PART C - COMMUNITY
SECTION 4 Recreation, Trails, Safety, Community Involvement and Education
According to Parks Victoria, Open space is not only for recreation and conservation of environmental and cultural values; it is the foundation of urban liveability. It underpins many social, ecological and economic benefits that are essential to the healthy functioning of the urban environment. Open spaces are especially valuable assets in the built-up northern suburbs. They are recognised as being important for relaxation, health and well-being, and nature conservation.
The importance of physical activity to peoples physical and mental health is being increasingly recognised and documented. Active people are more likely to live longer, have lower risk of heart disease and stroke, and are less likely to suffer stress, anxiety and depression. Open space that is accessible and attractive encourages people to undertake various forms of exercise as part of their daily lives.
Contact with nature is positive for health in terms of recovering from stress, improving concentration and productivity and improving ones psychological state (Maller et al 2002). Open space areas along waterways provide a major opportunity for viewing and experiencing nature in the northern suburbs. Trends towards more intensive development and increased work-related stress indicate a growing need for these green areas of open space.
Parks also play a significant roll in fostering social connectedness, which is important for individual and community well-being.
The twin objectives of providing a habitat corridor following Merri Creek and its tributaries and a high quality linear parkland for primarily informal recreation are objectives which have driven the development of the Merri Creek waterway corridors for three decades.
Parks Victorias Linking People and Spaces strategy for Melbournes open space network specifically identifies the Merri Creek for:
- The protection, enhancement and where possible linkage of the significant riparian vegetation in order to establish a regional wildlife corridor.
- Definition and development of a new regional recreational and conservation park in order to meet the recreational needs of Craigieburn, Thomastown and Epping North.
- Extending the shared trail northwards initially to Barry Road, but in the longer term as far as Craigieburn Township and Malcolm Creek, as well as closing the gaps in the existing Merri Creek Trail south of the Metropolitan Ring Road.
Melbourne 2030, the State Governments strategy for metropolitan Melbourne aims to continue to protect the liveability of the established areas and to increasingly concentrate major change in strategic redevelopment sites.
- Policy 2.2 establishes growth areas on both sides of the Creek the Hume Corridor continues growth north from Craigieburn, and the Epping North Corridor north from Epping.
- Policy 5.6 is to improve the quality and distribution of local open space and ensure long-term protection of public open space. It establishes a Parkland Code which encourages planners to ensure that land critical to completion of open space links is transferred to public ownership for open space purposes.
- Policy 5.7 to rectify gaps in the network of metropolitan open space by creating new parks and ensure major open space corridors are protected and enhanced. Initiatives listed include reserving land for a new Merri Creek Regional Park, and the extension of the Merri Creek Parklands chain of parks to Craigieburn.
Population is increasing quickly in the outer suburbs. For instance, within the City of Whittlesea, population has increased from 118,292 in 2001 to 132,155 in 2006 and is expected to increase to 154,230 by 2011 and to 199,012 by 2021. The Epping North area, which falls almost entirely within the Edgars Creek sub-catchment of the Merri catchment, and includes the development of Aurora, has increased from 228 in 2001 to 2,568 in 2006 and is expected to increase to 10,145 in 2011 and to 28,960 in 2021.
In the City of Hume, population is increasing at a rate of 1.9% per annum. It is anticipated that by 2011, there will be a further 35,399 people living in Hume beyond the municipalitys 2005 population of 154,213. The Hume Growth area is expected to grow by 52,000 people by 2021.
Urban growth and industrial development in these two municipalities within the Merri catchment will be focussed on the Epping North area in Whittlesea (affecting the Edgars Creek catchment) and the Craigieburn to Mt. Ridley area (affecting the Malcolm Creek catchment and parts of Kalkallo and Merri Creeks).
Population growth and urban expansion are strong reasons why a new regional park is needed in the Merri Catchment.
In addition to the identified urban growth areas, Mitchell Shire (which includes the headwaters of the catchment) is experiencing strong population growth. The Wallan Structure Plan estimates that by 2030 Wallan will have grown from 5411 people in 2006 to 18477 people, an increase of approximately 13,000 people. The open space corridors of Merri Creek and its tributaries form an important recreational resource for residents south of the Great Dividing Range. The parks adjacent to Wallan Creek and Taylors Creek in Wallan already are important recreation areas. Mitchell Shire is preparing a strategy for Taylors Creek which should clarify open space opportunities.
The massive expansion of the urban boundary which might result from the Melbourne @ 5 million investigation may see the population of the Merri catchment skyrocket well beyond the figures mentioned above.
State Government planning for the new Merri Creek Park commenced in 2002, and a draft concept plan was released by Parks Victoria in February 2006. According to Parks Victoria no final concept plan is to be released, but a management plan is being prepared. No formal start had been made to the Parks establishment as of July 2008. Parks Victoria has proposed the name Merri Creek Parklands for the park, however this name is already used for the network of parks south of Mahoneys Road. A Wurundjeri representative has proposed the name Marran baba for the Park, which has been adopted by the MCMC Committee.
The State Planning Policy Framework clause 15.10 identifies an objective to Assist creation of a diverse and integrated network of public open space commensurate with the needs of urban communities and rural areas. It says that networks should be used for recreation and conservation of natural and cultural environments, and that the networks are:
- linked through the provision of walking and cycle trails and rights of way,
- integrated with open space contributions from abutting subdivisions, and
- incorporate, where possible, links between major parks and activity areas, along waterways and natural drainage corridors, connecting places of natural and cultural interest, as well as maintaining public accessibility on public land immediately adjoining waterways and coasts. 
All of the Councils in the Catchment have prepared Open Space Strategies. All of these strategies recognise the potential of Creek corridors including the Merri and its tributaries as habitat corridors and recreational parkland. Mitchell Shires strategy foreshadows a possible trail connection from Wallan to the Merri Creek Trail.
Three studies were carried out in 1993 in preparation for the Merri Creek Concept Plan (which evolved into the Merri Creek and Environs Strategy) to help to understand the communitys expectations of the Merri Creek Parklands. Jan Bruce & Associates undertook customer research by surveying 587 residents living within 500m of Merri Creek downstream of Barry Road to ascertain their views on the Creek and surrounding parkland. Context Pty Ltd & Diversity Coalition consulted with young people and culturally and linguistically diverse groups, and Context Pty Ltd & Loder & Bailey Consulting Group examined recreation and access needs.
These reports made a number of recommendations which are discussed (along with other information) in the following sections.
Chapter 4.1 below deals with community involvement and education
Chapter 4.2 deals with informal and sporting recreation in the Merri catchment Corridor.
Chapter 4.3 deals with the Merri Path and its maintenance and development, and access to parkland.
Chapter 4.4 deals with public safety within the Merri catchment waterway corridors.
City of Whittlesea (2008) Sustainability Planning: Statistical Bulletin Population Characteristics Vol 2 No 13 June 2008.
Context Pty Ltd and Diversity Coalition (1993). Community Consultation Report, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.
Context Pty Ltd and Loder and Bayly (1993). Recreation and Access Study, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.
Government of Victoria (2002) Melbourne 2030: Planning for sustainable growth.
Jan Bruce and Associates Pty Ltd. (1993) Customer Research Report on Survey of Local Residents, Prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.
Maller, C, Townsend, M, Brown, P and St Leger, L (2002) Healthy Parks Healthy People: The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context. A review of current literature. Report to Parks Victoria and the International Park Strategic Partners Group. Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences, Deakin University, Melbourne.
Mitchell Shire Council (2005) Mitchell Shire Council Recreation and Open Space Strategy, report prepared by @leisure for Mitchell Shire Council.
Mitchell Shire Council (2007) Draft Wallan Structure Plan, version 1, 6 September 2007.
Parks Victoria (2002) Linking People and Spaces: A Strategy for Melbournes Open Space Network
Parks Victoria (2006) The Proposed New Merri Creek Park Draft Concept Plan February 2006.
 City of Whittlesea (2008).
 Hume City Council Population Estimate June 2005
 Mitchell Shire Council (2007)
 The SPPF forms an identical part of each municipalitys planning scheme and can be accessed through the web, e.g. http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/planningschemes/whittlesea/home.html
 Mitchell Shire Council (2005) Page 69