Merri Creek Management Committee

Chapter 1.3 Visual Character

Relevant objectives and strategies derived from State-level strategic documents

State-wide Objectives:

To create urban environments that are of better quality, safer and more functional, provide more open space and an easily recognisable sense of place and cultural identity. (State Planning Policy Framework 12.05)

State-wide strategies (from SPPF 12.05-2):

Requiring development to respond to its context in terms of urban character, cultural heritage, natural features, surrounding landscape and climate.

Ensuring sensitive landscape areas such as the bays and coastlines are protected and that new development does not detract from their natural quality.

Improving the landscape qualities, open space linkages and environmental performance in green wedges and conservation areas and non-urban areas.

Ensuring development does not compromise the Yarra River and Maribyrnong River corridors and other waterways as significant open space, recreation, aesthetic, conservation and tourism assets.

Protecting sites and features of high scientific, nature conservation, biodiversity, heritage, geological or landscape value.

Ensuring development responds to its context and reinforces special characteristics of local environment and place by emphasising the underlying natural landscape character&

Background

The quality of the visual character of the waterway corridors of the Merri catchment is a critical factor in peoples interest in using and appreciating the waterways.

Most of the catchment is of volcanic origin and originally comprised sparsely treed or treeless plains, reflected to some extent in the pattern of vegetation in rural parts of the catchment today. These volcanic plains carried Plains Grassland generally dominated by Kangaroo Grass, together with pockets of Plains Grassy Woodland with ancient River Red Gums. These two vegetation communities together with the volcanic cones, stony rises and incised waterways with associated distinctive rock outcrops constitute important elements of the visual character of the catchment. The Silurian foothills which border the upper catchment, and Silurian islands in the basalt plain such as Summer Hill also provide a strong visual element in an otherwise largely flat landscape.

The Hume Growth Areas: Towards Melbourne 2030 report identifies three implications posed by landscape values. They are:

· Key considerations for planning include continued protection of hilltops and ridges, creek corridors and remnant native vegetation and an awareness of catchment boundaries.

· Views from the Hume Highway and other transport corridors are important, since they provide a sequence of visual experiences and an introduction to Melbourne.

· Planning should seek to maintain or enhance landscape qualities, including those of areas to be retained in rural use.

A background study of the visual character of the Merri Creek corridor was conducted by Loder and Bayly in 1993. The study examined eleven landscape character units from Heathcote Junction along the main stem of the Merri to the Yarra and devised themes to improve the visual character.

While visual character is in many ways based upon subjective criteria, factors which can shape perceptions of the visual environment include:

· the extent of preservation of stream geomorphology and valley form (especially visually valuable escarpments and rock outcrops);

· the proximity of nearby development and the extent to which buildings address the creek corridor and are of architectural or historic merit, or are screened by vegetation;

· the presence of indigenous vegetation;

· the extent of intrusion of services (e.g. powerlines) and road crossings;

· intrusion of fill from adjacent development or from dumping;

· exotic vegetation and weed growth cover;

· build up of litter (especially in vegetation) from stormwater and nearby building construction works, and other rubbish (including large items such as car bodies); and

· visible pollution of water bodies.

Clause 22.02 of the City of Humes and the City of Whittleseas planning schemes deal with rural visual character. Hilltops, steep slopes and ridgelines are identified for protection from development, along with the patterns of existing vegetation. Views from significant approach roads are also protected. The Mitchell Shire also has hilltop and ridgeline protection.

The City of Whittleseas clause 22-10 also protects the visual character of a number of River Red Gum areas.

The City of Whittleseas significant landscape overlay does not apply to the Merri Creek environs - it mainly covers elevated areas in the municipality

The Environmental Significance Overlays (ESO) included in the planning schemes for Darebin, Hume, Moreland, Whittlesea and Yarra include the following objectives for the main stem of the Creek:

· To protect and enhance the natural and visual character of the waterway corridor.

· To ensure that the scenic qualities and visual character of the waterway corridor are not compromised by the inappropriate siting of buildings, the placement of fill, or lack of screening vegetation.

· To restore those sections of the waterway corridor which have been modified to create artificial bed, banks and landforms to a more natural, visually attractive and ecologically diverse landscape.

The tributaries of Merri Creek, significant biodiversity sites adjacent to the tributaries and most of Merri Creek within the Mitchell Shire are not covered by an Environmental Significance Overlay.

In urban areas various other planning scheme provisions also contribute to protecting visual character. For example in Moreland these include clause 21.06-5 Urban Design, Urban Character and Street Landscapes.

