The $15.8 billion North East Link has got the Planning Minister's tick of approval, after he dismissed many of the findings of an independent panel who had spent weeks assessing the project's effects on the environment.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne has signed off on what will be Victoria's most expensive road, despite its impact on 53 hectares of open space, the loss of nearly 800 jobs and a "protracted construction period" that will be so unpleasant that more homes may need to be bought.
Mr Wynn found that the "project’s adverse environmental effects can be appropriately managed and will be acceptable considering the project’s significant benefits".
The minister was responding to findings by an independent panel that oversaw nine weeks of hearings into the environmental impacts of the new toll road.
In a 500-page report released on Thursday morning, the Independent Advisory Council has sharply criticised the project's impact on the liveability of tens of thousands of people who live along the sensitive corridor in Melbourne's north-east.
"This project needs to successfully resolve the tension between road functionality, infrastructure and safety with community liveability, landscape character and economic prosperity in this sensitive corridor," the report stated. "It has not yet struck this balance."
Mr Wynne has rejected three key recommendations put forward by the panel, citing cost and the need for more land acquisitions.
These recommendations were to extend the length of the tunnel to minimise impacts on jobs, avoid surface works at Simpsons Barracks to reduce any impacts on trees and wildlife and move the launch site for the massive tunnel boring machines away from residential Borlase Reserve to reduce impacts on the people who live there.
“I am also not satisfied that the overall environmental outcomes of the project would be improved if these aspects are implemented," the minister found.
The independent panel said that the twin tunnels built beneath Bulleen must be extended further northwards to Grimshaw Street in Watsonia to avoid negative impacts that five years of construction would have on businesses in the suburb.
This would help balance out the "unprecedented" destruction of local jobs needed to build the toll road, with the project set to acquire 102 businesses in the Bulleen Industrial Precinct, the panel stated.
The advisory council says that considering "the unprecedented scale of the loss of a whole industrial area and the particular characteristics of the industrial precinct, it is incumbent on the proponent and state to mitigate this impact to the maximum extent possible".
More to come...