’s smallest – and at the time most marginal – electoral district of Prahran, which the Greens held by just 0.4 per cent.

On Sunday Ms D’Ambrosio denied her government had targeted marginal seats through the $154 million Suburban Parks Program, and said a pocket park had been identified for every metropolitan council area. Local governments were invited to nominate sites for the new parks, with an independent panel assessing the applications, she said.

“We’ve been working with local councils to establish the best places and the best locations for these parks,” she said. “And that’s what our motivation has been because we know that Victorians love these open spaces, and they love to be able to get their dogs off the leash.”

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