Melbourne Waters Merri Creek Waterway Management Activity Plan identifies a number of important visual issues and proposes a number of actions to address these issues.

Planning for the new Merri Creek Park[38] acknowledges the significance of the landscape values of the proposed park area (between the Ring Road and Craigieburn). It identifies roles for parts of the park in protecting and improving visual character, and priority actions to implement these roles.

Overview of Visual Character of Merri Creek

The Loder and Bayly study identified landscape units along the main stem of Merri Creek which are described below. The work assessed views from the Creek assuming that it would be the focus of public use.

However Paths along the Creek often are not immediately adjacent to the Creek and increasingly will be located away from the flood zone for safety reasons. This means that more of the surrounding landscape will be visible from the path than the Loder and Bayly study envisaged.

A detailed landscape analysis has not been carried out along Merri Creeks tributaries, although the Merri Creek Waterway Activity Plan includes short descriptions of the visual character of some of the tributaries (as well as of Merri Creek).

Foothills

The visual character of the Merri Creek corridor varies significantly throughout its length. The main stem of the stream originates in the area between North and South Mountain Roads at Heathcote Junction. There is also a western arm which drains hills immediately to the north of Wallan township via Wallan Creek and Mittagong Creek. Within this unit the stream is contained within fairly steep country of the Great Dividing Range foothills. Pretty Sally, a well known volcanic eruption point, forms the highest point in this area. Loder and Bayly indicated that these foothills form important middle-ground and background views when seen from the Merri Creek.

The Merri Creek and its tributaries also have some steep and partly eroding banks in this vicinity due to the predominantly thin sedimentary soils[39]. Remnants of Herb-rich Foothills Forest of River Red Gums, Narrow-leaved Peppermint, Swamp Gums, Blackwoods and occasional Red Box provide an attractive visual setting, however most of the foothills are cleared.

Hidden Valley is a residential development in this unit, and parts of Wallan Township are located in this unit, with residential and some industrial and business development.

Due to the hilly topography and in some areas denser vegetation the absorptive capability[40] or capacity to absorb visual intrusion (Loder and Bayly, 1993) is medium.

Exotic trees along the waterways through the township of Wallan have largely been removed, through a community-driven project named Willows out of Wallan.

Hernes Swamp/Wallan Floodplain

As the stream falls away from the Great Dividing Range it is contained within the Wallan Floodplain from about the Wallan-Whittlesea Road. Here it has mostly been diverted into a visually unattractive channel constructed for the purpose of protecting the North-Eastern Railway line and draining the once extensive Hernes Swamp.

In places the channel has dense patches of Common Reed and rush. Wallan airfield was developed on the drained Hernes Swamp, because of its flatness. The Wallan Sewage Treatment Plant is sited in Hernes Swamp. Industrial and other development is encroaching on the floodplain which is still largely pasture. Due to the flatness of the broad plain around the Creek and the shallow creek-line, this reach has a low absorptive capability.

Merriang Basalts

Downstream of Hernes Swamp the Creek exits its largest alluvial deposit and enters the area described by Rosengren as the Merriang Basalts (Rosengren, 1993). Lava flows pushed the Creek hard up against the strongly undulating hilly Silurian siltstone and mudstone hills of the upper Plenty River. Once through a short rocky run, it flows in a shallow winding but largely treeless channel as far south as Janna Road (reflecting the extent of the now drained Camoola Swamp).

From Janna Road the Creek heads southwest away from the influence of the Silurian hills and across the undulating terrain of the basalt plain. Fine old River Red Gums line the winding stream between the Merriang Park and Merri Park properties. In places, the inner valley of the Creek is incised five metres below the level of the lava plain which here is a series of subdued stony rises and ridges with a local relief of five to eight metres. The creek is surrounded by pasture, some of which retains elements of the native grasslands characteristic of the plains. Property owners have fenced off and protected many areas of remnant vegetation adjacent to the creek.

The western skyline in this reach is dominated by the Mt Fraser and Bald Hill volcanoes, and the eastern skyline by the steep slopes of the Silurian hills.

From adjacent to Bald Hill the stream channel becomes more strongly defined with the creek flowing in a rocky channel cut into and bounded by lava flows from Bald Hill (Rosengren, 1993).

The North-Eastern Railway Line crosses the Creek south of Bald Hill, and below this point the Creek-side land has been fenced off from grazing, and extensively planted with pines and native trees. To the west, the plain has been divided into strips by dense pine windbreaks.

Due to the flat open nature of pastures, absorptive capability is low. Structures above the escarpment edge are not visible from the Creek if set back far enough.

