Development promoted for its sustainability given approval for untreated stormwater to flow into creek

A development promoted as “the world’s most sustainable shopping centre” has been approved to allow untreated stormwater run-off to flow into a local creek, sparking concerns about increased pollution in the Birrarung or Yarra River.

The 20-hectare Burwood Brickworks site on Middleborough Road, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, features a shopping centre and will include up to 750 homes.

The project has been given six stars, the highest category under a national sustainability rating scheme. 

The developer, Frasers Property, had initially planned to build a wetland on a retarding basin on a nearby road to treat the stormwater, filtering nitrogen and of other pollutants from the water before it flowed into Gardiners Creek or KooyongKoot, a tributary of the Yarra.

But Melbourne Water deemed the proposal unsafe.

Instead, the developers will pay $220,000 into a fund for stormwater offsets, to meet their stormwater quality obligations.

the outside of the Burwood Brickworks site. There is a sign with the name and a woolworths entrance.
The six-star Burwood Brickworks site will include up to 750 homes.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

That money will be used to treat stormwater anywhere in the catchment.

Last month, Whitehorse City Council approved the development plans with the contribution to the offset scheme instead of the wetland, despite concerns raised by the neighbouring Stonnington and Boroondara councils about water quality.

Concern about pollutants’ effect on wildlife

The Yarra Riverkeeper Association’s chief executive, Karin Traeger, said the outcome means more pollution will end up in the river.

“You have oil coming from car parks, litter, microplastics and different things and if we don’t treat that it’s going to become a big issue down the track,” she said.

She said polluted stormwater was one of the key issues affecting the health of the river, and the offsets program would not be enough to help.

a woman smiles at the camera. She is wearing glasses and has long hair. there is a creek behind her.
The Yarra Riverkeeper Association’s chief executive, Karin Traeger, says preventative measures are needed to protect the river.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

“We already know that offsets are not a solution, it’s a bandaid, we have to create actions that prevent the damage,” she said.

Graham Ross from the KooyongKoot Alliance said he hoped it was not too late for the council, developer and Melbourne Water to work with other levels of government to find a better solution.

“Gardiners Creek is one of the most polluted urban creeks in Melbourne and the cocktail of chemicals in it from bygone industries still exist, but here’s an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and rejuvenate the creek.”

a man wearing glasses looks at the camera. There is a creek behind him. He has short hair and wears a scarf.
Graham Ross from the KooyongKoot Alliance says Gardiners Creek is one of Melbourne’s most polluted creeks.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

He said while the creek may not seem very valuable, it was home to a lot of native species, including the rakali or native water rat.

“We also get a lot of birdlife, including gang-gang cockatoos, and eels which travel all the way up from the Coral Sea,” he said.

“But nitrogen levels and phosphate levels in the water can impact on wildlife and biodiversity.”

a stormwater drain on the bank of Gardiner's creek. the water is a murky brown colour and there are trees on the riverbank.
Stormwater run-off flows into Gardiners Creek.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Council options limited after wetland proposal rejected

At its June meeting, Whitehorse Council voted to approve the development without the wetland, despite council documents showing only 31.4 per cent of nitrogen will be removed — short of the target of 45 per cent.

Without the wetland, only 66.6 per cent of solids including rubbish and leaf litter will be removed — again, short of the target of 80 per cent.

The council officers recommended approving the development with the stormwater offset as the “only option available at this point in time”, given Melbourne Water had not approved the wetland and much of the development is now finished.

a sign out the front of Burwood Brickworks with the name of the development. It also shows part of a garden with a child in it.
Burwood Brickworks is promoted as the world’s most sustainable shopping centre and has a large rooftop garden.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

“Melbourne Water’s withdrawal of its support for the proposed wetland within its Eley Road retarding basin is a loss to the overall Burwood Brickworks development outcome,” council officers said.

In a statement, Whitehorse Mayor Tina Liu said the council would continue to advocate for the stormwater offset contribution to be spent on local projects.

A spokesperson for Melbourne Water said it gave “in principle” agreement to the planned wetland in 2016.

But when the developer submitted detailed plans in 2019, Melbourne Water became concerned the wetland could compromise the sewer system and lead to safety issues.

“Melbourne Water has explored all opportunities to reduce the high safety, asset and cost risks associated with this complex wetland proposal at the Blackburn Brickworks site,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

a wide picture of the creek, with lots of green foliage and trees. There are ducks swimming in the water.
Gardiners Creek in East Burwood, which flows into the Yarra River.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

In a statement, a spokesperson for Frasers Property said the decision for the wetland not to go ahead was between the council and Melbourne Water.

“Burwood Brickworks, through a combination of on-site and off-site measures, will more than meet requirements and achieve best practice storm water treatment,” the spokesperson said.

“The only difference to the original scheme is that the supplementary water quality treatment required off-site is now to be incorporated into a higher order wetland elsewhere in the same catchment, as required by Melbourne Water.”

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