Kings Square deal ‘Freo Inc’?

WA premier Colin Barnett has reportedly compared aspects of Fremantle council’s Kings Square development to WA Inc.

Fremantle Society president John Dowson is adamant the premier made the comment when the pair met last Friday to discuss Freo-related issues.

Mr Barnett doesn’t deny making the comments, but says conversations with constituents are confidential. When the  Herald specifically asked if he thought the council’s involvement in the project was akin to WA Inc, his media team side-stepped the question.

Mr Dowson had taken the premier through a 37-page report outlining concerns the society has about the redevelopment, particularly valuations the council used to help unlock funding.

“I even double-checked with him that I could quote him, but he was looking extremely tired — it was the end of a week of long meetings and it was good of him to even meet with me,” Mr Dowson told the Herald.

He later circulated the comments to Fremantle Society members.

Mr Barnett later said his government was looking for a “simple arrangement” to move the Housing department to Fremantle; “someone that can build a building that is suitable and we will lease it”.

“Some of the proposals are quite complicated,” he says.

“That is a matter for the Fremantle city council, not a matter for the state government.”

On Wednesday the council voted to extend the contract with Sirona Capital, its Kings Square development partner, for another six months.

The extension was prompted by the WA government indicating a decision on moving the housing department may be made by August.

Cr Dave Coggin spoke passionately in defence of the council’s business plan for the square, saying he and his colleagues had investigated it extensively — including a final briefing last week — and they were confident the figures were sound.

First-term councillor Jeff MacDonald lodged the only “no” vote. He said he has doubts after listening to community concerns.

In the hours before the vote, councillors were CC’d into a threatening email from Fremantle Society member Richard Adams, the CEO of a debt collection agency

“Let me assure you that we will fully investigate the assets and liabilities of each and every one of those councillors involved in this once they move on it,” Mr Adams wrote to Mr Dowson.

“Just let us know when you’d like us to begin work.”

Cr Rachel Pemberton dismissed the threat: “I am happy to disclose my personal finances, but I think they should take their concerns to the CCC if they think corruption is underway,” she told the Herald.

The council’s deal has also attracted criticism from developer Gerard O’Brien, who wants Housing to set up at a redeveloped Woolstores Shopping Centre.

He’s recently submitted plans for a 12-storey mixed use development at the site, including a 142-room hotel.

Mr O’Brien told the Herald the council has been doing a good job under mayor Brad Pettitt but he feels Kings Square could have been handled differently.

“I believe the sale process of three strategic sites in the city (Queensgate, Spicers and the car park) should have been more transparent and it should have been offered to the market the same as Point Street was for all parties to bid on.”

The issue for Mr O’Brien is that if the council has sold its properties to Sirona for less than market value, it would effectively mean he’s competing with a council-subsidised bid.

“Remember these assets were purchased with Fremantle residents’ rates and are public assets and we need to ensure any sale gets the best results for ratepayers,” Mr O’Brien said.

by STEVE GRANT

Kate Doust 10x3

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