Standing on the outside looking in...

Standing on the outside looking in...
Mark BaljakNovember 25, 2013

First off today an apology to the young RMIT student to which the two images below belong.  Currently on display within level ten of the RMIT Design Hub building, the scheme below is one of many works conceived by this years crop of students.  With no visible student name of number, we can't credit this design to any particular if any information is forwarded, will be happy to publish the details.

On the student creation, it's envisaged as an integrated transport hub catering principally toward the movement of freight.  Air, sea, rail and road transport options are incorporated into the design located on the current Toll Automotive dock which meets Williamstown Road.  With an associated hotel, office building and public transport station, it surely is a grand design.  

Now wouldn't be so daft as to critique this particular design, yet it does provide a visual context as to the article that will follow. 

Standing on the outside looking in...

As recently as July media reports suggested the possibility of an airport being built within Melbourne's Docklands area. According to the Herald Sun the suitably named Outer Suburban/Interface Services and Development Committee, made up of three Liberal and two Labor MPs, urged the Victorian Government to consider a city airport (in many ways quite similar to London City Airport) which would "Better service low-cost segments of the aviation market."  Further "The committee believes that a Melbourne City Airport could be a useful ... particularly for commuter-type domestic flights and short-haul international flights such as to New Zealand." 

The committee report stated "Such an airport could be a useful addition as part of a comprehensive brownfield redevelopment area near the centre of Melbourne, such as Docklands," said the report, which was handed down during June.

Standing on the outside looking in...

Given the stupendous size and expense of such a venture, what would be the inhibiting factors for this city airport....aside from common sense?

  • The Westgate and Bolte Bridges, built obstacles in any such venture.  With minimum separation required the alignment and location of any runway is surely compromised.
  • Melbourne's variable winds.  Although the prevailing north/south winds would dictate runway alignment, a single runway would unlikely be operational for periods of time
  • Two efficient existing airports with a third major airport mooted on suburban Melbourne's south eastern fringe.
  • The ground swell of public opinion demanding a dedicated rail line to Melbourne Airport
  • Encroaching populous as Fishermans Bend is progressively developed, not to mention existing areas 
  • Aircraft noise, and many more

So the Docklands airport notion has been dispelled as the random musings of a committee justifying their existence.  Now for the crux of the article, rather than ideas of folly would it not be more appropriate to invest in a rail link to Melbourne Airport, but also further study the eventual relocation of the Port of Melbourne?

This is very much a long term stance yet the initial planning has been done.  The Port of Hastings has already been earmarked as a major future container port, as has a section of land between Point Wilson and Werribee South.  At what point would common sense suggest Avalon as a contender where Avalon Airport owner Linfox Group has for a long period of time trumpeted their desire to turn the facility into a freight hub amalgamating rail, air and sea movements.  

Throw in pending developments such as Salta Group's inland ports at Altona and Lyndhurst which are essentially integrated freight logistics, container handling, storage and distribution centres along with the mooted south eastern airport and a picture is starting to emerge of a future outer metropolitan arc of infrastructure designed to handle Melbourne ever burgeoning freight movements.  At either end of this arc may just be Melbourne's two international ports.

Standing on the outside looking in...

Could the way forward be a model where cumbersome shipping, freight and associated industry are one the urban periphery - on the outside looking in?  This is of course diametrically opposed to the current model where Port of Melbourne (and the notion of a city airport) are at the heart of Melbourne, causing some metaphorical heartburn I might add.  

Consider this - amazingly enough the image above will one day be dominated by high density housing and commercial use, in effect creating a megatropolis from Footscray to Fishermans Bend.  Gone will be the Port of Melbourne, in its place swathes of new development land which could soak up Melbourne's burgeoning population over not years but decades.  Port Melbourne, Docklands, Southbank, Fishermans Bend and E-gate are examples of existing and future examples of mixed purpose development over what was formerly industrial land in order to assist an expanding central Melbourne.

Freight would be efficiently distributed to transport centres without having to traverse inner urban areas, a larger percentage of the population would live closer to Melbourne's CBD allowing for decreased use of private vehicles and a decrease in inner Melbourne truck journeys alleviating to a degree strains on current road infrastructure.  More people living within a certain radius of the CBD suggests that public transport would benefit due to economies of scale involved - high frequency services for a high density population...and so I could continue on and on.

Now some will suggest this is pie in the sky material, but certainly not as whimsical as an airport based within the City of Melbourne.  The initial steps in identifying the long term shift of Port of Melbourne have been taken, whether it occurs in our lifetime is another question.

Mark Baljak

Mark Baljak was a co-founder of He passed away on Thursday 8th of November 2018 after a battle with cancer. He was 37. Mark was a keen traveller, having visited all six permanently-inhabited continents and had a love of craft beer. One of his biggest passions was observing the change that has occurred in Melbourne over the past two decades. In that time he built an enormous library of photos, all taken by him, which tracked the progress of construction on building sites from across metropolitan Melbourne.

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