Tsunami of developments: Run towards it or away?

THE Fremantle Society has been the pre-eminent watchdog for the port city’s heritage for 45 years. Current president John Dowson says it’s more important than ever, with what he’s been describing as a “tsunami” of developments proposed for the Freo. Mr Dowson says the society isn’t against development, but doesn’t want it to destroy what makes Fremantle such a unique, international gem.

THE Fremantle Society is not anti development.

It welcomes developers coming to Fremantle to explore opportunities to add to the character of the place.

The Fremantle Society engages experts to write reports and to lobby for the best possible quality development. Fremantle is special. It deserves nothing less.

At the moment there is a tsunami of large development proposals before council.

A common theme in all these developments is a focus on alcohol.

• If done well, the Courthouse development could bring life to an important heritage precinct.

Council’s alcohol policy already severely restricts night clubs, and while small bars have caused few problems in the CBD, too many large taverns could wreak havoc to plans to have lots more people living in town.

Given the poor quality of recent developments around town, such as the controversial and unfinished Atwell Arcade project, the oversized Quest Apartments, 50 Pakenham Street, and the overscaled Liv Apartments, which dominate the “Giant of Fremantle” (the newly refurbished Fort Knox opposite), it is imperative that council do a much better job scrutinising the current wave of proposals:

Boutique hotel and tavern at Warders Cottages on Henderson Street

THE Warders Cottages are convict-built, rare, and of national importance. They are the only buildings in WA (outside the prison) that are significant enough to be on the Federal government heritage list.

Unfortunately the main focus for this development is alcohol (475 patrons). As one conservation architect said: “Imagine Tasmania proposing hotels for the Port Arthur convict site?” The same architect wrote: “The real test should be a carefully researched and considered assessment based on the cultural values of the Convict Establishment as a place, the cottages as significant fabric in their own right, and the townscape qualities of that part of Fremantle.”

The proponent, who somehow was granted a five-storey approval for the next stage of the Hougoumont Hotel in the West End, where only four storeys are permissible, will only buy these cottages if he gets the approvals he wants, so he can easily walk away if there is a refusal.

Just next door, the six Warders’ Cottages with verandahs have already been sold to private owners. Council policy on venues serving alcohol (DBU6)  ‘does not support proposals which may encourage conflict betwen land uses’.

The boutique hotel proposal for the cottages has merit, because the cottages were residences for 150 years, and giving people access to such authentic places is laudable. But the plans show entry to the second floor via a second storey walkway. Yet the conservation plan (policy 171) clearly states that only: ‘small single storey structures may be acceptable in the rear  yards if they are required for the amenity and practical functioning of the cottages.’

The rear gardens of all the Warders’ Cottages are an important part of their significance and magic, despite the brutal clearing of vegetation by the Heritage Council.

• The majestic Manning buildings.

Coles Woolstore proposal  

THE Coles woolstore site is a sorry mess of unappealing shops on a vast site that once housed the magnificent and grandest of Fremantle’s wool stores, which, if council had not allowed demolition, could have provided office space for Fremantle for the next 100 years. It is a pivotal site that needs extreme care as it is not isolated or out of sight.

Gerard O’Brien of Atwell Arcade fame is offering to provide a Christmas grab bag of goodies including a hotel, tavern, accommodation for students and for seniors, along with a revamped Coles and offices, if he is allowed to have heights of 38.9 metres, never seen before in Fremantle, and 50 per cent higher than the 10 storey Johnston Court.

This is definitely a once in a generation opportunity to revitalise a run down site, but to get permission for the extra height, he has to prove that the design is of ‘exceptional quality.’

The Fremantle Society commissioned experienced architect Ken Adam to assess the proposal and his conclusion is that the current proposal is far from exceptional. His report concludes: If the application were approved in my opinion the game, for the future of Fremantle, will have been lost, and the detail hardly matters.

The development proposal has not been signed off as ‘exceptional’ by council’s own Design Advisory Committee.

Manning buildings

The proposal for the Mannings Buildings at 135 High Street in the Mall seeks partial demolition of the Mannings Buildings, the separation of first and second floors, which have been united for over 100 years, the removal of all existing staircases, works to shopfronts and awnings, removal of various existing walls, and provision of a 1500 sqm brewery.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to revitalise a critically important central city building and in particular to make better use of the underutilised upper storey. This opportunity to get an excellent outcome must not be missed.

Unfortunately, the proposal is brutal in its treatment of heritage elements such as the rear structures, dismissive of the social history of shops like Norm Wrightsons’ Hairdresser, whose business has existed in the same shop since 1933, silent on the 1995 council recommended reinstatement of original verandahs, and does not seek to restore and reuse the former existing Majestic Theatre still in existence there.

This is a major development of a level 1b building, designated as being of ‘exceptional significance’ to the city.  Under council’s town planning scheme, nothing of heritage significance can be allowed to be demolished.

A very detailed and careful assessment of this proposal is essential to prevent any loss of original heritage fabric.

The Fremantle Society believes this project should deliver a carefully refurbished heritage building where internal and external heritage elements are respected and kept, where the original verandahs and shopfronts are reinstated, and where important social history like Norm Wrightson’s is celebrated and encouraged to continue in its current location.

The Courthouse development

IF done sensitively, this proposal could breathe life into an important heritage area that has had little public access before, except to those caught up in the legal system.

It could help to better link the prison into the town, and provide daily use and activation, as against the restricted use of the Markets adjacent. There are issues with the immediately adjacent artillery drill hall which will be run as a live music venue by Sunset Events when they finish their fit out.

A sticking point is the application for a six-storey hotel in an area where only four storeys are permitted.

With sensitive adaption and retention of authentic heritage fabric to remind people of the place’s judicial past, this could be one of the ‘go to’ destinations in Fremantle.

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