Time for city to get its skates on

• Fremantle council’s chambers were overflowing with skaters on Wednesday night, who’d come out in support of the skate plaza on the Fremantle Esplanade.

• Fremantle council’s chambers were overflowing with skaters on Wednesday night, who’d come out in support of the skate plaza on the Fremantle Esplanade.

FREMANTLE was split along generational lines this week as the council grappled with turning part of the Esplanade reserve into a skate plaza.

Gen-Y triumphed, with 120-odd skateboarders and their parents packing the council chambers and spilling into the corridor on Wednesday evening to see an almost unanimous vote to progress with the plaza. Hilton warder Bill Massie was the only fly in the ointment, saying he was concerned about anti-social behaviour.

Councillor Dave Coggin, who’d championed the plaza, acknowledged he’d been rattled by a meeting heavy with Baby Boomers the night before, where mayor Brad Pettitt had been heckled over the proposal.

But the 40-odd, polite young people who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting had calmed his nerve, he said, convincing him the plaza wouldn’t usher in an era of lawlessness but send out the welcome mat to a new generation of families.

His short speech earned him thunderous applause from the gallery.

Ironically, as many of the excited youngsters streamed out of the meeting after the decision (an unusually high number on crutches), they came face-to-face with a couple of older drunks loitering in Kings Square.

The only concession the Baby Boomers won on the $2 million plaza, which they’d wanted located elsewhere, was the council voting to try and replicate the “amenity” of the park’s grass mound, which will go. Almost 200 portsiders had gathered at the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association event at Notre Dame University’s Tannock Hall on Tuesday to thrash out ongoing issues with Arthur Head, the warders’ cottages and the skatepark.

Dr Pettitt—a keen skateboarder—told the crowd 21 per cent of young people were skateboarders, which sparked loud jeering and laughter.

“Speak to the [Australian Bureau of Statistics],” Dr Pettitt said, chewing on his gum as the grey-haired mob continued to shout him down.

“There is a growing demand in our community and we are not here to destroy the Esplanade,” he said.

FICRA member Chris Grisewood, an arch-critic of the skate park, says the council was completely ignoring its own master plan for the Esplanade, written just four years ago after exhaustive consultation.

“Council needs to listen to its residents,” he says. “This isn’t rabble-rousing 101.”

But at Wednesday night’s council meeting, councillor Andrew Sullivan said the plaza did fit within the scope of the park’s conservation plan as long as it was placed in the corner created by infill in later years.

During Tuesday’s meeting, FICRA also passed resolutions relating to the warders’ cottages (support for restoration, not keen on council paying) and Arthur Head (more respect required of the place’s history).

Chair Dick Baynham wrestled with the crowd as they shouted out suggested amendments while Dr Pettitt and his councillor chums sat quietly, smiling at some of the reworded resolutions.

The mayor came under fire again later in the evening when, during talk on the Arthur Head arts hub plan, he asked to see a show of hands of how many in the crowd visited the Round House.

Cheryl from the Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides grabbed the microphone, angry the mayor had “the audacity” to say no-one went through the Round House.

“We had 120,000 people come through the Round House last year,” she snarled. “I am so offended. I can’t believe it.”

The meeting resolved to support the expenditure of $6 million restoring the warders’ cottages in Henderson Street, but want premier Colin Barnett to be asked to put up the money when he visits the cottages with FICRA in the next fortnight. The resolution demanded the council “explain how it is in ratepayers’ interests for council to borrow $6m to fix the cottages”.

Dr Pettitt said the council could either leave the cottages with the government, or take the job on itself: “They could burn down or be vandalised [if left alone] and if council did them up it would be cost-neutral for ratepayers,” he argued.

by BRENDAN FOSTER and STEVE GRANT

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