In support of small councils

MICHAEL WILLICOMBE is a Fremantle architect who used to work for the Fremantle city council’s planning department, specialising in heritage. He says despite their faults, small councils are a lot better than the alternative.

GOD, if Perth isn’t bland enough as it is! Without sucking the last bit of local character out of its local communities and centres—Colin Barnett is a smart man.

He has perfected the art of divide and conquer.

By proposing large super council “options” he has succeeded in pitting councils against each other and created for himself a win-win situation.

If councils couldn’t organise [Cockburn] or just opposed the whole notion [East Fremantle] they would be toast.

If they couldn’t agree, well then that would be proof they needed his charitable help.

If some in councils acted in self-interest to try to save careers well, all the better.

While our country cousins have a  free “community” get out of gaol card [like the Monopoly word play?] to avoid all this sad nonsense we in the city obviously have no community, no sense, and need good ol’ Uncle Colin to help us see the light.

Note there are no development interests out in the country you see…

Yes, I want to say a word in support of small councils.

If you stand on Marmion Street looking east, on your right hand you have Fremantle with tall, ugly unpainted street lights that don’t even work, because they’re up in the trees.

On your left you have East Fremantle with nicely painted modest street lights [that actually work].

On your right in Fremantle you have broken old concrete paving slab footpaths the council can’t afford to replace, on your left in East Fremantle you have nice new red asphalt footpaths (cheaper than concrete) that actually flex with the growth of trees (rather than kill them and/or form large dangerous shear cracks like concrete which then have to be periodically and expensively ground down to avoid litigation!).

In the centre of East Fremantle you have a complete new redevelopment actually under construction, in accordance with a well-planned and designed policy.

Poor policy

In the centre of Fremantle… well ermm… you have a poor policy, no design, and nothing likely to happen for years—yes, don’t hold your breath people.

I for one would like to see one boundary change, and that is to move the boundary between East Fremantle and Fremantle back to its pre-1930 alignment of High Street.

This would bring East Fremantle Primary School back in to East Fremantle—progress!

While small councils have their faults (and I have a planning application stuck in Fremantle for five years pending now) larger councils are worse.

They’re less approachable, less accountable, and yes, less efficient, because they make more mistakes—this is something that won’t show up in the pure number-crunching government “funded” studies.

And this is looking from the outside… I had a friend in UK who ended up working in one of the new super councils there and he found it soul-destroyingly beauracratic.

Depressed, he would take his two weeks’ holiday and not bother to come back for a month, and no-one noticed.

Back to the amalgamations in general, what Colin did cleverly was create a starting point so ridiculous that any improvement would seem like a win (to those gullible…).

This is exactly where we are now.  Make no mistake this is no-win situation.

People should make no mistake these new proposed super councils are not about efficiencies at all (councils already share waste disposal etc, and large-scale developments are determined centrally), they are all about one thing: Creating an electoral system that is based on larger ward councillors who will be party/political/money-backed (of necessity), who will inevitably be more pro-development at the cost of our environment and sense of place character.

If super councils are created (and there is still hope) it will be a very expensive change indeed (many new facilities will have to be built—more state debt from Colin!) for no benefit and only detrimental effect on local communities and local character.

We can only hope now that some state politicians have the balls to say no this is not a good idea and a huge waste of money we don’t have.

Shame on all councils for not having the balls to simply stand together, just say no, and send the premier a clear message.

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