Traders seek clarity

• Piercer Tom Bushby and jeweller Daryl Morse-Evans are worried about how the Kings Square redevelopment will affect their businesses. Photo by Steve Grant

BUSINESS owners around Kings Square say they’re getting increasingly frustrated about a lack of information on how Fremantle council is going to manage its looming $220 million redevelopment.

Demolition works were scheduled to start as early as this month, but the Herald spoke to a dozen traders who said they’d been given no information on how it would be managed to minimise disruption to their businesses.

Deserted

It comes as they report yet another unprecedented slump in trade: the streets around the square were virtually deserted this week, and as the Chook interviewed business owners and managers over three afternoons, just one made a sale.

“It’s tough all right,” says Tom Bushby, whose shop The Piercing Places is at the entrance to Fremantle Malls.

He says the added stress of disruption during the Kings Square project has some mall traders so worried they simply want to get out.

Mr Bushby wants the council to maintain a pedestrian walkway along Newman Court during the construction, saying it provides a critical route for their businesses, with potential clients getting off buses along High Street and coming from the banking precinct nearby.

Daryl Morse-Evans from neighbouring jeweller Fremantle Opals joins Mr Bushby and they discuss their concerns about how dust will affect their businesses.

Mr Bushby stamps his claim to being worst off: he’s got six levels of shelving with tens of thousands of pieces of tiny jewellery which will have to be individually polished.

Across the square, Oxfam manager Cornelia Schmidt says she wrote to the council a month ago expressing concern about how it was going to manage foot and vehicle traffic during the project, but was still none the wiser.

Like most of the traders, she was supportive of the square revitalisation and believes it will be a game changer for Fremantle, and says the port city’s not the only one doing it hard.

Her counterparts in the Perth Oxfam shop have just stopped Sunday trading because they’re not making enough money to justify opening the doors.

Nervous

Fremantle acting mayor Ingrid Waltham acknowledged the city was aware traders were getting nervous, but says consultation was about to ramp up.

“We will keep local business informed and provide information as it’s known and well in advance of any site works. We have a lot to look forward to but we also realise the next few years will have its share of challenges for everyone,” Cr Waltham said.

“Concerns raised by traders are and will be taken seriously and we will be doing everything we can to guide them through the transition to a renewed and more active city centre which will benefit everyone.”

The redevelopment is being managed by the council’s partner in the project, Sirona Capital, whose CEO Matthew McNeilly told the Herald they’d appointed their own community relations officer and would soon be bombarding businesses with updates.

“The reason why they hadn’t heard anything is that we have not appointed a builder, but I anticipate that will happen by the end of this month.” Mr McNeilly said Sirona had decided to roll the demolition into the building contract, creating a slight delay to the start of works, which are now likely to start in June.

by STEVE GRANT

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