Donnybrook Road Basalt Plain

From the Donnybrook Mineral Springs Reserve, a privately owned park planted with a mixture of exotic and native trees and shrubs, the creek moves into the Donnybrook Road basalt plain. The Creek is incised into the slightly undulating terrain. Once again there are scattered occurrences of River Red Gums. The North-Eastern Railway line is visually prominent in this reach running in close proximity to the Creek near the Mineral Springs Reserve. There are some dense stands of aquatic vegetation (reeds, rushes and Water Ribbons),in this vicinity.

Downstream of Donnybrook Road the terrain is gently undulating and the stream becomes narrower and the channel deeper with a rocky streambed and basalt escarpments.

Woody Hill to the east is visible on the skyline with its quarrying activities.

The North-Eastern Railway again crosses Merri Creek further downstream below Donnybrook Road. A transmission line also crosses the Creek at the same point.

Due to the very slight topographic variation above the Creek valley and the visually open pastures, absorptive capability in this area is low (Loder and Bayly, 1993).

Summerhill Road Rapids

At the North-Eastern Railway bridge over Merri Creek the stream exits the Donnybrook Road basalt plain and enters the Summerhill Road rapids (Rosengren, 1993). There is some good quality remnant vegetation in the area around Summerhill Road, where the stream has been noted as having high scenic qualities and a good waterhole (MMBW, 1988; Loder and Bayly, 1993).

The creek remains in a fairly deeply incised valley for its length through this unit to Summer Hill, a high outlier of the Silurian hills to the east. South of Summerhill Road it is flanked on the west by a steep basalt escarpment, and on the east by the slopes of Summer Hill. The topography in this unit is visually interesting, and the creek-bed and escarpments retain some shrubby indigenous vegetation.

Absorptive capability is medium to high, although with the attractive nature of the valley in this stretch structures should be limited (Loder and Bayly, 1993).

Craigieburn North

Adjacent to Summer Hill, the Merri Creek valley widens out and passes under the newly constructed Craigieburn Bypass bridge, and associated batters. This unit is dominated by the bridge and Summer Hill and the brick quarrying operations to the east. Malcolm Creek flows in through bare grazing land from the west just before Craigieburn East Road.

Undulating topography in this unit breaks view lines to structures and allows structures to be less intrusive providing they are carefully sited.

Grasslands

From Craigieburn Road East Merri Creek quickly flows into an incised course. Valley side slopes are uniform and occasionally quite steep. The stream bed is rocky and rock outcrops on the valley edge are common. The Creek banks are sparsely wooded with large old River Red Gums.

Approximately 1.4km south of Craigieburn East Road the Creek swings in close to the Hume Highway at Merri Creeks confluence with Aitken Creek. The Highway confines Aitken Creek to an ugly culvert. The embankment of the Highway constrains the Creek valley here and marks the start of severe visual encroachment on the western side from industrial development and filling, almost continuous from this point to just south of Cooper Street. South of Cooper Street, the western bank abuts the Cooper Street Grasslands Reserve (Bababi marning) which retains the natural landscape character.

South of Craigieburn Road East the Craigieburn Grasslands Reserve (Galgi ngarrk) protects the natural visual qualities of the eastern bank, however views from the Reserve and from the Creek should be protected. These include excellent views to the CBD. Between Cooper Street and Barry Road, land to the east of Merri Creek has been heavily quarried. Most of the quarry holes are now filled, but in any case are protected from view from the Creek by the generally high escarpments. Filling over the edge of the escarpment has led to unsightly weed infestations and modified the form of the Creek banks.

On the west side of the Creek, south from the Cooper Street Grasslands, recent factory development on the old MMBW nightsoil depot has created a negative visual impact from the Creek-side parkland. The Creek itself is incised and to Barry Road is lined by a fairly dense growth of Red Gums.

The absorptive capacity of this section in relation to the creek itself is medium to high due to the well-incised valley form (Loder and Bayly, 1993). However, Loder and Bayly recommended that built structures should be limited to protect the attractive nature of the valley in this reach. As the likely location of the future path in this reach is well above the Creek, the importance of limiting build structures is higher.

Galada Tamboore

Industrial development and filling on the west bank again encroach on the Creek valley for 0.4km south of Barry Road.

At this point the Creek enters a wide bowl known as Galada Tamboore. The site is owned by Melbourne Water which has long term plans to use it to construct the Campbellfield Retarding Basin. Although the Waterway Management Activity Plan (2003) indicated that planning for the retarding basin is imminent, subsequent correspondence from Melbourne Water[41] indicates that it is unlikely that the retarding basin will be required within the next 20 years.

