Old Heidelberg Road is an east-west access road in Alphington:

Location of Old Heidelberg Road. Image credit: Apple Maps, Streets Alive Yarra.

Connection to the Darebin Creek Trail

The main issue regarding the road is retaining public access to the full extent of the public road reserve. An adjoining private land owner has built gates across the road and the footpaths, which prevents public access to public land. Council has stated that the gate was installed illegally.

Gates across footpath and road. Image credit: Apple Maps.

History

Local residents used to be able to access Darebin Creek from Old Heidelberg Road. This aerial photo is from 1975, and shows the path of a charity fun run that started and finished at the old Parade College in the 1980s. Darebin Creek was crossed using a cast iron bridge that later was washed away.

Access from Old Heidelberg Road in the 1970s and 1980s. Source: confidential.

Public vs private land

Council’s records confirm that discussions between Council Officers and the [owners of adjoining private land] took place in 2005 following a request about the possibility of Council investigating the potential discontinuance and sale of the eastern portion of Old Heidelberg Road. Records note that the matter was never progressed.

Agenda of Council Meeting – Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Adjoining private land is highlighted in the image below. The public road reserve extends from the asphalted end of Old Heidelberg Road, down to Darebin Creek and almost to the Darebin Creek Trail. Structures have been built on the public road reserve, including gates, a playground, and part of a sports field. By building such structures, the private land owner is appropriating public land. Council has an obligation to defend public land from appropriation by private organisations.

Private land near Old Heidelberg Road. Image credit: @fieldo85 on Twitter.

Community interest

Local residents would like to access the Darebin Creek Trail from Old Heidelberg Road, like they used to be able to. A connection to the trail would align with policies of federal, state, and local government that support physical activity in 20-minute neighbourhoods.

Bron and Anna are local residents who would like a connection from Old Heidelberg Road to the Darebin Creek Trail. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Guidance from experts

The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) commented on the issue of public versus private land:

If you’re a local resident, I would have thought access to that pristine river frontage would be highly valued and heaven forbid that a council would act in the interest of its local residents…there’s sometimes a need to just lay down a marker and for the council not to be a pushover in terms of its right to public land.

VLGA Connect Episode 276, 27th May 2022

VicRoads assessment

VicRoads examined a connection at Old Heidelberg Road as part of the Alphington Link project. They concluded that an informal access path is possible, but that it wouldn’t meet their project aim of a ‘shared user path standard’ without significant cost, so they selected a lower cost option at Farm Road.

An informal access path is possible. Image credit: VicRoads, highlight from Streets Alive Yarra.

Our view

It would be low cost and technically simple to construct a gravel path to deliver access from Old Heidelberg Road to the Darebin Creek Trail, if an appropriate land swap could be negotiated (green for blue).

Suggestion for a land swap. Private land owner obtains the green area in exchange for the blue area. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Way forward

Streets Alive Yarra suggests the following way forward:

  1. Negotiate a land swap between government and the adjoining land owner (which could be either formal or informal) enabling the private land owner to retain some structures (e.g. the playground under the blue shade sail, and the full area of the sports field), and enabling the construction of an informal access path
  2. Discuss solutions for the private landowner to manage access between the properties on either side of the public land
  3. Build a fence (if desired, and possibly subject to council approval) along the new boundary line
  4. Build an informal access path between Old Heidelberg Road and the Darebin Creek Trail
  5. Remove the brick wall and gates that block the road and footpaths
  6. Return the management of on-street parking to council
  7. Implement traffic calming measures to reduce hazards during drop-off and pick-up times

Estimated costs:

  • $2,000 for a surveyor,
  • $0 for the land swap, and
  • $5,000 for gravel (laid by volunteers).

Take action

Let’s build a beautiful, liveable and accessible city