A never-ending Sunset

DAVID HAWKS is a retired emeritus professor from Curtin University. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED the Fremantle resident says mayor Brad Pettitt’s claim that Freo council always wanted a low-key family venue at the J Shed doesn’t stack up with how much effort it put into getting a big tavern approved.

ALTHOUGH it is welcome news that Sunset Events has withdrawn their J Shed application, it should never have been entertained in the first place. 

For it to be entertained and supported by Fremantle council over several years has represented an untoward expenditure of officers’ energy and an unwanted diversion for those who have opposed it.

The application was, from the outset, opposed by a diverse constituency including members of the Fremantle Society, Fremantle Inner City Residents Association, Fremantle Residents and Rate Payers Association, Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides Association, The Fremantle History Society, and Aboriginal elders. There was also a petition opposing the redevelopment.

Council’s responsiveness to Sunset’s application was indulgent from the very beginning. 

Their original tender for a large tavern, microbrewery, coffee roaster and venue for outside concerts didn’t match the criteria in the council’s advert for expressions of interest.

Even so, council were happy to expand these terms of reference in order to accommodate Sunset’s proposal. The expanded terms of reference were never advertised to other interested parties.

When Sunset sought a temporary activation of their 21-year-lease, it was granted, despite widespread public opposition, and the lease became the subject of multiple, documented complaints of noncompliance.

When councillors were asked to support Sunset’s first application to the West Australian Planning Commission, so many councillors had a conflict of interest – some had received gifts from the applicant – they had to excuse themselves from the vote.

WAPC unanimously rejected the application on multiple grounds, but council’s indulgence was still not exhausted. 

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt – who had previously declared a conflict of interest that was absolved by his re-election – successfully moved for mediation. Of the 50 people attending the council meeting on May 23, held after the mediation, 24 spoke in opposition to the officers’ recommendation for approval. 

Another six rescinded their intention to speak in opposition, believing their points had already been made by previous speakers. Of the five speakers who supported the motion, three represented Sunset’s management.

The mayor has expressed disappointment at WAPC’s decision to refuse the amended application and suggested that Sunset’s final application to WAPC was roughly what council had intended in the first place.

One can only wonder what residents were being represented by the five councillors who approved the motion on May 23 to forward the application to WAPC with council support. 

Certainly not those attending the Town Hall meeting, nor the many petitioners who went to previous and subsequent meetings. 

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