The rocky escarpments of this section are amongst the strongest visual elements of the Creek environment for its whole length. Good views of central Melbourne are to be had from some of the higher points of the escarpments.

Due to the broad opened-out nature of the eastern floodplain, structures will only be able to be absorbed visually when plantings develop.

Campbellfield/Thomastown industrial

Downstream from Galada Tamboore the Creek is wedged between filling associated with the Bolinda Road Tip and industrial development on the east bank. This is a particularly unsightly part of the valley. It passes under the intrusive Mahoneys Road/Metropolitan Ring Road interchange into the established residential suburbs.

Fawkner-Reservoir

In this section, the Merri Creek is quite incised, and the surrounding lands very flat. Rocky basalt escarpments form important visual features.

On the Fawkner (western) bank, development is mostly well set-back from the Creek, having been protected by the now removed freeway reserve. Exceptions to this are at Hare Street and downstream of Imaroo Street. Wide parklands now occupy the ex-freeway land. Some of these parklands remain undeveloped, weedy and unattractive.

On the Reservoir (eastern) bank residential development teeters on the edge of the escarpment above the Creek, often relying on fill to support a flat yard space. Because of the fill, and the lack of space to plant, these visual intrusions are very difficult to treat. South of Lakeside Secondary College, industrial development to the top of the escarpment is highly visible, only sometimes screened with indigenous vegetation. Some particularly unsightly filling has occurred in the vicinity of Edwardes Road. Much of the banks below the industrial area have been unmanaged and weedy. In the last three to four years (to 2008) City of Darebin staff have been treating weeds in this area and have planted out areas to screen some of it. These areas has received extensive works and will continue to do so.

Adjacent to Parker Reserve the creek flows through an aisle of mature weeping willows and other exotic trees, which are the target of a Melbourne Water woody weed control program.

Darebin Council has put a large effort over the last five years (to 2008) to improve the aesthetics of Edgars Creek in Reservoir through weed control and planting. There is still some way to go to improve the visual character of Edgars Creek.

Coburg Lake-Heidelberg Road

Downstream of McMahons Road, parkland again starts to line the Creek, at first on the east bank, and then south of Carr Street on both banks.

The Creek then enters the formal heritage landscape of Lake Reserve in Coburg. Coburg Lake is an artificial lake formed in the old bluestone quarry operated by the Pentridge Prison, some of the walls of which are still visible to the south.

Downstream of Coburg Lake the valley is characterised by relatively well maintained parkland along one or both banks, often with indigenous plantings established in the last few decades. Low density residential development encroaches to within metres of the Creek in places (e.g. just south of Bell Street, in the vicinity of The Grove and Albion Streets). High density multi-storey developments such as at Moore Street and Harrison Street have in the last decade begun to have significant visual impacts on the parkland.

Downstream of Cunningham Street Northcote, exotic trees dominate the Creek banks within a deeply incised valley. Revegetation projects begun during the 90s continue to create a more natural visual landscape character from Merri Primary School to High Street, particularly on the Creeks western bank.

Rocky escarpments between Westgarth Street and Heidelberg Road form important visual features representing the basalt geology of the Creek. On the west side filling to create the Knott Athletics Field has left an unsightly high rubble bank above the Creek.

Heidelberg Road to the Yarra River

Past the gracious bluestone arches of the Heidelberg Road Bridge, the parkland opens out with Yarra Bend Park on the east, atop a high and mostly poorly vegetated basalt escarpment, and Hall Reserve on the west. This reach is well protected by the parkland from visual intrusion, with the exception of the high and noisy Eastern Freeway that crosses Merri Creek before its confluence with the Yarra River. The unsightliness of this crossing is increased by the outfalls of major drains below the freeway, often tainted by unpleasant looking discharges. The freeway unfortunately creates a major visual barrier between the parklands along the Yarra and the Merri Creek Parklands.

Visual Character Rural Reaches

In many of the rural reaches of the Creek the predominant land use is grazing. Usually the Creeks are fully accessible to grazing stock, leading to deterioration of the water quality and the bank vegetation. Fencing off the stream banks would do much to improve the visual quality of the valley.

Parts of the City of Whittlesea and Mitchell Shire outside the Merri catchment are protected by Significant Landscape Overlays. However there are no Significant Landscape Overlays in the Merri Creek catchment. These overlays could be used to protect significant landscape elements such as the volcanoes, and important stretches of waterways.

