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Council calls for halt to $20m Old Belair Rd junction upgrade

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Mitcham Council has called for a temporary suspension of works on an Old Belair Road roundabout project, citing a lack of detail and transparency from the Transport Department.

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Residents are divided over a State Government proposal to transform the Mitcham Hills T-junction where James Road meets Old Belair Road into a single-lane roundabout with bypass lane for city-bound traffic.

Around 17,500 cars pass through the unsignalled intersection each day, according to State Government figures, with cars on James Road often banked up at morning peak hour waiting to turn right due to the volume of city-bound traffic coming down Old Belair Road.

Early works have commenced on the federally funded roundabout upgrade, with major construction expected to start late this year and completion scheduled for the third quarter of 2022.

The proposed James Road/Old Belair Road intersection upgrade (Image: Department of Infrastructure and Transport).

But Mitcham Council last night unanimously passed a motion calling on the Department of Infrastructure and Transport to temporarily suspend works until “full disclosure” is provided on the results of the Department’s community consultation undertaken in January and February of 2020.

The feedback has been the subject of freedom of information requests from the office of Member for Waite Sam Duluk and prior requests from Mitcham Council.

The motion, tabled by Craigburn Ward councillor Darren Kruse, also calls on the Department to release its traffic modelling, detailed designs and proposed tree losses for the project.

Another request from the council is that the roundabout works be delayed until the $20 million upgrade of the Belair Triangle intersection – which feeds city-bound traffic into Old Belair Road – is complete.

“Our community is in the dark with this project and our job is to amplify those voices,” Kruse told the council on Tuesday night.

“This is a matter of DIT being upfront and open with the community.

“Not releasing the results of the community survey, not releasing the traffic analysis and assumptions, and not waiting to see what the effect of the Russell Street (Belair Triangle) works are going to be, is simply high handed and not appreciated by our residents.

“It won’t hurt to pause until DIT releases those results.”

Councillor Kruse said if DIT releases its traffic modelling, the information would be assessed by the council’s traffic engineers who would “advise this chamber independently”.

“I’m not a traffic engineer and I’m agnostic about the proposed roundabout,” he said.

“What I am not agnostic about is being railroaded by a government department, who won’t release the information … to this community [and] to this chamber.”

The council’s call comes amid concerns from residents about the number of endangered trees that will be lost to make way for the project and claims that the roundabout design will not make significant improvements to traffic flow or safety.

A Department spokesperson told InDaily earlier this month that 147 native trees face the axe based on a 70 per cent completed design of the project – including 42 federally listed endangered Grey Box Grassy Woodlands eucalyptus trees.

But the Friends of Old Belair Road community group estimate that 288 trees would be lost for the upgrade.

A petition drive from the group on the issue has now reached more than 670 signatures.

Mitcham Mayor Heather Holmes-Ross has already asked for a temporary suspension of works while Duluk has also called for the project to be halted until the Belair Triangle upgrade is complete.

Speaking in favour of the motion, Boorman Ward councillor Andrew Tilley said the environmental impact of the roundabout was too great to justify going ahead.

“An engineering solution like they’ve proposed is one thing, but the amount of damage that that engineering solution would do to the community, the landscape, the environmental community – it’s just massive for that area,” he said.

“It’s hard to imagine how it’s going to happen up there.”

Native trees lining the James Road/Old Belair Road intersection (Photo: Pete Gehlert).

Under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Department is required to submit a referral to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for authorisation before any felling of Grey Box trees can take place.

The Department will also have to obtain clearance approval under the State Government’s Native Vegetation Act 1991 and make a payment to the Native Vegetation Fund as part of the Significant Environmental Benefit offset program.

InDaily asked the Department whether the council motion would prompt them to temporarily suspend the project or release the January to February community feedback in full.

In response, a spokesperson said major construction on the project was scheduled to begin late this year and changes have been made to the designs as a result of community feedback.

“Concept designs for the proposed upgrade of the intersection were developed in response to feedback received last year, and this year the community was invited to provide feedback on those designs,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department has listened to this feedback and in response, changes have been made to the Old Belair and James Road junction to minimise the footprint and reduce the impact on surrounding vegetation, including the Grey Box trees.

“The Department will continue to engage with the community throughout the delivery of the project.”

The spokesperson added that a “summary” of the feedback received during the latest round of communication consultation is expected to be released shortly.

There have been six crashes at the James Road/Old Belair Road T-junction from 2016 to 2020, with three of them resulting in injuries, according to State Government road crash data.

Further down the road, the roundabout between Blythewood Road and Old Belair Road has seen 19 crashes during the same time period.

Overall, there have been 50 crashes along Old Belair Road from 2015 to 2019, according to a State Government report on the intersection upgrade submitted to the Public Works Committee last year.

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