THE business community’s faith in Fremantle council is in tatters, with the cancellation of the Australia Day fireworks the final straw, says the local chamber of commerce.
Chamber CEO Olwyn Williams says mayor Brad Pettitt has to start listening to local businesses, because 47 per cent of the city’s rates are from commercial, industrial and CBD business properties.
“We have real concerns now,” she says.
“The fireworks decision may be cast off by some as a single lapse in judgement by the city.
“The obvious and profound lack of understanding that this would have an economic impact is disturbing for the longer term.”
Ms Williams listed off a stream of projects where she believes the city has neglected the business community, including heritage listing the West End and closing the Cappuccino Strip.
“For decades the High Street mall has been an urban planning disaster and yet the desire to close the Cappuccino Strip to traffic, just 50 metres away, remains strong,” she says.
“A trial run of a one-block closure on Sundays across April 2016 saw the turnover of significant businesses on either side of the closure plummet by 50 per cent.
“Some at council were dismissive of that impact on business. People stayed away on droves.
“The chamber expressed grave concern at the lack of business case consideration by the city for the heritage listing of the West End of Fremantle, especially given the onus rests entirely on investment from the private sector.”
Ms Williams says while the Kings Square redevelopment and more CBD apartments will help Freo in the long run, the council needed a short-term strategy as well.
A recent chamber business confidence survey showed business owners were concerned about the number of East End shops with “For lease” signs in the window.
“We had meetings with the city about it, but the problems in the East End haven’t been dealt with quickly enough, and we’re still waiting for things to change.
“I mean this is the entrance to the city and we don’t want to end up creating a ghetto,” Ms Williams says.
“We need to make it safe and entice people to visit us — a lot of businesses are on a knife-edge down here.
“The city of Fremantle has been very proactive in encouraging small bars and maintaining or encouraging maintenance of entertainment spaces.
“The city probably has more live music venues than anywhere else than the metro area.”
Ms Williams said there needed to be a culture shift, as the chamber was always knocking on the council’s door and not vice versa.
“The fireworks exposed the situation where the council, including staff, are not coming to the CoC to gauge the economic ramifications their decisions will have,” she says.
“Most councillors I spoke to say they didn’t know about the fireworks until it came to committee.”
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt says he thought the council had a strong working relationship with the COC.
He says it’s healthy the council did not agree with the chamber on every issue.
“Listen, the fireworks were a divisive issue, and sometimes it’s good to have a robust debate,” he says.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK