By Christine Richards
FIRST, the bureaucrats put me in a straight-jacket. Smiling, they looked into my eyes and assured me they cared deeply and wanted to hear everything I had to say. Before I had finished my second sentence, they all walked out of the room, closed the door and sat down in the next room. All I had to do, they said, was yell through the locked door.
That’s what it felt like dealing with the state government’s planning and transport bureaucrats tasked with transforming the Frankston train station.
Before the 2014 state election, the Labor Party announced it would transform Frankston station with a $50 million plan, adding to the $13.8 million on the table to fund improvements in Young St.
Acknowledging that Frankston had waited far too long for its station problems to be fixed, the plan included a taskforce to fast-track master planning for the station precinct. The plan helped secure the election of Labor’s Paul Edbrooke as MP for Frankston.
True to his party’s pledge, the taskforce held its first meeting within 100 days of Labor taking office.
I was appointed to the community working group providing input to the taskforce – one of two such working groups. We could really make progress now, I thought; until I went to the first major meeting.
More than 50 people met at Frankston Arts Centre in March this year; the overwhelming majority was Melbourne bureaucrats and consultants. They filled their blackboards with principles that would guide their work such as civic pride, design quality, safety, vibrancy, and building stronger community connections.
The small clutch of Frankston people put up their hands. What about the specific problems the community had said were the most pressing?
The bureaucrats and consultants opened their brief cases and unpacked their agendas. Frankston didn’t need any more commuter parking, they said. People should ride bikes. Buses should remain in Young St. It would cost $12 million a year for bus drivers to drive around the other side of the station. The lack of safety at the station was not an actual problem – it was all in the people’s minds. And you might not know it, they explained, but Frankston had a major problem at the Beach St level crossing. An overpass with escalators or even some lifts should be built there, and not at the station.
That was their view early in the new year. It is their view now.
Over the next five months, the bureaucrats nodded and smiled as Frankston people talked about the need for a 30-year vision – a planning process that would help steer Frankston City to become a well-built place with a prosperous future for its residents. Consultants whooshed in to meetings to deliver a range of reports, then whooshed out with hundreds of thousands of dollars in their pockets. At the end of the process, not one meaningful change to the bureaucrats’ initial agenda appeared in the master plan that is now on the Minister for Public Transport’s desk. A future vision is still conspicuously absent.
A state-of-the-art transport hub was the centre piece of Labor’s commitment. Yet in the most spectacular omission from the planning guided by the bureaucrats to date, consideration about how to improve the travel experience of bus and train travellers (which would seem pivotal to creating a state-of-the-art transport hub) has barely rated a mention.
The state government promised to review the need for a multi-deck car park. Instead, the access and management of car parking (but not the quantity) will be handballed to a committee. Yet another committee has been given the now-acknowledged problem that too much opioid treatment is prescribed and dispensed around the station.
The relocation of the buses from already congested Young St will be considered, but not until some unidentified later stage. Taskforce plans for the transformation of Frankston station are falling well short of what taxpayers, like me, expected them to be.
History tells me that I shouldn’t be surprised. At a public meeting to fix the train station last year, a plan by a state Transport Minister was produced. It promised much of what the Frankston community had been waiting for – a major upgrade around the station precinct; a 1500-space multi-deck car park; a multi-level building development for additional commercial and retail space; and improved pedestrian access in surrounding streets. The date of the promise was 3 September 1975, four decades ago.
Since then state governments, both Liberal and Labor, have promised to transform the station.
Six days before the 2010 state election, Coalition leader Ted Baillieu stood in the station car park and promised $3 million for a business case and architectural drawings for an upgraded station precinct that would accommodate a new bus interchange, multi-deck car parking, housing, and commercial space for a major employer.
Three and a half years later there were no architectural drawings or business plans. Instead, the departments of transport and planning had spent most of the $3 million on three reports, none of which has yet produced anything concrete at the station. In a result that was worthy of the Monty Python team, one report suggested that $600,000 be spent on the station between 2022 and 2027. That report cost $800,000.
It is time to give this responsibility to a body more expert at visionary planning. Frankston Council seems to agree; at the council meeting on Monday last week, councillors voted unanimously for a letter to be sent to Premier Daniel Andrews and the Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan stating that the Metropolitan Planning Authority needs to take over planning for transformation of the station.
Otherwise Frankston could be waiting another 40 years.
- Christine Richards was a Frankston councillor 2008-2012 and mayor in 2010. She is vice-president of Frankston’s chamber of commerce and was convenor of Frankston Community Coalition, which successfully lobbied for greater funding for the station precinct in the lead-up to last year’s state election.