The future of Fremantle’s historic warders’ cottages hangs in the balance, with premier Colin Barnett raising the possibility of selling the convict-built terraces.
Shadowed by security during a tour of the Henderson Street properties he believes the cottages, abandoned by the WA housing department in 2011, could each fetch up to $1 million once restored.
The Chook spotted Mr Barnett during his “low-key” walking tour of the fenced-off cottages and closed police station opposite Queensgate carpark.
The premier was impressed with the state of the warders buildings which he believes will not be “outrageously expensive” to restore. The National Trust reckons $6 to $8 million, or a cool $500,000 each.
“They are not in my view social housing,” the premier says. “Times have moved on. But restored, they could be part of a short-stay accommodation.
“Alternatively, if they were refurbished and if they were sold or leased long-term … this would be a fantastic place to live, the heart of Freo, beautiful heritage buildings.”
When asked what the government might chip in given housing has managed the property for two decades, he says, “they are government-owned, so we are not about to hand out money to third parties before we can decide what we do with them”.
The premier’s comments come at an important time in negotiations between the council and housing.
WA housing minister Bill Marmion says his department is drafting a lease agreement while the council prepares a full business case, which will need approval by the council before proceeding.
Mayor Brad Pettitt says the business case is, “probably a couple of months off yet”, and will be advertised publicly.
He says the council offered to take on the cottages in part to keep them in public hands.
The premier’s office later stressed there are still many options on the table but conceded they include private sale, lease or restoration as part of a hotel development.
Dr Pettitt confirms the council asked housing for funds (understood to be a couple of hundred thousand dollars) while it worked on the business plan.
Labor Fremantle MP Simone McGurk accompanied the premier on his tour. She says the government must immediately complete much-needed upgrades and, describing them as “heritage icons” opposes their sale. “We are custodians of these precious resources and we cannot fail in our responsibility to protect them for future generations.”
She says the Barnett government has a responsibility to provide funds to kick-start restoration linked to the World Heritage-listed prison.
by CARMELO AMALFI