Visual Character - Urban Reaches

Many of the urbanised sections of the creek have been drastically altered through modification of the watercourse to increase its capacity. Trapezoidal channels have been created in these sections and many meanders straightened. There has been a loss of stream morphology as well as the loss of floodplains through the filling of lower lying lands. In many situations, opportunities for improvement of the visual environment are few and amelioration of views will only be possible through the use of screening vegetation.

On the other hand some urban sections of the Merri Creek and its tributaries retain fine examples of basalt escarpments and rocky creek-beds typical of the natural stream.

Within the urban reaches of the creek, until recently, there have been few developments which have sought to address the waterway and its open space. A recent example which does address the Creek is the high density development at Moore Street Coburg. Such developments which take advantage of decades of work to create a more natural visual character of the Creek, but themselves destroy that visual character.

An excellent example of a development which both takes advantage of the visual character and respects it is the Aboriginal Community Elders Service at Parkview Avenue in Brunswick.

Older developments have generally not sought to take advantage of the creek setting through the use of boulevard roads within subdivisions. The Esplanade in Clifton Hill is one exception from a much earlier era of urban planning. The Newlands Estate in Coburg North is another example one of the reasons for its heritage value is that it takes the Creek into account.

Elements worthy of particular attention in the urban reaches include:

(i) Outfall Drains

Outfall drains have been a strong element of visual degradation within urban waterway environments. There are numerous local Council drains entering Merri Creek as well as Melbourne Water Main Drains.

Design guidelines and ameliorative work should ensure the outfalls are made as visually attractive as possible. (See also section 3)

ii) Powerlines

In the past, waterway corridors were selected as appropriate locations for the installation of electricity infrastructure. There are many powerlines in the Merri Creek valley, the most prominent being the high voltage transmission line between Thomastown and the Brunswick Terminal Station. This line is a major visual intrusion to the waterway environment.

There are also a number of lower voltage lines crossing open space areas in the lower catchment. Assistance for their relocation or undergrounding can be sought from the Department of Infrastructures Powerline Relocation Scheme.

In order to provide for maintenance and public safety, powerline operators are required to maintain the easement associated with their lines. The methods used can have considerable impacts on the visual character of the Merri Creek and its open space. In the past there has been criticism of the extent of vegetation pruning undertaken to achieve these ends. Better coordination of powerline managers needs with those of the community has been achieved recently and are important for effective development of compatible vegetation along the stream.

(iii) Industrial Developments, Fill and Rubbish

For users of the Merri Path, the intrusion of visual influences from external sources is most apparent within foreground views (Context Pty. Ltd. and Loder and Bayly, 1993). This is especially so where the creek valley is enclosed as a result of the waterway's incision and industrial development has occurred close to the break of slope.

Within the urban reaches of the Creek this applies most particularly to areas of Reservoir. While there have been some positive results from requirements placed on developers to provide screening vegetation (e.g. downstream of Zinnia Street to Australia Post and other factories), there are also many industrial areas in Reservoir which continue to provide an intrusive presence. These especially include the areas below Broadhurst Avenue to Brex Court and again around Edwardes Street.

Beyond the current reach of the Merri Path (but within proposed extensions of it) Campbellfield, Somerton and Craigieburn provide examples of industrial developments and filling which severely intrude into the visual environment of Merri Creek. The worst examples include at Sarah Street Campbellfield and just south of Aitken Creeks confluence with Merri Creek in Craigieburn.

Recent industrial development in outer urban reaches (for example at Frog Ct Craigieburn) has been set back further from the Creek, providing more opportunity for screening, however the height of some of the buildings involved means that screening will only ever be partial.

Visual intrusion and degradation is not confined to industrial developments. The dumping of rubbish and fill within the waterway's open space and on batters adjacent to the break of the valley slope has in places along the Creek created eyesores( for example the Edwardes Street Reservoir "promontory".

The dumping of car bodies and other rubbish is a further source of significant visual degradation of the stream environment. Persistent problems of dumping of cars over the escarpment at Galada Tamboore have reduced in recent years as fencing has been improved and the parkland has been maintained, however the problem is moving north as the urban fringe itself moves outwards.

(iv) Housing and Urban Design

Housing subdivisions perched right at the top of creek escarpments are one of the most significant sources of visual degradation of the urban reaches of Merri Creek and its tributaries. Some of the worst examples of this are between Mahoneys Road and B. T. Connor Reserve on the Reservoir side of Merri Creek, and either side of Aitken Creek west of the North-Eastern (Sydney) Railway Line. In these areas the housing subdivision has been designed in a manner unsympathetic to the preservation of the visual character of the waterway. In some instances the limited amount of public land available between back fences and the Creek will significantly constrain (or even deny), opportunities to provide screening vegetation.

