Idle Land

Melbourne has fantastic opportunities to revitalize pockets of underutilized land along its public transport corridors, as shown by this case study investigating space available near stations on the city’s Craigieburn railway line. Three development concepts were created for Essendon Station, which alone offers 2.3 hectares of publicly owned land, currently used predominantly for car parking by commuters. Development above an underground car park, would offer greater value to the station precinct, which is serviced by 11 bus routes and a tram line. The three concepts are intended to offer ideas for how the idle land at this precinct, and across Melbourne’s public transport network, could be revitalized to contribute many returns to the community and improve upon the existing site conditions, by providing: 

  • Much needed housing options at a highly established, desirable and accessible locality.
  • A minimum of 10-15% affordable housing in line with the State Government of Victoria's recent pilot initiative for publicly owned land.
  • New shops, offices and community uses on the ground floor to provide local conveniences and community facilities to contribute to a more inviting, safe, accessible and usable station precinct.
  • Parkland for enjoyment by the community, as well as communal courtyard or rooftop spaces for residents, to provide spaces for socializing, recreation, connecting with nature and enhancing local ecology.
  • Potential opportunity for community use of heritage building.
  • A source of finance to upgrade public transport facilities including shelters, landscaping, signage, lighting and accessibility for the train, tram and buses.

The concepts (shown in section 1) demonstrate the value of other idle land surrounding many of Melbourne’s train stations and tram stops and their potential for leading the way for infill development, which integrates affordable housing, throughout the city. More discussion about this idea, is included as follows: 
Section 2 - Essendon Station Existing Conditions
Section 3 - Analysis of Redevelopment Opportunity Along the Craigieburn Line

Section 4 - City Development Context
Section 5 - Background Information

1. Essendon Station Precinct Concepts 

These concepts were developed to offer a starting point for generating ideas and discussion about the revitalization of the underutilized land abutting Essendon Station. The next stage would be to test and refine these proposals through street sections and modeling to ascertain their viability and local amenity impacts. An explanation of the guiding principles that informed these concepts is included below, with additional detail about the analysis and rationale in Section 5.   

General Principles

Analysis of the site, existing policy and development patterns in the area informed the development of the following general principles for the three concepts: 

  • Car parking for commuters and residents to be integrated underground. It is assumed that excavation of the site is possible and cost-effective.
  • It is assumed that any site contamination does not prohibit redevelopment of the land.  
  • A (presumed) vacant heritage building on the east side of the station is repurposed as a community space.
  • Northern aspect is optimized for parkland and housing to ensure the receive optimal sunlight and passive heating (this is the best orientation in the southern hemisphere). 
  • On the west side of the station a height of 4 storeys at the northern end relates to the more suburban character of Rose Street and the mix of single and 2 storey houses interspersed with businesses. This would also allow sunlight to the south of the site. At the south, given the more commercial nature, 6 storeys enables a greater number of apartments to be developed without compromising amenity.
  • On the east side, buildings up to 10 storeys would be suitable due to the width of Mount Alexander Road, commercial nature and set back behind the shop fronts of Russell Street. In concept three, the potential development of privately owned shops along Russell Street is explored. Allowing buildings of up to 12 storeys, provided they scale back near the heritage buildings of the station and where they may cause overshadowing to the south, could help to entice land owners to develop. 
  • A minimum of 10-15% affordable housing would be integrated into the site as per the State Government pilot initiative.
  • Each concept seeks to maximize parks, communal courtyards and rooftop gardens to provide space for recreation and socializing. These green spaces offer opportunities to augment the number of large canopy trees (as well as retain some of the existing ones), support urban wildlife and filter stormwater. 
  • Environmentally sustainable design features addressing renewable energy, recycled and grey water, and waste minimization should be integral to the design of the site and offers a fantastic opportunity given Melbourne's dry and sunny climate, however, has not been explored in detail in the case studies at this stage - it would be envisaged that this would be better addressed following concept refinements to ensure that passive environmental design features are optimized first. 
  • The rail line is left in its present condition. The State Government of Victoria and the City of Moonee Valley are investigating opportunities to integrate the railway line below the ground to enable Essendon Station to be redeveloped over the top. Each concept focuses on the level of development which could occur without this significant investment occurring, with the intention of showing the potential capacity of sites along the rail corridor at present without infrastructure spending by the State Government. It is possible that development could proceed at the edges of the station precinct, to assist finance the under-grounding of the rail line. In the event that the railway line is replaced underground, a public park or communal space for residents could be extended over the top and provide additional east-west connectivity.  An indicative through link is shown on each proposal if this were to occur which extends the existing street network and is placed at the shortest eat-west connection across the rail line. 

