FREMANTLE council shouldn’t restrict the free market and needs to stop behaving like a soviet politburo, say two of the city’s biggest landlords.
This week the council revealed it was considering modifying its town planning scheme to stop an over-concentration of fast food outlets and cafes in the city centre.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt says a major fast food chain had been snooping around the city and he realised the council had no power to stop it.
“We want a unique retail mix and to preserve Fremantle’s character,” he says.
Under the proposal, anyone wanting to open a fast food outlet or cafe would have to get discretionary planning approval and have their submission advertised for comment.
Justifying the push, council officers said a diverse range of shops would entice people into the city, while a cluster of eateries hindered foot-traffic.
But Anthony Van Der Wielen, who manages the Manning family’s extensive property holdings, says the CBD is on its knees and council regulation would make it even harder to fill empty shopfronts.
“In my opinion the city of Fremantle is currently overrun by far left academics and greenies with little to no representation on the council of anyone with extensive business knowledge or experience,” he says.
“It’s yet another policy that is unnecessary and has the potential to hurt the economy of our deteriorating CBD.
“Rents have more than halved in many places over the past few years and vacancy rates are too high.
“The people of Fremantle that I speak to are fed up with the current regime and hope we’ll see some change at future elections.”
Hanny Properties director Joseph Geha says the council should be trying to stimulate the economy, not policing hospitality.
“Agglomeration is one of the best ways of stopping over-proliferation of food outlets in other areas of the city and council’s proposal could end up being counterproductive,” he says.
“There are enough natural limitations to opening a cafe in Fremantle: many of the buildings are two-storey and heritage listed which limits extraction, and there is a requirement for many food outlets in Fremantle to have a grease trap which is difficult with the land.
“Often the properties on one street in Fremantle are owned by several landlords; so would it be a case of first come first served if one decided to have a cafe tenant ahead of the others?”
But the policy has been welcomed by some cafe owners, including Christine Breglia, who has run Piccolos on High Street for 20 years.
She says the city lost its identity when retailers started leaving in droves and the CBD is in danger of becoming a food-only destination, like Northbridge.
“I can see the logic in this because when they moved all the banks onto one street, it really hurt cafe trade across the city,” she says.
“Notre Dame is only around for six months of the year and without that, daytime cafes really struggle.
“Anything that encourages diversity is great, as it attracts more people into the city.
“We have the potential to be like the alleyways in Melbourne, with lots of interesting and cool shops.”
Local government minister Tony Simpson says the role of local government had evolved from the three Rs.
“The interpretation of ‘good government’ has evolved from an emphasis on roads, rates and rubbish,” he says.
“Many local governments have a diverse and significant role in the community, providing a wide range of services and facilities.
“All local governments, including Fremantle, are required to develop a strategic community plan and to consult with their communities about the approach to services and infrastructure reflected in that plan.
“Ultimately it is up to each community to decide on who they wish to represent their district through the biennial election process.”
The cafe limit proposal will come before council later this month.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK