FREMANTLE council wants the WA government to give it the crumbling warders cottages for free.
At the strategic and general services meeting on Wednesday night mayor Brad Pettitt moved that the council write to Homeswest—which abandoned the Henderson Street cottages in 2011—to reject its offer of a 50-year peppercorn lease and ask for the titles of the 1850s buildings to be transferred to Freo gratis.
The council has looked at turning the 15 buildings into Rotto-style accommodation, but that won’t come cheap. The city’s bean counters have estimated restoration at $7.5m and an annual $200,000 bill just to maintain their exterior.
Given their income would be $432,000 each year, it would take the council more than 30 years to recoup its investment—and that’s with no-interest loans which Homeswest has already said the state government is unlikely to consider.
“It is clear that the high expense of fixing them means even a long lease makes it unpalatable for Fremantle’s ratepayers,” Dr Pettitt said.
“If Fremantle ratepayers are going to need to invest over $7.5m fixing the cottages then a better outcome will be for Fremantle ratepayers to ultimately own them.”
The council is still hopeful the Barnett government will chip in towards the restoration costs—given it oversaw the buildings’ deterioration—but they’ve been getting the cold shoulder and the last offer was a paltry $300,000.
SGS chair Andrew Sullivan says a staff report makes it clear the council needs at least $3 million from the state government in order to make any loans it takes out viable.
But the report also flagged the sale of some or all of the cottages, and developing the backyards. In 2012 while most people were gearing up for Christmas, the council voted to allow the carve-up and individual sale of the cottages, a motion which is still on the books.
Dr Pettitt later told the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association there was no need to rescind the motion because the council was only getting a lease from Homeswest, but if it’s got freehold it could be a game-changer.
The staff report said the sale of one or two of the cottages could be used to fund the restoration of others, although Cr Sullivan is adamant the council wants the cottages in public ownership.
He says the city is the “only authority with a serious intent and the capability to conserve the cottages and bring them back into productive use”.
“The warders cottages are some of the most important heritage buildings in our city and they are currently laying waste giving visitors a terrible impression,” he said.
“They are also close to the core area of our most strategically important Kings Square redevelopment and so I’m keen to see these heritage icons restored and reactivated as the icing on the cake,” Cr Sullivan told the Herald.
by BRENDAN FOSTER