Royal for sale

THE historic Royal George Hotel in East Fremantle is being lined up for sale to a private developer.

Owned by the WA government the iconic Duke Street property has been left to rot under the six-year stewardship of the National Trust.

Now, WA lands minister Terry Redman has confirmed to the Herald he’s ordered his department to consider the derelict property for the government’s asset sales program.

“The department of lands has been in discussions with the National Trust and Westbridge Property Group in an effort to determine the best use of the site which would add to the vibrancy of the local community,” Mr Redman says.

The hotel is on the state’s heritage register and held in “conditional tenure” by the Trust, which has come under heavy criticism for allowing it to fall into disrepair since wresting its management from East Fremantle town council. Tenants and artists were evicted in 2009 and the sprawling landmark building has been empty since, with vandals tearing out pipes and daubing walls inside and out with graffiti.

Mr Redman says the government informed the Trust of its plans late last year.

Town mayor Jim O’Neill doesn’t oppose the sale.

“I think to be realistic there’s a significant amount of money that needs to be spent on the Royal George and in the current environment I can’t see any government being able to spend the $5 million or so that’s needed,” he told the Herald.

He says if the building’s sold he hopes developers are prepared to work with his council and the community to do a sensitive restoration “as per the conservation plan”.

Fremantle Society president Henty Farrar, who’s sat on advisory boards for the council and once recommended it move its HQ to the hotel, is also backing the sale.

“It’s good that something is going to happen to it, and it’s got heritage protection so there’d be no massive changes to it,” Mr Farrar says. “Clearly the National Trust were incapable of marshalling the necessary funds.

• Simone McGurk MP and sculptor Tony Jones agree something needs to happen to the decaying Royal George hotel, but she’s dead against selling it and he’s not sure. Photo by Steve Grant

• Simone McGurk MP and sculptor Tony Jones agree something needs to happen to the decaying Royal George hotel, but she’s dead against selling it and he’s not sure. Photo by Steve Grant

“I think at one point the Trust had an enormous appetite and bit off more than it could chew.”

Mr Farrar hopes a corner or two of the hotel, such as a gallery space, will be opened to the public.

Fremantle state Labor MP Simone McGurk says anyone who cares about the hotel will “despair” about its potential sale.

“The big worry is that a private owner will have the town and the local community over a barrel when it comes to any development of this site,” she told the Herald.

“The George is of huge importance to the people of East Fremantle. As the current owners, the state government has a responsibility to ensure there is a feasible plan to restore it. Instead, they are using assets like this as a cash cow to fix their budget mess.”

Local sculptor Tony Jones has been involved with the George since the 1980s when Main Roads announced it wanted to bowl it over to widen Stirling Highway: community outrage led to the department having to curve the extension around the building.

“Personally I don’t know what the best solution is for the Royal George, other than it’s a scandal, a shame and a disgrace,” he told the Herald

Mr Jones says the Trust has “wasted everyone’s time”. He says CEO Tom Perrigo once ”swanned around drinking coffee” after assuring a George Street community group of his once-revered organisation’s commitment to the town.

The artist says whatever comes of the hotel, it needs to be “respectful, intelligent and community-based”.

Meanwhile, the scaffolding’s gone up this week on another ailing WA government asset in Fremantle: the first conservation works have started on the warders’ cottages on Henderson Street, which are being tarted up and sold one at a time, with profits from each sale rolled into the next property’s upgrade.


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