‘Insensitive mediocrity’ on the rise

JOHN DOWSON is a former Fremantle deputy mayor and award-winning history author.

DID you see the front-page wrap around the Herald last week about a development boom in Fremantle (advertising dressed up as news)?

That is Fremantle council spending $10,000 of your money on blatant political advertising ahead of the upcoming council elections.

Did you read the letter inside the same issue from the mayor Dr Pettitt stating, “there are no factions on Fremantle council, let alone ones based on party politics”.

Is he serious?

The wraparound promises $1.3 billion of development, though Dr Pettitt’s advertising admits only $16.2 million has been delivered after six years of his mayoralty. Looking around to see what has been completed, the QV11 big box of small apartments at 11 Queen Victoria Street is the first of many promised large boxes to appear in the little town of Fremantle.

A senior real estate professional was asked for her opinion of the new box. She said the result was “ridiculously hideous”.  But, you were promised quality.

To get the development boom under way, the mayor and councillors trashed a perfectly good town planning scheme to allow developers large increases in height despite opposition from the majority of the community. Some of the big box proposals were in the West End conservation area, so the mayor simply reduced the boundaries of the West End, despite a $50,000 expert report stating the boundaries should be expanded.

The heritage of Fremantle is its primary economic attractor, with more than 3000 places on a heritage list capable of sustainably serving a wonderful place to live, work, and visit, if looked after and added to sensitively with an understanding of context and sense of place.

Instead of setting the example and maintaining its own heritage properties (your assets), the council has allowed them to run down to a dangerous degree. It has been unsafe for years to fly the Australian flag from the Town Hall, for example. What recent work that has been done by the council has often been highly controversial — replacing copper guttering at the arts centre with plastic, putting a tin roof on the 1854 boys’ school, and doing repairs to the facade, which have collapsed, at the historic Fremantle Markets.

Sadly, the West End of Fremantle, an internationally famous jewel, revered as one of the most intact 19th century port towns in the world, is now in grave danger from overly large and mediocre developments approved by the council at sites like Atwell Arcade and 8 Pakenham Street — and now 7 Henry Street is at risk of the same treatment. Precedent is everything in planning and the scene is unfortunately set for increased heights and more characterless new buildings in the West End.

The character of your West End is not replaceable. The damage is not reversible.

The West End is inextricably linked to the port, from which it got its raison d’etre.  But where is the implementation of the waterfront masterplan  for Victoria Quay which Premier Richard Court promised would be “a wide range of tourism, entertainment, education and business activity for people to enjoy” (Herald, May 13, 2000).

A few years back Fremantle council and the community fought hard against the overscale ING proposals for Victoria Quay and demanded the masterplan be implemented. There was leadership from politicians like state member Jim McGinty and federal member Carmen Lawrence against “a disproportionate box stuck on the quay” (Jim McGinty, April 2006). But, here we are in 2015 with the current council and local politicians supporting a larger commercial development on Victoria Quay than ING, one which will probably house the 1000 government workers the council has designed its King’s Square plan around.

Council’s heritage architect resigned in dismay a few years back at the anti-heritage direction the council has been taking. Dr Linley Lutton resigned from the council’s design advisory committee because of poor quality outcomes, and even the council’s director of economic development resigned because the council has changed its development plans for something much riskier.

Those latter concerns have been magnified by recent examination of the council’s business plan for the city centre, which has found a large hole in your financial assets.

The council’s business plan for King’s Square states, “the project derives a positive net present value to the city (enhancing community wealth)…”.

However, independent assessments claim $30 million of community wealth is actually being destroyed. Former mayor Tagliaferri called the deal with developer Sirona “crazy” and warned of a Freo Inc-style outcome.

Fremantle has a council hell-bent on implementing its particular version of developer-led revitalisation while you walk around a cluttered, grubby and graffitied town.

The insensitivity and mediocrity of many of the plans going through council seem to show the council’s $1000 an hour design advisory committee is impotent and unable to give us the sort of quality we have been promised, a future Fremantle that works well and looks well, and enhances our community identity.

Time for you to vote again.

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