Rates plan slam

Photo Placeby BRENDAN FOSTER

LIBERAL candidate for Fremantle Matthew Hanssen says Fremantle city council should accept responsibility for the “dying trade in he port city” and leave property owners alone.

Last week mayor Brad Pettitt announced he wants to charge landlords double rates when their shops are left vacant for more than a year (Herald, January 5, 2013).

Dr Pettitt says landlords with vacant shopfronts—particularly in high-profile areas—want too much rent and the penalty is an incentive for them to accept rent more in line with market expectations.

But Mr Hanssen, a local sustainability consultant, says the council, “needs to take responsibility for the state of affairs in Fremantle”.

“There is a definite correlation between the current council’s policies, the failure of many businesses and the dying trade in the Fremantle CBD,” he told the Herald.

“The mayor needs to understand that property owners must get a reasonable return on their investment otherwise there is no point in owning a business premises.

“The new announcement of the rates being doubled is just sheer greed on the part of the council and serves as a reminder of the damage the Greens are doing to the Fremantle economy.”

Dr Pettitt, like some councillors a member of the Greens, says Mr Hanssen is misreading the council’s intent.

“We are not punishing business but in fact supporting those businesses and owners that do the right thing by keeping their properties active and well used,” he told the Herald.

“We can’t have in Fremantle a small minority of landlords sitting idly on prime central Fremantle property, so they can benefit from the Fremantle renaissance as it unfolds in coming years without contributing themselves to making Fremantle an even better place.”

Landlords that can demonstrate genuine trouble leasing their properties can apply for exemptions to the double-rates policy and the council will treat favourably landlords who engage in innovative projects such as short-term pop-up shop leases.

“We are in the process getting legal advice on the ability of the city to this differential rate as local governments are restricted in how we can apply differential rates,” he says.

If the double rates plan clears the lawyers it’s almost certain to sail through council, with Crs Doug Thompson, Ingrid Waltham, Dave Coggin, Rachel Pemberton, Andrew Sullivan and Josh Wilson expressing support. Cr Sam Wainwright wouldn’t commit but said it sounded ok. Crs Bill Massie, David Hume, Tim Grey-Smith, Rob Fittock and Jon Strachan did not respond by deadline.

Cr Wilson, a Labor party member who chairs the council’s economic working group, says he doesn’t want to engage with Mr Hanssen’s “silly attack on council” and, while generally supportive, expresses some equivocation about the mayor’s plan.

“It’s certainly not helpful or community-minded when owners run dead with prominent business premises,” he says.

“But. . .I suspect it might be more symbolic than substantial—or to put it another way, more annoying than persuasive.”

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