As no detailed design ideas were developed, to help with envisaging the style of development which could occur in this precinct, some interesting examples of housing design have been collated on Pinterest. 

Essendon Station Existing Conditions - Section 2

The map below highlights some of the features of Essendon Station. As shown in the map, the station is surrounded to the north by two large car parking lots. Local shops are concentrated to the southern end of Rose Street (with some interspersed with housing to the north), and on Russell Street, Mount Alexander Road, Buckley Street and Napier Street. The station is a major commuter hub providing an interchange with the Airport West tram line and 11 bus routes. The Essendon area has a significant number of schools including 5 public schools and 5 private schools. The public transport interchange is well utilized by students accessing these schools in the vicinity. Despite the range of public transport offered here, the area is characterized by a low scale of development, predominantly 1 to 4 storeys. Although there are a handful of parks and community facilities, as the area continues to develop there is potential to augment these. Additional analysis is provided in Section 5. 

Essendon Features Map by

Site Analysis 

Essendon Station site context by

3. Analysis of Redevelopment Opportunity Along the Craigieburn Line 

This exploration of potential redevelopment sites along the Craigieburn train line informed the selection of Essendon as a suitable station for the case study. The Craigieburn railway line extends approximately 27km north of Melbourne’s central city, passing through 16 stations beyond the city loop. A desktop analysis was conducted of each station precinct located within an approximate 30 minute commute of the last city station (Flinders Street Station). The station closest to the city, North Melbourne Station, was excluded as it is in proximity to the 20 hectare E-Gate site, being investigated by the state government for a mixed use precinct developed over railway yards. The study analyzed land uses within a 400 metre catchment surrounding 9 stations and noted the availability of undeveloped land (for example parking lots and railway land reserves) which offer potential for revitalization.

Opportunities and constraints for the viability of developing each of these parcels was considered with respect to land size, the implications of land use zoning and overlays, and additional public transport options to the train. The analysis also included the Jewell Station precinct being redeveloped by VicTrack and designed by NeoMetro, to compare the size of land identified for viable redevelopment through the Station Precinct Enhancement Program (discussed in Section 4). Along the extent of the line under consideration, the 5 station precincts were considered to offer a redevelopment opportunity in the realm of the 0.4 hectare parcel on the east side of Jewell Station being developed by VicTrack and NeoMetro, and of a wide enough depth to enable the inclusion of housing.


Many of the sites around these stations, have great potential to optimize the number of residents and workers who can access the train station, in addition to tram or bus stops, as well as offer more local conveniences or community services to minimize the need for other journeys. With the challenges in leveraging substantial investment to create new public transportation, it is interesting that the study identified approximately 8.2 ha (82,000m2) of potential land for new housing and businesses around these five station precincts alone, to capitalize on this significant infrastructure.

Station precinct analysis by

The identified land parcels are currently affected by a mix of zones for public use (transport), business and residential and used for car parking, retail and either open space or landscaping. Each of these sites offers unique opportunities and constraints.

Opportunity sites 

Newmarket - Potential to redevelop large car parking lot at street level associated with shopping plaza (presumably privately owned), integrating car parking underneath, and improve small public open space adjacent to station. 

Moonee Ponds - Potential to redevelop car parking lots at street level which are publicly owned. Potential to work with owners of car parking lots at street level which are covered by a business zone. 

Essendon - Potential to redevelop car parking lots at street level which are publicly owned. In the longer term, there is potential to work to work with owners of business along Russell Street (east of railway line). 

Glenbervie - Potential to investigate viability of developing narrow car parking lot and landscaping along southern side of railway line which is covered by a residential zone. 

Strathmore - Potential to investigate ownership and viability of developing car parking lot on eastern side of railway line which is covered by a business zone. 

The most straightforward sites for redevelopment include the vast publicly owned car parking lots at street level which abut the stations. Public ownership was assumed where land was covered by the public use zone which is intended “to provide for associated uses that are consistent with the intent of the public land reservation or purpose” according to Clause 36.01 of the Moonee Valley Planning Scheme.

