Don’t forget the regions

NEIL SMITHSON tells us why the McGowan government should commit to a new port at Kwinana – letting Fremantle prepare for the WA Bicentennial with confidence about where its future lies – and how some regions are more equal than others. Mr Smithson has a masters in urban design and has worked as a planning consultant for 35 years, including stints with the cties of Melville, Mildura, the shire of Ravensthorpe, the NSW department of environment and planning, and the WA planning commission.

In EARLY 2018, the Australian senate referred an inquiry into the indicators of, and impact of, regional inequality in Australia to the Economics References Committee.

Last year the senate agreed to extend the date for the committee to report to 25 June 2020.

The inquiry’s terms of reference are broad ranging, and include fiscal policy at federal, state and local government levels; the co-ordination of policy; regional development; infrastructure; education; building human capital; workforce skills; employment; decentralisation and innovation.

To date, there have been no public hearings in WA.

In 1997, I published a regional development strategy called Rainbow 2000. Most people assumed that it was about Albany & the Great Southern; however, it is actually about Australian regional development, and has evolved to include all of WA’s regions, and more particularly, Fremantle and Perth.

It is that plan that is the basis of his Submission #142 to the senate inquiry (now available on-line).

While few spent much time thinking about port relocation 20 years ago, I was well aware that it was on the cards for Fremantle because of my professional experience.

Fremantle and Albany share a lot in common in terms of settlement dates, heritage, trade portals for their hinterland, constrained port access (road and rail), the Anzac Centenary, and the impending WA Bicentennial Celebrations in 2026.

The state has watched with spectacular interest (and results) the evolution of Perth over the past two decades, to include the Mandurah railway, Hillary’s boat harbour, Perth esplanade, Elizabeth Quay, Northbridge CityLink, Optus Stadium, the Fiona Stanley & Perth Children’s Hospitals, South Perth peninsula, Canning Bridge high-rise, Port Coogee marina, Scarborough high-rise, Perth Airport, but to name just some of the major projects, as well as the extensive growth in short-stay hotel accommodation, as the population has grown by about 800,000 new residents.

Grand visions

The regions haven’t done so well.

Indeed, the McGowan government is now pursuing Metronet, Yanchep, Ocean Reef Marina, Ellenbrook, Midland, Armadale, and the Kwinana Indian Ocean Gateway in recognition and response to that growth, but where is the corresponding quality of opportunity in the regional cities of Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Bunbury, Mandurah, Fremantle, