Victoria

Booming Box Hill in desperate need of new railway and bus station: council

Once it was paddocks for grazing cows, and orchards dotted the area's rolling hills.

Today, it is Melbourne's fastest growing activity centre outside the CBD, with thousands of new apartments under construction and population growth of 26 per cent.

But Box Hill has a big problem, the local Whitehorse Council says: its dysfunctional and jam-packed railway station, and the clapped-out bus interchange above it.

Box Hill was the key place outside the city centre where growth and government investment would be concentrated, the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works decided in 1954.

If only board members could see it now: a frenzied pile-on by developers begun in recent years near the suburb's railway station has meant apartment towers proposed at previously unheard of heights – the latest is for 34 storeys.

And the council estimates at least $1.1 billion worth of construction money will pour into the area over the next four years.

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The 1985 opening of Box Hill railway station was a glittering moment in the suburb's history.

"My dad's company, it did all the engineering for the project, so I've been hearing about how good the engineering is on Box Hill station for 35 years," says transport consultant Chris Hale.

Structurally, the huge station and shopping centre run by retail giant Vicinity might be doing just swimmingly. But as a transport hub, it's failing, he says.

Whitehorse Council commissioned Dr Hale, an expert on station design, to write a review of how Box Hill station functions as a transport hub.

Extremely poorly, says his report, handed to the council just before Christmas.

More than 6 million train and bus passengers came through Box Hill last year but Dr Hale says they traversed a station that was never designed for a life cycle beyond the 30 years it has now clocked up.

His report proposes three options: improving the rail and bus stations, a refurbishment of both the stations and the shopping centre if Vicinity – which owns Chadstone, Northland and 25 other Victorian shopping centres – will play ball, or a dramatic demolition and reconstruction of the entire area.

The report urges the Andrews government to fund a business case in this year's state budget for the renewal of Box Hill.

Redevelopment would, Dr Hale's report found, add $188 million in direct transport-related benefits, and over time underpin a further $3 billion of broader economic benefits.

Robyn Doble, the archivist from the Box Hill Historical Society, says the area has undergone big changes since the 1970s. "Prior to that, it was a pretty sleepy suburb."

A group to advise Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan has now been set up, following a pledge from Labor in 2014, and it will help inform the government's next steps on the interchange.

Whitehorse Council's city development general manager Jeff Green, who is on the ministerial advisory committee, says the station has not had a major refurbishment since opening in 1985.

He says the shopping centre is a success, but the rail and bus stations perform very poorly in peak times. "The access is very poor, especially for the disabled and parents with prams. It's an inadequate piece of infrastructure for where Box Hill is now."

Mr Green compares the funding from the NSW government for the redevelopment of Parramatta. "[It] has become Sydney's second CBD. That's what we'd hope to achieve in Box Hill."

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