There were two stations which had substantial car parking lots covered by the public use zone, in addition to extensive public transport alternatives to the train line. Moonee Ponds had a total of 0.4 ha and Essendon had 2.3 ha covered by a Public Use Zone. As Essendon Station offers the largest amount of land covered by a public land zone and serves as an important interchange with the tram and buses it was selected for the case study. 

4. City Development Context  

Melbourne benefits from an extensive public transport network, which at the core includes 16 train lines and 24 tram routes. While this infrastructure extends well into Melbourne’s suburbs, much of the city’s new housing is directed to areas beyond their reach. This pattern of growth has created car-reliant areas on the fringe which has had the effect of isolating the city’s more affordable housing to suburbs with limited transport accessibility to employment and services. The areas well-serviced by public transport are often overlooked for their potential to accommodate additional housing growth for several reasons. These areas are fairly established with few undeveloped sites; heritage protection often covers buildings or precincts; and getting substantial development proposals approved can be hindered by objections by local residents due to their understandable concerns for impacts on their community. On investigation, however, across Melbourne’s public transport network, many station and stop precincts are under-developed, often surrounded by parking lots for city-bound commuters or a low level of development. There is immense potential for this ‘idle land’ to be better designed to improve the accessibility, safety, community convenience and the catchment of potential public transport users through new housing development. Interestingly, in several cases, this land is publicly owned, offering a great opportunity for development which integrates affordable housing and spaces for the community which could assist to finance the redevelopment of stations to make them more user-friendly and inviting. 

 Redevelopment of station precincts in Melbourne 

VicTrack, a government owned business enterprise, is the custodial owner for railway land and infrastructure in the state of Victoria. This agency has many land assets throughout the state, and is responsible for land which is reserved for transport purposes and delivering new transport infrastructure such as stations and upgrades. VicTrack disposes of and/or develops land which is considered surplus to transport requirements. 

VicTrack has delivered and commenced several projects on its property in Victoria to better integrate land uses with transport infrastructure. VicTrack’s Station Precinct Enhancement Program identifies opportunities to unlock railway land which is underutilized or considered surplus to Victoria’s transport needs. Land is released to the private sector to create improved railway stations which benefit from integration of housing, retail, commercial and public spaces. Proceeds from development projects are used by VicTrack for station upgrades and refurbishments. Key benefits of this initiative include improved design, safety and accessibility of transport precincts and upgraded stations, as well as the delivery of diverse housing. For example, in 2012, VicTrack improved the accessibility and design of the western entrance and platform of Pascoe Vale Station on the Craigieburn Line which was funded through revenue raised through selling former railway land located nearby for the development of new affordable housing and street level retail spaces. 

At present, 4 stations, Glen Waverley, Jewell, Alphington and Hampton, are included in VicTrack’s Station Precinct Enhancement Program, with an additional 7 stations, Essendon, Windsor, West Footscray, Victoria Park, East Richmond, Ringwood and Watsonia, being investigated for future development.

The State Government of Victoria recently announced the introduction of a pilot scheme to require development of land sold by the Victorian Government to include 10-15% affordable housing on site in areas considered to be appropriately serviced by public transport, shops and other facilities. Each of these station precincts present a fantastic opportunity to integrate affordable housing to support diverse and inclusive communities in Melbourne. 


The analysis demonstrates that 8.3ha of land could be suitable for redevelopment along the Craigieburn line within a 30 minute train commute of Melbourne’s central city. Public ownership of some of this land enables the opportunity to develop in a manner that offers great benefit thourgh provision of affordable housing, well-designed public open space and community infrastructure. By designing the site with new amenities for local residents, developing higher building forms is likely to be considered more acceptable to the local community. The Essendon Station case study shows great potential for VicUrban to research potential for a fantastic housing development which is well serviced by existing public transport services and new retail, commercial and community spaces, not only at this site but other property they own across the train network. It is hoped that these development proposals offer some insight into the potential opportunities which could be considered at this precinct and beyond. 

5. Background information   

Design and Development Principles 

The guiding principles developed for the proposals were informed by a variety of elements including: 

Development considerations and assumptions

Development boundary

The proposals limited development to the northern end of the Essendon Station precinct. This was done to create separation from the architecturally, socially and historically significant station platform and entrance at the southern end which is covered by Heritage Overlay (HO51) and is included on the Victorian Heritage Register (Ref No H1562). This development boundary was also implemented to ensure that the station remains both physically and aesthetically accessible to the public. 

