23 March 2020

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Summary of document

Over the next 8 years, the State Government will deliver North East Link. This project will complete the ring road between M80 and Eastern Freeway, increase capacity on Eastern Freeway and provide a dedicated express bus lane from Doncaster to the city. In addition, the project will provide numerous new and upgraded walking and cycling connections.

The Urban Design Strategy is an instructive design document that sets the urban design vision and quality expectations for all elements of the project. North East Link presents a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to produce outstanding urban design. We’re seeking world-class innovation and design excellence. This will provide a legacy project that looks beyond the road to improve amenity for all users and opportunities for future transport needs.

A year-long program of stakeholder engagement, urban design advisory, analysis and specialist studies has developed this Urban Design Strategy. Feedback and values-based information from the community have helped shape this document and highlight opportunities.

The project’s Urban Design Advisory Panel (UDAP) which includes urban design specialists from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect and the Department of Transport and Planning have provided invaluable guidance and in addition, our engagement with the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation has initiated a partnership that is a ‘Victoria first’ for a project of this size and complexity.

Urban design is about more than shaping the visual quality of the places that we live in. It is a process that also shapes amenity, the quality of user experience and the well-being of people and communities. Urban design also supports natural systems and cultural and heritage values. Urban design creates places and journeys, and it operates from the macro scale of arranging space to the micro-scale of noise walls and bridge design.

This project presents the opportunity to shape a significant part of Melbourne for residents and commuters alike. The process will assemble a collaborative team of the best engineering, urban design, architectural, landscape architectural and horticultural professionals to deliver a world-class connection to complete Melbourne’s missing link.

Victoria’s Major Transport Infrastructure Program

The Victorian Government’s Major Transport Infrastructure Program is one of the most significant investments in transport infrastructure in the state’s history.

The Major Transport Infrastructure Program comprises more than just road or rail projects; they are city-shaping projects to create a lasting legacy for Melbourne.

Incorporating the principles and practices of great urban design and engineering is a priority for the government’s investment to deliver a full range of benefits to Victorians.

Melbourne has been consistently rated as one of the world’s most liveable cities (by The Economist Intelligence Unit) and is internationally recognised as a leader in the design quality of its urban environment. The Victorian Government is committed to enriching this reputation with high-quality, innovative urban design outcomes in all its infrastructure projects.

Project description

North East Link is a proposed new freeway-standard road connection that would complete the missing link in Melbourne’s ring road, giving the city a fully completed orbital connection for the first time. The project would also upgrade and increase the capacity of one of Melbourne’s key road corridors, the Eastern Freeway.

North East Link is a priority project identified in the Victorian Government’s long-term metropolitan planning strategy, Plan Melbourne 2017-2050.

The new road would provide a safe and efficient transport connection to carry an estimated 125,000 vehicles per day by 2036, take ‘long-haul’ trucks off local streets and reduce congestion in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs.

The new link would connect the eastern suburbs to the northern and western suburbs, and Melbourne Airport. There would be quick and easy access for freight to move between industrial areas.

North East Link would also include the Doncaster Busway – Melbourne’s first dedicated busway. The project would also create opportunities to improve existing and build new shared use path connections throughout Melbourne’s north-east.

North East Link Project

In 2017, the Victorian Government established the North East Link Program (NELP) to plan and deliver the program. NELP is committed to providing high-quality design outcomes for North East Link as part of a legacy for a better, smarter, more efficient Melbourne and Victoria.

As part this commitment, NELP is collaborating with the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) to develop a design approach that includes:

  • Preparation of urban design documents to guide the planning, design and evaluation of the project.
  • Engagement with stakeholders and the community to inform the project’s design, including identifying key local considerations and opportunities to involve the community.
  • Use of expert design advice through the whole of project life cycle and retention of consistent design expertise from the OVGA, industry and stakeholders at all stages of the project, including development, procurement and delivery.
  • Use of an Urban Design Advisory Panel (which will include the OVGA) at frequent key milestones throughout the project life cycle.

Urban design vision


North East Link will provide the missing link in Melbourne’s freeway network, increase the capacity of the Eastern Freeway and take trucks off the local road network.

North East Link will provide an enduring positive legacy, connecting Melbourne and the communities of its leafy suburban north-east via a transport corridor integrated with the existing network.

The North East Link alignment will respond to the surrounding landscape, support local ecology and recognise the Yarra River (Birrarung) and its tributaries. The design must improve active transport along the alignment and acknowledge and value the identity of local places.

It must be thoughtfully considered to protect the physical and visual amenity of the local community, and to minimise the project footprint.

What is urban design?

Urban design is the practice of shaping the built environment to improve the quality and overall liveability of cities and towns. While urban design is often tailored for a specific project, the dynamic and evolving nature of urban environments means that realising urban design outcomes is a long-term process.

Urban design is about more than just the appearance of the built environment. It also relates to the functional, environmental, economic and social outcomes of a project.

Urban design operates on a variety of scales, from the macro scale of urban structures such as city-wide transport networks, to the micro scale considering elements such as lighting and noise walls.

Good urban design employs a multidisciplinary approach to create integrated and considered environments and involves many areas of expertise.

Why urban design is important

Urban design is important because of its potential to significantly influence:

  • the functionality, character and identity of public places for individuals and communities
  • integration and transport systems
  • active and public transport connections and user behaviours
  • the levels of comfort, accessibility, safety and inclusiveness of places
  • the expression of social and cultural values associated with places
  • the socio-economic composition, diversity and economic vibrancy of urban areas
  • the sustainability and resilience of urban environments
  • community connectedness, health and wellbeing, and pride of place.

Urban design in the North East Link project

North East Link is a significant and complex infrastructure project that would alter the urban fabric of Melbourne’s north-east. The design of North East Link must continue to support Melbourne as one of the most diverse and liveable places in the world.

Urban design has the single greatest influence on a project of this scale and is essential to positively shape the city. Urban design is integral to achieving the highest standards in design with an iterative and collaborative design process.

Embedding urban design thinking at the outset of the planning and design process for North East Link will ensure the wider social and environmental benefits of the project are achieved.

Purpose of this document


North East Link would be designed and delivered by the private sector following a competitive tender process.

This Urban Design Strategy establishes the expectations of the Victorian Government for what contractors must achieve with their design. The Urban Design Strategy seeks to ensure consistent, high-quality and context-sensitive urban design outcomes for North East Link while encouraging innovation and ideas from industry.

The purpose of this Urban Design Strategy is to:

  1. Establish and communicate the urban design requirements for the project.
  2. Ensure proposals are developed with integrated urban design solutions.
  3. Provide the framework for a performance-based assessment of Urban Design and Landscape Plans.

This Urban Design Strategy will drive:

  • urban design excellence to benefit the wider transport network, its users and the communities and places that North East Link passes through
  • positive outcomes that avoid or minimise negative impacts of the project
  • integration of high-quality urban design with effective technical solutions
  • collaborative, multi-disciplinary, integrated design thinking for all elements of the project with an urban design-led process.


Informed by the Environment Effects Statement (EES) process, this Urban Design Strategy will guide the planning and design of North East Link.

While the Urban Design Strategy sets the strategic direction and overarching urban design requirements for North East Link, it is not intended to communicate design plans or proposals.

As part of the planning approvals (secondary consent requirements), the contractors will develop Urban Design and Landscape Plans that respond to the Urban Design Strategy. These plans will be evaluated against the requirements set in this Urban Design Strategy and will be approved by the Minister for Planning.

The Urban Design Strategy articulates the urban design performance requirements for the project. Design proposals will be assessed against these requirements.

An Urban Design Advisory Panel (UDAP) has been established to provide ongoing expert design guidance and advice, and to advocate for high-quality design outcomes for North East Link. This panel includes members representing the OVGA and will meet regularly during the design and development process to assess the contractors’ design against the requirements and benchmarks set by this Urban Design Strategy.