Barking up the wrong tree: opposition mounts to turn Murchison Park into off-leash dog area under council plan

Brendan Rees

The City of Melbourne will investigate the suitability of turning Murchison Square into an off-leash dog park during certain hours after concerns were raised the proposal would “completely alter the nature of the park”.

Councillors voted unanimously in favour at their Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on June 7 to consider designating eight new off-leash areas for dogs including Murchison Square in Carlton, Royal Park (Manningham Reserve) in Parkville, and Wellington Park in East Melbourne.

Under the proposal, dogs would be able to run around freely at Murchison Square and Wellington Park between the hours of 6pm and 8am every day – with no fencing.

At Royal Park, off-leash use would be outside of organised sporting activity with no additional fencing proposed.

The recommendation comes as a review of open spaces in 2019 and two phases of community engagement in 2021 identified gaps in off-leash provisions across the municipality.

A council report said while support for all proposals was strong through both phases of community engagement, round two “did reveal some opposition to the proposal at Murchison Square” including a 17-strong petition tabled last December.

However, the report noted there was “strategic justification for its use as the only appropriate open space for off-leash access in the gap area of the inner north of the municipality.”

Residents had an opportunity to speak at the council meeting which included Martin McIntosh who voiced his opposition to Murchison Square being converted to an off-leash dog area, saying it “perhaps feels a bit contrary to a significant contribution to the heritage value of the area.”

He said the park was a community space used by families and residents and many wouldn’t be able to have a picnic in warmer months if it became an off-leash dog park after 6pm.

“It’ll just completely alter the nature of the park aside from the heritage value. It will be narrowed by this to a particular community cohort other than [for who/m] it was originally intended,” he said.

Mr McIntosh said he believed the second round of consultation showed “residents are not supportive”, and the functionality and “criss-crossed” nature of the path to allow off-leash dog activities would be difficult to enforce.

Long-term Carlton resident Tom Benton also spoke at the meeting via video saying the proposal wouldn’t work at Murchison Square when he had already witnessed dog attacks and “people taking other people on in the park” over various issues including people not cleaning up after their dog.

He said one incident led to an altercation with the police being called.

Mr Benton also questioned how the council would enforce the rules of “off-lead dogs running everywhere” in a park that was surrounded by busy roads and frequented by cyclists and walkers.

“It’s going to be bedlam,” he said.

“Everyone is totally against it, and we’ll be taking it further if this gets through.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said he shared the reservations raised by residents about Murchison Square.

“It is a beautiful square, it is also a small square and some of the practicalities around it being a dog off leash area, I think we need to hear further advice on how those issues may be managed,” he said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said before any plan was put in place at Murchison Square, the council would “monitor dog behaviour, owner behaviour, proximity and interaction with shared paths and also proximity to traffic.”

The council will consider all proposed off leash dogs parks by the end of June before councillors vote on putting the recommendations into action.

Environment portfolio lead Cr Rohan Leppert said by reviewing the consultant’s report before the end of June, it would ensure “we’ve done our due diligence” and explored the time-access “properly” before making a decision that the community “is comfortable with”.

He said the review would also take into consideration a submission from the Friends of Royal Park and other stakeholders.

Cr Leppert added there was a dog off-leash problem next to Manningham Reserve “in one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the municipality”, which he believed should be made a dog prohibited area with signs installed warning the public.

The council meeting heard Macarthur Square in Carlton had been previously “tested” as an off-leash dog park but was not supported by the community. The Carlton Gardens was also considered but “didn’t feature prominently” in the Carlton Gardens Masterplan.

Other new off-leash areas include portions of Kingsway and Moray St Reserve in Southbank, Point Park and Ron Barassi Snr Park in Docklands, and Eades Park in West Melbourne.

Councillors were expected to approve the proposal at their June 28 meeting, shortly after Inner City News published its July edition. •


Caption: Dog walkers at Murchison Square, which could become an off-leash dog area.

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