The case study considers that as a result of finance obtained through the redevelopment of the northern end of the precinct, enhancements would be made to the station, tram stops on Mount Alexander Road and bus stops on Russell Street, to improve safety, accessibility and landscaping. However due to the heritage character and public use, no private development would occur at the southern end.

The Property Council of Australia 20 Projects: Victoria’s Best Investment Sites suggests that in addition to the car parking lots on either side of the railway line, land could be released above Essendon Station and the railway line for development through: 

  • A grade separation at the Buckley Street level crossing;
  • Removal of the Mount Alexander Road railway over pass; 
  • Construction of a new Essendon Railway Station platform at a lower level

These improvements in addition to other transit improvement and consolidation initiatives are supported by the Essendon Junction Grade Separation Feasibility Study Report - Stage 1 & 2 commissioned by Moonee Valley City Council and anticipated to be at a cost of $186 million. However, while this exploration is incredibly positive, this case study considers potential development without this significant investment occurring. The railway line is not developed over in each case study proposal. In the event that the railway line is lowered to create additional land for development in the future, this reserved space would have potential to form additional public open space, communal open space for residents or east-west pedestrian linkages.

Built form 

The heights included in the proposals were guided by several considerations including policy affecting the site, existing character and patterns of development and planning decisions. 

The entire site is covered by the Design and Development Overlay Schedule 3 - Precinct D which indicates a preferred maximum height of: 

  • 5 storeys (18m for the east side of Mount Alexander Road
  • 6 storeys (21m for the west side of Mount Alexander Road)
  • 12 storeys (39m) for key sites greater than 1000 square metres. 

This provides an indicative framework for what the local government, Moonee Valley City Council considers to be appropriate. Given the site is 23,000 m2, each proposal considers 5-6 storeys to offer a mid-range height with the upper limit being 10 storeys in 2 concepts and 12 storeys in concept 3 which considers additional private land to also be developed. As these are only ‘preferred’ maximum heights, there is greater potential to develop to a greater level, however a modest range from 4 levels at residential interfaces up to 12 stories offers a scale of development which would be more palatable to the local community in light of existing patterns of development. 

An analysis of building height ranges was conducted and demonstrates very few developments approaching 4 levels - hence this was determined to offer a reasonable starting point. Although there may be concerns that this is a high starting point by the community, any lower form of development wouldn’t capitalise on the high level of public transport provided in this precinct.

In addition, in recent years, there have been some excellent local developments and proposals of building forms in this range that demonstrate a good relationship with existing character. The Mill by Plus Architecture on Raleigh Street Essendon is identified as a good design case study by the Victorian Government's Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure. 

Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, The Mill, Raleigh Street Essendon, Design Case Studies,  Diverse living beyond the inner city

Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, The Mill, Raleigh Street Essendon, Design Case Studies, Diverse living beyond the inner city

Recently approved building at 20-28 Napier Street Essendon.  G2 Urban Planning . 

Recently approved building at 20-28 Napier Street Essendon. G2 Urban Planning

Another project for a 6 storey residential building with retail has recently been approved for 20-28 Napier Street Essendon which demonstrates the emerging higher building forms accommodated in this suburb.

The Planning Minister Richard Wynne recently scaled back a development located 2km away from Essendon Station Although approval had been granted in 2014 by the previous Planning Minister for towers of 20 storeys and apartment blocks of 16 storeys covering half of the redevelopment site of the Moonee Valley Racing Club, Wynne introduced rules to reduce this to 3 - 6 storeys around the site's edges and 16 levels on a small portion of the site in response to community concern. This indicates that the community and current Planning Minister may not yet be ready for building heights in excess of 16 storeys, providing an indicative upper limit for future developers of the Essendon area.  

Smaller buildings were located on the more residential side of Essendon Station, however it should be noted that the Design and Development Overlay for the Essendon Station precinct suggests that massing should be located to the centre  “to reduce visual dominance and protect the amenity of surrounding area”. To some extent this was achieved, however not entirely. The DDO suggests that building elements greater than 18 metres should be restricted to less than 60% of the total site and elements above 27 metres be restricted to less than 40% of the site. In all proposals this has been met. 

