No more status quo

GRACE MEGROZ is passionate about her hometown and has lived in Fremantle for all her 24 years so far. She’s a former head girl at Shenton College and a few years back represented WA in Australia’s most prestigious secondary school debating championships.

I DON’T need my “awareness” to be raised by a three-page advertisement in order to judge the quality of the current Fremantle council (as distinct from individual councillors).

The advertisement in the Herald two weeks ago was just another disappointment from a regime that is bleeding integrity: it dodges legitimate questions, it treats due process as an annoyance instead of an integral part of decision-making, and it seems to consistently prioritise third party interests over the say of ratepayers.

Amongst all of this, the council’s main problem is it has no vision for preserving and fostering Fremantle’s identity and character; the strengths that are key to Fremantle’s success. As such, we are doomed to undirected, thought-bubble policy and a failure to deliver on the basic responsibilities of local government.

Not convinced

“Freo 2029” you say? “The transformational moves document”, the schedule of workshops and community consultation — how can the council be expected to be guided by a vision before the “visioning” is finished? Given the council’s track record, I am not convinced that once the Freo 2029 process bears fruit, this council will be anymore inclined to act consistently with the outcome, than it has been to act consistently with any of its other policies.

But that aside, I think there are some things that are self-evidently vital to Fremantle’s identity, character and long-term success, and those should therefore already be part of every councillor’s vision and at the forefront of all council decisions.

What are these things? You could describe them in a number of ways, but broadly I think you can uncontroversially say Fremantle is special because of its tight-knit community, its heritage, its artist community, cultural institutions, and being a working city (a place that provides goods and services to the community).

Sadly, all these features are being eroded. It’s telling that the “Freo 2029 transformational document” mentioned the port, heritage and tourism in about three sentences in its foreword and then went on to provide pages of glossy colourful pictures of developments. It looks nice, but there’s little substance. The starting point should always have been an in-depth exploration identifying what is at the heart of Fremantle’s identity, its strengths and assets and a strategy to capitalise on those things.

The urban environment and infrastructure is integral to the well-being of our city, but plans for development should be informed by what we are trying to achieve and how we are trying to achieve it, and for that, the council must properly articulate a vision for the city (as opposed to providing hypothetical illustrations).

Alone, the superficiality of the “Freo 2029 transformational moves document” replete with PR-friendly images is perhaps not a condemnable offence. The problem is this document is indicative of the council’s broader problem, a complete lack of vision and articulation of a strategy for Fremantle, the result being the council habitually acts so as to undermine the identity, character, assets and strengths of Fremantle.

For example, despite touting heritage as a “priority” and an apparent appreciation for what we can learn from European cities, time and again the council approves completely insensitive developments, and has taken active steps to decrease our heritage-protected areas (see John Dowson’s Thinking Allowed piece of last week). The actions of the council fly in the face of embracing and protecting what is, beyond argument, one of Fremantle’s key assets — its heritage.

Instead of being a strong voice defending artists and cultural and community spaces like the Fly By Night Club, the council has decided to back other interests. Perhaps instead of spending ratepayers’ money on advertising, the council could have spent the money fostering spaces and opportunities for artists or community groups: $10,000 could’ve made a big contribution.

The Kings Square business plan also suffers from a lack of any connection with an articulated vision or strategy for Fremantle. Martin Lee highlighted this in his Thinking Allowed article of March 28, 2015, where he pointed out the plan “doesn’t even discuss the need for these new facilities, nor what alternatives were considered. It also provides nothing to support the sweeping statement that the project will be a catalyst for economic development”. The council has since explained the raison d’etre of the plan to be essentially a new visitors’ centre, new public toilets and baby change facilities, new public spaces and 1000 government office workers who, as recent reports suggest, are by no means guaranteed to take up tenancy in Kings Square.

If that is the starting point, the current plan is surely not the answer; it is independently assessed to have an NPV of about minus $30 million, requires the raiding of Fremantle’s long-term investment reserve, and by some accounts threatens the square’s heritage value.

The Kings Square business plan is yet another example of the council completely jumping the gun with a proposal that is not tailored to achieving any clear vision or strategy, and therefore actively undermines Fremantle through enormous opportunity costs.

Let’s not just have development for development’s sake, but quality development consistent with a strong vision and Fremantle’s interests; let’s not pander to every third party that promises to bring in people and money, let’s be discerning in the projects we are involved in. Let’s foster and preserve our identity, character and strengths so as to ensure a successful future. We can still save Fremantle, but the status quo cannot continue. There is an election in October, so it’s time to vote and to make it count.

35 Clancys 10x3

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