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Halting the Melbourne Airport Rail Link has jeopardised an Andrews government commitment to spend $223 million on Sunshine and Albion stations, with fears that failing to deliver the work on schedule will stymie an economic boom in the city’s west.
Sunshine and Albion stations were set to be redeveloped as part of the $13 billion airport rail project and intended to help trigger business and housing investment and turn the disadvantaged area into the “capital of Melbourne’s west”.
Shefton Parker from the Greater Sunshine Alliance. Credit: Jason South
But work on the long-awaited airport rail train ground to a halt in May when the Albanese government launched a review into the former Coalition government’s infrastructure spending commitments.
Victoria’s government has confirmed delivering the two station upgrades also hinge on the federal review, which could result in Airport Rail being significantly delayed from its original 2029 completion date.
“Decisions on other interrelated projects will need to be made once we get the details of the review,” Transport and Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said when asked about Sunshine and Albion at a press conference two weeks ago.
A spokesman for Allan said on Thursday that the government was committed to the station upgrades, but could not say when they will be completed. “We’re working to finalise plans, designs and delivery timelines and we’ll have more to say about these important projects soon,” he said.
Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull committed $5 billion in Commonwealth funds for the Airport Rail in April 2018 and Premier Daniel Andrews matched it three months later.
Developers say uncertainty about the station works is holding back investment in the area. Credit: Jason South
In October last year, a month before the state election, the Andrews government separately pledged $143 million for Sunshine Station upgrades and $80 million to rebuild the decrepit Albion Station by 2026.
Greater Sunshine Community Alliance representative Shefton Parker said locals were already disappointed the original concept for the Sunshine Station “super hub” had been pared back and now feared the work might not happen at all.
“There’s a lot of community uncertainty as to what the current environment means for any promises that were made to the Sunshine community,” he said. “The community expects promises to be kept, regardless of Airport Rail.”
A government concept image of the upgraded Sunshine Station bus interchange and station entrance, released in October 2022. Credit: Victorian Government
Uncertainty about the two stations comes as government sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said western suburbs Labor MPs are increasingly concerned about a string of promised infrastructure projects in the west being cancelled, delayed or thrown in doubt.
The first phase of works at Sunshine included a new bus interchange, a new northern station entrance with a “civic plaza” forecourt, and office and retail developments on the site of the existing Station Place bus interchange, which would extend the city centre to connect with the station.
Sunshine’s southern entrance was also set to be rebuilt along with another regional rail platform so Bendigo V/Line trains could stop there, providing access to local businesses and services, and connectivity to suburban trains and – eventually – the airport.
Plans for the new Albion Station have not been released, despite state budget papers saying it would be built by 2026. The City of Brimbank wants direct access to the station from surrounding streets and the underpasses connecting north of Ballarat Road, where large areas of land are earmarked for development.
Brimbank mayor Bruce Lancashire said a pipeline of residential and commercial investment in the area depended on the station upgrades and airport link going ahead.
“The redevelopment of Sunshine Station and Albion Station are much more than transport projects,” Lancashire said. “[They are] much-needed infrastructure projects that provide a unique opportunity to break the cycle of intergenerational unemployment and disadvantage in Melbourne’s west.”
Brimbank is the second most disadvantaged local government area in greater Melbourne.
Developers have approval to build four hotels, 3300 homes and 16 high-rise apartment and office buildings in the area – including a 10-storey office building at the site of Sunshine Marketplace site, which could house about 1200 workers.
Redeveloping Sunshine Station is considered crucial to encouraging employment and investment in the area. Credit: Jason South
Commercial and residential development is also proposed for another 46 hectares of land around Albion Station in an area called the Albion Quarter, which is adjacent to the planned $500 million Energy Park sporting complex.
One property developer working in the area said developers were struggling to attract business tenants and home buyers because of the uncertainty about the station upgrades.
“It’s very difficult to get people to buy into the vision if they don’t see anything happening,” the developer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to damage relationships with the state planning authorities.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King received the infrastructure review’s report last month and is now discussing its findings with states and territories.
“No decisions have yet been taken as part of those discussions,” a spokeswoman for King said. “The proposed Melbourne Airport Rail link is an important infrastructure project for Victorians.”
The airport rail line would have included a new station at Keilor East and delivered transport benefits across the western suburbs.
The Age also revealed last month that new rail tracks promised for Wyndham and Melton have been cut from government plans.
Lancashire said the airport rail project should be prioritised ahead of the Andrews government’s flagship $34.5 billion Suburban Rail Loop East, which would serve wealthier suburbs between Cheltenham and Box Hill already well-connected to public transport.
The federal infrastructure review did not include the SRL East because Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed $2.2 billion to the project before the 2022 election. Labor election commitments were excluded from the review, the spokeswoman for King said.
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