Set backs 

For land affected by the Public Use Zone, the Design and Development Overlay (DDO) indicates that there is a 0m minimum setback required from the front boundary, however any wall at this boundary cannot be greater than 8 metres in height. It specifies that any built form above 8 metres must be setback a minimum of 2 metres in addition to 0.7 metres for every metre of height above 11.5 metres. While this DDO has several requirements with respect to stepping back of height, this seems confusing and would result in a convoluted form for the sake of stepping back the bulk of a building from the street - for the purposes of creating a simple example of what could be developed at this site, this stepping back design policy was not incorporated. An analysis of how any proposal could meet this requirement could be done in more detail at a later stage. 

Land uses

It is best practice to accomodate a mix of uses in areas well serviced by a variety of public transport modes. The Property Council of Australia suggests the area could accommodate a mix of commercial office and local convenience retail uses with medium residential development. 

It is a requirement of the Design and Development Overlay to accommodate a tram super stop within the road reserve of this site. This has not been considered as the existing tram stop is located in proximity and in a location which would be difficult to develop for another purpose. Notwithstanding any potential improvement to safety or accessibility between the tram stop and train station, the proposals seek to maximize developable land for residential and commercial uses rather than losing space for transport uses, especially given the existing tram stop site doesn't seem to be dramatically problematic. Additional research would need to be conducted to determine the safety of the existing tram stops and whether there would be an improvement if integrated into the site.   

Underground car parking - The DDO states that development of the VicTrack land should “retain adequate park and ride facilities for its public transport function” and in each proposal it is assumed that this would be integrated underground with any car parking requirements for residents. This presumes that excavation is viable at the site. 

Community uses - Moonee Valley City Council Draft Essendon Junction Activity Centre Structure Plan Background Report concludes that there is minimal need for any form of community facilities or services within this precinct (including libraries, maternal child health, childcare). The report suggests that within the Essendon Junction Activity Centre (which covers a much broader area than the station precinct), only opportunities for multi-purpose facilities for youth services, arts and community use need to be considered. However, particularly with respect to childcare, the report states that “Council’s Early Years Infrastructure Plan (2011) indicates that the distribution of childcare centres and kindergartens in and around the EJAC study area generally satisfies the current needs of the community”. It appears that this study did explored only current and not future demand as a result of increased population or demographic change. The Essendon Station precinct could offer a fantastic convenient location for integration of childcare particularly for commuters. A principle which has not been furthered in any more detail for each case study is that analysis of future (rather than current) demand for a wide range of community facilities, particularly childcare, should be conducted. If required within the vicinity, the Essendon Station precinct should definitely be considered for integration within the ground level of any residential buildings developed. This follows the MVCC Report that recommends to “Advocate for the inclusion of community spaces, meeting rooms and/or a multi-purpose community facility as part of the future redevelopment of the VicTrack land”. 

Open spaces - Within the 400m station catchment there are few public open spaces. A principle is to integrate public open space within the site as this offers a significant community benefit which can be used to leverage the community in the event of opposition to the development of new housing at the station site. Open space also provides several environmental benefits including permeability for storm water, trees and plants for filtering the air and offering shade from the sun. Communal open spaces for residents have been integrated in each proposal to provide opportunities for engagement with nature, socializing and children to play. In some examples rooftop gardens have been integrated which would also be likely to offer views of the city and possibly of the Maribyrnong River. 

Site layout and design 

The site has been designed to maximise northern aspect to ensure open space and all apartments and townhouses recieve optimal sunlight access. In the southern hemisphere, to optimise the energy of the sun for daylight and passive heating, buildings are best oriented to the north, and therefore south-facing apartments and townhouses have been minimized in each concept. It should be noted, that although apartments or townhouses with only south-facing frontages would be likely to receive less light, at Essendon Station, these may receive views of the city and therefore may be considered to offer a good design outcome beyond sunlight in any development which may occur on the site. 

Site coverage is minimised to enable a high percentage of landscaping which not only serves residents and softens the visual appearance of the site, but also provides environmental benefits particularly permeability of the site for storm water. Public open space and communal open spaces for residents in the form of courtyards and rooftops were maximized. 

It is envisaged that any development would be respective of the historic, architectural and social significance of the Essendon Station complex.