A 300,000 drop in CBD foot traffic over one calendar year is an indication Fremantle council has its priorities wrong and needs new leadership, says chamber of commerce board member Ra Stewart.
Ms Stewart announced this week that she would be running for mayor in this October’s election, the first to throw their hat in the ring. The Chook caught up with her just after a chamber meeting where the foot traffic statistics were presented, which she describes as “really concerning”.
“One of the issues is, I believe, that the city’s marketing strategy has been myopic in that it preaches to the converted about how wonderful Fremantle is, but it needs to get those people from Hilton and Samson to reconnect.”
She claims the drop in foot traffic, which was recorded between 2015 and 2016, is an indication ratepayers in those suburbs are unhappy with the heart of the city and abandoning it in droves.
“The city has been run down a lot in the last four years,” she says.
“And if it’s this run down now, what’s it going to be like in two years with all the disruption from the Kings Square redevelopment?”
Ms Stewart says she’s deeply concerned that the city has over-committed itself with the $220 million project, but says that without seeing contracts, she won’t commit to pulling the pin if elected.
“Sirona is pretty sophisticated and I believe they would be secure,” she says.
But she says there were concerns at the chamber when the council recently presented its 10-year economic plan.
“The city’s projections were based on the most positive scenarios and unless the state government sorts out the GST issue in the next 12 months the next three to five years are going to be particularly challenging for everyone.”
She says she’ll be pushing for an independent audit of the council’s finances, similar to one proposed by Perth city council.
Ms Stewart is being backed by former mayor Peter Tagliaferri, and reiterates his concerns about the council selling too many assets to pay for the square development.
She says with the state’s dire economic situation, it was inevitable household utility prices would rise, and if Freo raised rates above inflation because it had over-extended itself, people such as retirees, single mothers or those with disabilities would struggle to survive.
“I believe $3.5 million has been identified as savings which need to be made to balance the budget — which is to come from recurrent expenditure — which means people will lose jobs and then you question how the city will deliver its baseline services.
“I have a lot of questions, none of which have been answered comprehensively.”
She says her decision to run was sparked by an opinion piece in the Herald critical of the council’s decision to cancel its Australia Day activities.
Ms Stewart says while she agrees the thorny issue of colonialism needed discussing, she was incensed the council didn’t approach the chamber of commerce or businesses before making the decision.
“It was so divisive; it was divisive in the Aboriginal community, it was divisive in the broader community.”
She said the feedback from her opinion piece was overwhelming, then a few people whose opinions she trusted suggested she take it a step forward and run for mayor.
Ms Stewart says she’s got a very broad network throughout Fremantle and believes many sections of the community feel as though they’re not being listened to by the council.
by STEVE GRANT