A decade of debate: latest fury sparked over new plans for Beach Road bay trail

It sounds like a simple task: build a trail next to a road by the beach, for walkers and cyclists.

And yet for almost 20 years, completing this trail alongside some of Melbourne's most exclusive real estate, stretching in an arc from Brighton to Mordialloc, has proved too hard.

The latest instalment in the saga comes over Kingston Council's $3 million plan to complete "the missing link" in Beach Road's Bay Trail, a three-kilometre gap from Mentone to Mordialloc Creek.

The council wants to build the new link by slightly narrowing Beach Road for cars, to preserve more roadside trees and vegetation. The plan will keep two lanes of traffic in either direction. A total of 43 parking spaces will also go.

The plan for the entire length of the trail began in the 1990s and drags on to this day. The current proposal has sparked an outcry from residents, with about 200 voicing their concerns at a recent council meeting.

Some locals fear the current road-narrowing proposal would endanger cyclists and put cars in even more conflict with cyclists. Others argue that moving the bike trail off the road would degrade local vegetation - and that it's really about cutting down shrubbery to improve the views for those with beachside property.

The latest politically charged fight against the council's plan is led by Mentone resident Gavin Nolan. His Do Not Narrow Beach Road campaign has persuaded local Labor MP Tim Richardson to ask the roads minister to halt the plan.

Some of the bay trail is already complete - Mr Nolan knows because it runs past his Beach Road home. "That section works perfectly well now," said Mr Nolan, "with no narrowing of the road".

He wants Kingston Council to complete the remainder of the project in the same way, by removing vegetation and creating bike paths there rather than reducing road space or parking.

He says the new plan will see Beach Road narrowed by more than a metre at points. VicRoads has said it will support the council's plan, which narrows sections of the road at bus stops, pedestrian crossings and car park entrances.

Another councillor at Kingston who is stridently against the new proposal is Geoff Gledhill, also a Beach Road resident.

"You will have a narrower left lane," he said. "You will have bikes trying to travel up Beach Road, "and you will have the through traffic all crammed into one lane."

But one man who has been involved in the debate for more than a decade about extending protections for cyclists along all of Beach Road said it was ridiculous to see another hold-up in construction.

"Any road narrowing is very minor, and It's simply not going to endanger cyclists - any situation where parked cars are removed reduces the risk of being doored," said cyclist Boyd Fraser. "It's a big fuss about something that isn't going to have any effect on the amenity for local residents."

He questioned whether pushing the proposed bay trail back onto vegetation was really an attempt to clear views for homeowners. "For those well-heeled individuals that have those Beach Road properties, an uninterrupted view is important - it would add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of the property."

He said the Do Not Narrow Beach Road campaign sought to block the wider good: a bay trail that would help walkers, joggers, cyclists and cars travel more safely.

"A minority interest is trying to overtake the public interest. This is a microcosm of what happens more widely, where small numbers of residents put their own selfish interests ahead of the broader community."

Kingston's deputy mayor, Rosemary West, describes efforts to stop the new plan as "a scaremongering misinformation campaign" led by her fellow councillors.

Cr West, a long-time environmental campaigner, said attempts to stop the latest stage of the Bay Trail were about "removing as much vegetation as possible" to improve wealthy residents' views, not road safety.

She said Mr Nolan's bay view in particular was improved immensely as a result of the first stage of the bike paths.

Mr Nolan said photos being circulated of the before-and-after view from his house were drastically exaggerated and much of the vegetation had been kept.

Cr West said the roads minister should ignore local MP Tim Richardson, because the council only wants to narrow car lanes to VicRoads' own safety standards.

Mr Richardson insisted the council had put together its latest stage without properly consulting with residents.

"They need to bring the community along on the journey." .

The story A decade of debate: latest fury sparked over new plans for Beach Road bay trail first appeared on The Age.