Downstream of Coburg Lake the incidence of visual intrusion from housing and industry is now surprisingly limited for an urban stream. There are often limited opportunities to remedy remaining unattractive views from housing and back fences (e.g. downstream of Bell Street - both sides of stream - and Holden Street). On the other hand, there have also been positive results such as the vegetative screening of the factories downstream of Beavers Road.

Housing outcomes should be encouraged which involve sensitive renovation and redevelopment of housing sites so they interface with the creek in a sensitive and contextually appropriate manner. There have been some good recent examples of this for example renovations maximising views of the creek in a sensitive manner, thus increasing perceptions of safety. Poor examples include high density housing developments and approvals at Moore Street Coburg, and Harrison Street East Brunswick.

(v) Encroachments

Encroachments beyond the back fence of adjacent properties occurs in Fawkner and occasionally elsewhere. These encroachments are often unsightly, and may lead to risk of adverse possession claims[42].

(vi) Litter and pollution

Litter and pollution are discussed in depth in section 3 of this strategy, but it is worth noting here that pollution and litter were identified in community consultations in 1993 (see chapter 4.1) as the two most important issues needing improvement. Downstream of the Ring Road, litter is still a very important detractor from the visual amenity of the Merri Creek, and is also an issue on the urban tributaries.

(vii) Exotic vegetation

Exotic trees along waterways are valued highly by some members of the community, largely for their visual qualities. However they are rarely consistent with improving conservation and habitat values. In some areas e.g. Lake Reserve Coburg, exotic trees are protected through the identification of a section of the park as Heritage Parkland in Morelands Open Space Strategy. Much of the rest of the Creek-side parkland is identified in the Moreland Open Space Strategy as either Conservation Parkland, or Habitat, where indigenous vegetation is identified as the appropriate planting treatment. Explicitly categorising the open space appears to be a good way to manage this issue.

Melbourne Water has an active program to remove woody weeds. Where exotic vegetation is to be removed it is important that large areas are not cleared simultaneously, and that the community is made aware in advance that the exotic vegetation is to be replaced by indigenous vegetation. Otherwise community concern at the loss of visual amenity would be understandable.

(viii) Graffiti

Many of the bridges in the urban area are covered by spray painted or felt pen graffiti. Much signage is also affected. Such graffiti is often visually unattractive, and certainly detracts from signage functionality. High Priority should be given to graffiti removal where the graffiti includes obscene language or where it creates a safety issue, or affects the functionality of signage.

Removal of graffiti can lead to water pollution if the chemicals used find their way into the waterway. Care must be taken to avoid this, or if unavoidable, the graffiti should not be removed, or maybe painted over instead.

(ix) Art installations

The Merri Creek Arts Plan was commissioned by MCMC and Moreland City Council in 1995. It is the only targeted investigation of the commissioning of arts along waterways in the catchment. It identified the following key principles for art along Merri Creek:

· Artworks should express the local distinctiveness of the Merri Creek and its environment and community

· Artworks should not be confined to stand-alone commissioned works. Artworks must also contribute aesthetic solutions to functional requirements such as seating, amenities, paths, playgrounds and signage

· Wurundjeri culture and presence is a significant defining feature of the Merri Creek heritage. Artworks reflecting Aboriginal heritage should celebrate local Wurundjeri themes. The Wurundjeri community should be involved in the development of these artworks.

· Where possible, artworks should utilise local materials drawn from the creek valley.

· It is desirable that artworks reflect and/or involve various community groups with an interest in the creek.

· Water should be a significant source of inspiration for artworks.

· The commissioning and construction of artworks should where possible contribute to a local arts economy.

· Artworks should be placed at sites along the creek where they will expand and diversify peoples experience of the natural environment.

A number of art works, primarily sculptural, have been installed on the Merri Creek downstream of Mahoneys Road. Such installations should be approved only if they are sensitive to both the natural landscape character as well as the cultural character of the creek parklands.

(x) Views into the valley from bridges and travel routes

Thousands of people view the Creek every day from the rail and road bridges which cross it. These views should be protected, and higher priority given to management of these areas for their appearance. Bridges themselves have a major visual impact on the creek valley.

Future Prospects

In the future, as urban development extends north beyond the current limits of Craigieburn, there will be opportunities to ensure that development is planned in a manner more sympathetic to the waterways visual environment. The use of boulevard roads (roads abutting the waterway parklands) and other strategies to have development address the waterways should be equally applied to both new residential and industrial development. An approach which considers industrial areas to be less important and, in any case, inherently unattractive, is counter-productive to achieving positive outcomes for protection of the waterway corridor. Experience of recent years along the lower Yarra has shown that industrial development along waterways can sympathetically address the stream.

In the upper reaches of the catchment, urban development poses an opportunity to create public open space along the waterways, which are currently mostly in private ownership.

The Development Guidelines for Merri Creek contain a number of provisions to improve outcomes for the visual environment of Merri Creek and its tributaries. The Guidelines may be enforced through the planning permit/ planning scheme amendment process in those parts of the Merri waterways covered by the Merri Creek Environmental Significance Overlay.

Melbourne Waters Merri Creek Waterway Management Activity Plan Final Draft 2003 (WMAP) contains a number of actions which aim to help to protect/enhance visual character. These include:

· enhancing rock riffles and the pool and run structure of the waterways;

· exotic tree/woody weed removal programs;

· noting of sites of geological significance.

However the Merri Creek WMAP does not incorporate actions to improve the visual amenity of key Melbourne Water drains, or to require the use of basaltic rocks in landscaping.

Key References

Australian Heritage Commission Australian Natural Heritage Charter for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance http://www.ahc.gov.au/publications/anhc/index.html

Hume Committee for Smart Growth, Hume Growth Area: Towards Melbourne 2030 Final Report, Department of Sustainability and Environment 2005.

Loder and Bayly (1993), Visual Analysis Report, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (1988), Waterways Inventory Merri Creek, MMBW Melbourne.

Melbourne Water, (2003) Merri Creek Waterway Management Activity Plan Final Draft 2003.

Merri Creek Management Committee, Understanding planning issues along the Merri Creek and Policy: Development Guidelines for the Merri Creek, MCMC 20 May 2004.

Rosengren, N. (1993), Soils Study, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

SPPF 12-05 is the State Planning and Policy Framework which forms a part of all planning schemes in Victoria. http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/planningschemes/

Visual Character Issues

1. Older residential and industrial development which abuts waterways in the catchment is often intrusive and at times dominates the visual environment.

2. Despite a strong emphasis in the Merri Creek Environmental Significance Overlay and the Merri Creek Development Guidelines on protecting the visual character of the Merri Creek and its tributaries, visually intrusive developments are still being approved.

3. Significant sections of the waterway corridors are not covered by the Environmental Significance Overlay and therefore the Merri Creek Development Guidelines.

4. Screening treatments using indigenous plants are needed in some locations to provide important improvements to the visual environment, although good siting and contextually responsive design in the first place is preferable to camouflaging poor built outcomes.

5. Infrastructure management needs and vegetative screening needs can be in conflict. Vegetation screen design needs to take into account the needs of infrastructure and services.

6. There is a tension between the objectives of screening plantings (to screen and to imitate original vegetation types), and the sometimes identified need for filtered views or overlooking for improved perceptions of safety.

7. Buildings and bridges taller than mature canopy or located right at the top of steep escarpments can only be partially screened by plantings.

8. Some elements of the landscape (e.g. geological outcrops and natural valley form) which contribute to the visual amenity of the waterway corridors are not well protected. Improved levels of protection may help preserve these elements.

9. The use of waterway corridors by service utilities has often caused visual degradation of the corridor. This is particularly so with the numerous powerlines in the valley. Opportunities for removal or undergrounding of powerlines need to be pursued.

10. Many outfall drains are visually unattractive with design dominated by functional criteria.

11. Works to improve the water quality of the creeks, such as water-sensitive urban design projects and litter traps, need to also improve the visual landscape of the corridor.

12. Exotic vegetation can contribute to a mixed landscape valued by some members of the community. The Merri Creeks value and potential as a habitat corridor obliges management to restore and/or establish indigenous plant communities thereby contributing to a more natural visual character though some prefer exotic landscapes.

13. Excessively large stretches of woody weed removal can be detrimental to visual character.

14. The wide open plains in parts of the catchment make it difficult to preserve visual amenity, but combinations of adequate setbacks and screening vegetation can help.

15. Visual arts can contribute visual interest to the Creek valleys, but depending on their design, may detract from the visual amenity.

16. Litter and pollution are important detriments to visual amenity.

17. The location and design of bridges, paths, visitor facilities, etc can have detrimental impacts on visual amenity.

18. The visual amenity of Merri Creeks tributaries was not assessed in the 1993 Loder and Bayly report.

19. Graffiti on signs and infrastructure along waterways can be unsightly but sometimes also obscene and hazardous. Little effort is currently put into graffiti management.

