Back to the future

• John Dowson says this rooftop decking “sticks out like a sore thumb” and spoils the streetscape for heritage-loving tourists. Photo by Steve Grant.

THE Fremantle Society has called on Fremantle council to reinstate a dedicated heritage committee.

The committee was disbanded during a shake-up of the council’s advisory committees in 2010 and replaced with a Design Advisory Committee, but society president John Dowson says the current model is too focussed on architectural design rather than heritage.

Mr Dowson also wants the council to bring back its heritage grants program and history awards, and set aside a per cent or two of rates for dedicated heritage projects, which he said was an initiative also quietly axed by the current regime.

The former councillor says he initially embraced the DAC, as he thought their paid advice would be taken more seriously by other councillors, but his enthusiasm has waned because he believes too many developments are getting through that undermine Fremantle’s heritage credentials.

“They are not a heritage committee,” Mr Dowson said.

“The lack of a heritage voice in council is very concerning, because they used to have two dedicated heritage staff and then they cut back to just Alan Kelsall and now he’s gone.”

Mr Kelsall recently announced his retirement as council’s heritage co-ordinator and the position was advertised in December.

Mr Dowson said when Freo employed Agnieshka Kiera as its dedicated heritage architect – a position she held from the mid-80s until 2012 – she’d been active in pursuing external funding for heritage projects, but he sees little evidence that now occurs.

He said history awards provide property owners with an incentive to put the effort into conserving and restoring them, as well as promoting the city’s heritage.

“With 3000 heritage-listed places, why wouldn’t you make that part of what you do.”

Mr Dowson said he only discovered the per cent for heritage scheme had disappeared while unsuccessfully campaigning for last year’s October council elections.

During his time on council it raised around $1 million a year for heritage projects.

He said heritage was at a low ebb in Fremantle.

“At the heart of the issue is the question of how do you define heritage.

“The definition is going out the window, and they are saying that as long as you keep the original building it doesn’t matter what you do,” Mr Dowson said.

He pointed to a recent council decision to approve a rooftop cover for decking on the historic MSC Shipping building in the West End, which is clearly visible from the view used by most photographers.

“By day it disfigures one of the most important building in Fremantle, and diminishes the landmark quality of its cupola on the corner of Phillimore and Cliff Streets,” Mr Dowson said. “By night…it resembles a flying saucer landing in the West End.”

by STEVE GRANT

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