Leeuwin’s future up for grabs

IT WAS standing room only at Labor’s public meeting over Leeuwin Barracks on Tuesday night. More than a hundred people showed up to East Freo tennis club to have a say on the future of the site.

The defence department announced it would sell the historic barracks in June last year, and the 15 hectare site on prime riverfront real estate was expected to fetch around $100 million for the commonwealth government.

However, community-minded East Fremantle neighbours are determined to have a say in how the site will be developed, and made it clear on Tuesday night that there’s little confidence in the goodwill of any potential private developer.

With concerns about towering blocks of apartments being dumped on the lush green hillside, people stood up to tell the panel of local, state, and federal representatives they wanted some kind of guarantee.

“It’s got to have a heart, it can’t just be pieces of bricks and mortar,” one lady said to rounds of applause; while another gent said he didn’t want an “Egyptian gin palace” across the road.

• Landscape architect Josh Byrne

• Landscape architect Josh Byrne

The Labor pollies present stressed they wanted the sale to be in the best interests of locals and not just to get the top return in government coffers.

East Fremantle Mayor Jim O’ Neill explained that although the sale is expected to be finalised next year, there’ll be a long process of community consultation before plans are finalised.

There was a range of views for what the public in the room wanted for the site: Some thought high-rise apartments would cause traffic along Riverside Road and impact amenities, while others said high-density housing on the hill would enable public open space closer to the river.

“Any developer is going to have to get its pound of flesh on that land, which means it’s got to have people on it…in my view, it’s much better to have high-rise than to cover it with little boxes,” East Fremantle resident John Bird said.

Fremantle landscape architect Josh Byrne (once a contender for Fremantle for Labor) was called up to do an impromptu presentation, and he also stood in the high-density camp.

“Low density development just gobbles up all the land…the trick is how we can get those numbers into infill sites. By getting height in there you get the opportunity to use the space around those buildings better…it’s an opportunity to do really cool stuff”, Mr Byrne later said.

Mr Byrne also called for trust in the planning process, because he says developers care about public perception and the council would work to make sure it was in the community’s interest.

East Fremantle council is working on a vision plan for the site, which will be presented to council in December.


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