20. Graffiti removal can cause water pollution if the chemicals used get into the waterway.

Objectives

The following objectives have been adopted from the State Planning Policy Framework (SPPF), or from the Merri Creek Environmental Significance Overlay (ESO). Whilst as part of the ESO they do not apply to waterway corridors not covered by the ESO, their use here implies they should be.

1. To protect and enhance the natural and visual character of the waterway corridors. (from ESO)

2. To protect sites and features of high landscape value (from SPPF 12.05-2)

3. To ensure development responds to its context and reinforces special characteristics of local environment and place by emphasising the underlying natural landscape character (from SPPF 12.05-2).

4. To create a peaceful, passive open space quality in the creek parkland and valley. (from ESO)

Targets

1. To provide for links, views and access from surrounding areas to the creek and open space. (from ESO)

2. To ensure that the scenic qualities and visual character of the waterway corridors are not compromised by the inappropriate siting of buildings, the placement of fill, or lack of screening vegetation. (from ESO)

3. To restore those sections of the waterway corridors which have been modified to create artificial bed, banks and landforms to a more natural, visually attractive and ecologically diverse landscape. (from ESO)

4. To ensure that the natural and visual character of the waterway corridors is not compromised by the siting or design of infrastructure such as drain outfalls, paths, bridges, or powerlines.

5. To strengthen the connection of private gardens and streetscapes adjacent to catchment waterways to the underlying natural landscape character.

6. To protect and enhance stream geomorphology, the valley form and key natural landscape features such as gorges, escarpments and stands of remnant vegetation especially River Red Gums.

7. To refine and document what the underlying natural landscape character of Merri Creek and its tributaries is, what extant features contribute to it, identify sites and features of high landscape value and how these values can be best be protected and enhanced, through a new landscape study covering all the main waterway corridors of the catchment.

8. The natural and visual character of Merri Creek and all major tributaries is protected by an Environmental Significance Overlay (as well as other provisions) in the relevant Councils planning schemes by 2010.

9. To ensure the design of buildings protects and enhances the natural landscape character by making available Development Guidelines relating to all waterway corridors in the catchment, based on the Development Guidelines for the Merri Creek.

10. All new developments within the ESO comply with the Development Guidelines and the objectives of the ESO.

11. To minimize litter build-ups in the catchment. (refer chapter 3.2)

12. Illegal filling and rubbish dumping is detected promptly, prevented from continuing and fill and rubbish is removed.

13. The incidence of illegal dumping is reduced and illegal filling is stopped completely by 2010.

14. To encourage the use of appropriate local native plants (i.e. indigenous plants).

15. Vegetation management and well-designed screening vegetation which enhances the visual environment of the corridor and protects views for creek users, while being sensitive to the need for an active interface with adjoining residential areas.

16. Screening vegetation using indigenous species is designed and planted at priority sites to reduce the impacts from adverse visual intrusion into the creek valley by existing developments by 2010.

17. Escarpments and rocky outcrops are managed as features and restored through integrated weed control and rubbish removal, and any risk management of such features considers the value of the feature itself prior to applying major changes to the visual character of that feature.

18. In-stream rock riffles are reintroduced or allowed to re-establish themselves in areas where stream morphology has been lost.

19. All new outfall drains demonstrate sensitive design emphasising use of natural rock or other visually pleasing elements, as well as incorporating necessary drainage and stormwater treatments. Ugly existing drains are improved over time.

20. Basaltic rocks are used in landscaping where there are opportunities to emphasise the underlying natural landscape character of the creek corridor.

21. All areas undergoing a weed removal program including willow removal are revegetated with indigenous species (with the exception of Heritage Parkland areas).

22. Obscene or unsafe graffiti is removed promptly, and graffiti on signage is removed within 3 months, unless removal would unavoidably cause water pollution.

23. Where artworks are to be installed along the creek corridors, they are sensitive to both the natural landscape character as well as the cultural character of the creek parklands.

Actions

See Section E page 184.

[38] The Proposed New Merri Creek Park Draft Concept Plan February 2006, Parks Victoria Melbourne.

[39] MMBW, 1988

[40] Absorptive capability describes the degree to which landscape areas can absorb development, depending initially on the topography.  Flat open landscapes have low absorptive capability, a deep incised channel with tall escarpments included in parkland would have higher absorptive capability.

[41] Letter from Grant Wilson to Ray Radford dated 11 July 2006.

[42] Adverse possession claims against Crown Land, most road reserves or Council land, however under the Limitations of Actions Act this is narrowly defined; Council must be listed on title.  This can be problematic where for example transfer of ownership to Council has been delayed.

Login