Suburban Rail Loop East Project – Minister approves Environment Effects Statement

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By Chris Wiseman, Partner

Permanent Land Acquisitions – High Value and High-Profile Land Needed to Construct Stations

The Suburban Rail Loop East Project (a new 26 km rail line connecting Cheltenham to Box Hill)[1] reached a significant milestone on 5 August 2022 with the Minister for Environment and Climate Action approving the Environment Effects Statement (EES) for the Project. In doing so, the Minister concluded that the Project has merit and that the environmental effects of the Project, some of which are significant, can be properly managed and mitigated with options to lessen the burden on those most affected.  The Minister’s assessment was informed by the work of the inquiry and advisory committee (IAC) appointed to inquire into and report on the environmental effects and the draft planning scheme amendment prepared for the Project.

The Minister’s assessment, IAC report and EES may be accessed via the following link-

https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/environment-assessment/browse-projects/projects/suburban-rail-loop-east#overview

The Minister’s assessment notes that while most of the operational effects of the Project have been eliminated by placing most of the infrastructure underground, the above ground train stabling facility in Heatherton, emergency support facility located in Monash and six new stations in Box Hill, Glen Waverley, Monash, Burwood, Cheltenham and Clayton will have significant land use impacts.  This is due to the displacement of existing land uses, such as residential, commercial, industrial, transport and public open space, both permanent and temporary (with some temporary occupations lasting 5-10 years).  In total the Minister’s assessment states that the Project requires the permanent acquisition of up to 312 commercial, residential and public properties and a permanent loss of public open space at several locations.

In respect of the six new stations, it is recognised that most are within established activity centres and that in order to construct the stations, high-value and high-profile land is needed which in many cases will require the displacement and relocation of existing businesses.  In respect of business impacts at these locations the Minister’s Assessment states:

“All of the sites will be adversely impacted during construction with varying levels of impact between planned commencement in 2022 until planned completion in 2035.  The EES state that the project will acquire 150 commercial properties across nine sites, and 72 (48%) of the acquired commercial properties will be located in Box Hill.

 Key adverse business impacts created by the project are:

  • Property acquisition and the need for business relocation; and
  • Loss of viability of businesses during construction due to impacts such as amenity and access issues.

Impacts on the businesses during construction will include amenity impacts, loss of customers and visitors to the activity centres due to loss of car parking or their reduced attractiveness, road closures, constrained access for both visitors and deliveries and other disruptions.  These construction impacts will be particularly impactful in Box Hill, Glen Waverley and Clayton.”

In order to address these impacts, the Project includes comprehensive environmental performance requirements (EPRs) which have been similarly applied on large infrastructure projects of this size and scale.  In respect of land use and business impacts, the Minister has supported (either in full or in principle) the IAC’s recommended version of the Business and Land Use Planning EPRs.

The IAC’s recommended version of the EPRs is Appendix A to the Minister’s Assessment which may be accessed via the following link.

https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/587530/2.-SRL-East-Min-assessment-Appendix-A.pdf

Next Steps

Due to the significant impacts of the Project, affected residents and businesses should take the time to read the Minister’s assessment and the IAC’s recommended version of the EPRs (as the project must comply with these requirements once approved as part of the planning scheme amendment for the Project) and continue to monitor the timeframes and approvals process. The Suburban Rail Loop Authority (SRLA) project homepage on Victoria’s Big Build website should also be checked for construction and planning updates via the following link:

https://bigbuild.vic.gov.au/projects/suburban-rail-loop

An important next step in the Project going ahead is approval of the planning scheme amendment for the Project under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and designation of the approved project area under the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 (MTPFA).[2]  It is only once these processes are complete that SRLA may proceed to compulsorily acquire land for the project, which formally starts with the service of a notice of intention to acquire.

Information as to property acquisition processes and timing and support measures may be obtained by contacting SRLA.  To this extent, the IAC and the Minister have recommended that SRLA should seek to have conversations with affected landowners as early as possible to provide certainty, clarity and tailored support in relation to property acquisitions.

It is also important that legal, valuation and professional advice and assistance is obtained early on to ensure that affected landowners and businesses are fully informed as to their rights and obligations and are in the best position to navigate the complex regulatory environment for this project.  This will also assist in any discussions you may have with SRLA and its consultants and advisors and help to secure the best outcome for you and/or your business.

About the author:

Chris Wiseman, Partner, is a leading expert in Victoria in environmental impact assessments, land valuation and compulsory land acquisition and compensation and strategic planning and planning disputes in VCAT, the Supreme Court of Victoria and Planning Panels.

Chris assists private and public sector clients to better understand their rights and obligations and to navigate the planning and compulsory acquisition process in respect of large scale infrastructure projects in Victoria including recent work in advising clients on the North East Link Project, West Gate Tunnel Project, and Level Crossing Removal Program.

[1] The Project was previously known as Suburban Rail Loop – Stage One.  It is the first stage of the Suburban Rail Loop and forms part of the 90 kilometre rail line that will connect Melbourne’s metropolitan train lines from the Frankston line in the east to the Werribee line in the west.

[2] The Project was declared a major transport project under section 10(1)(b) of the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 by the Premier of Victoria on 19 January 2022.  It is only once the project area for a declared project is designated under section 95 of the MTPFA, however, that it becomes an approved project

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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