RICHARD MEHAN is an inner-city resident and member of FICRA.
SUNSET EVENTS has recently signed a 21-year lease with the City of Fremantle which gives it control over a significant part of Arthur Head, including the J Shed building.
The A-class reserve area is directly below the iconic Round House and enables access between the port, South Mole, Bathers Beach and the West End of the city.
The development plans described by the city, Sunset and its consultants are for an 850-patron tavern and a fenced-off, live music, fully licensed outdoor concert venue for no fewer than 1500 people.
The proposal is for at least 12 concerts of 12 hours’ duration each summer in addition to the operation of the tavern.
Sunset’s consultant, CODA, in its submission to the council seeking planning approval, says: “The proposal does not constitute a major re-development or change of use on the land.”
What breathtaking nonsense! It constitutes a radical change from a heritage precinct attracting tourists and locals to yet another largely outdoor entertainment site whose prime purpose is profit from the sale of alcohol.
For the past 18 months a coterie of city officials and councillors has been enthusiastically supporting this proposal, ignoring opposition from the overwhelming majority of nearby residents and stakeholder groups including the Fremantle Society and History Society.
The Sunset proposal raises serious issues in terms of noise, alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, health and safety matters, parking, access, visual amenity and more. None of these have been properly addressed by the proponent, we feel.
In its supporting documents, CODA goes on to say the proposal is “generally compliant with the City’s planning policies”. That is, of course, if we ignore the fact it is totally at odds with the City’s own much-vaunted alcohol management policy that supports intimate small bar venues, not large outdoor tavern venues, as the responsible way of the future.
As disturbing as all this is, another twist in the tale was revealed last week in a letter from the council to residents seeking responses to the proposed development.
Realising the proposal will attract strong opposition during the liquor licensing process, resulting in potential project delays, Sunset has come up with another plan, called “Proposed Temporary Activation of the J Shed”. Sunset plans to commence the live concert venue with the first event on or after October 1 this year — less than six weeks.
If you read the details under “Community Engagement” on the city’s website you will find no management plan other than a cut-and-paste from the annual Laneway festival. None of the legitimate community issues are dealt with properly, the proposition being that Sunset will not only be allowed to take over Arthur Head for all-day licensed concerts beginning almost immediately, but also host weddings, parties and anything else on any day of the week at Sunset’s discretion.
And what of the liquor licence for these ambitious events? This is notionally to be provided by an associate company, Independent Events, under its existing catering licence used by Sunset for its Blues and Roots and Jerome concerts. But these are one-off annual music events and not at all what Sunset is proposing for its Bathers Beach tavern. It remains to be seen whether the WA liquor commission will be happy with this situation.
It beggars belief that a developer can expect to rush through an extremely socially sensitive licensing proposal on the basis of its past record running one-off events in the city and without the discipline of a rigorous planning and disclosure process.
This proposal flies in the face of progressive contemporary thinking about alcohol consumption and its social impact, especially among younger people in large venues.
Herald readers might look to recent and consistent comments by the police commissioner and recent stories and commentary in the West Australian newspaper.
The project is being dressed up as something that “will stimulate the City’s vision for the area as a major arts hub for Western Australia”. It should come as no surprise that none of the resident J Shed artists nor anyone else from the WA arts community has rallied behind this phony banner.
Providing a venue for popular music is not the same as promoting painters, sculptors, photographers and other artists.
Fremantle does not need another large tavern or outdoor entertainment precinct. It has plenty of these already.
Fremantle needs more permanent residents and ratepayers attracted by its unique ambience, not more large, crowded venues whose primary purpose is the sale of alcohol.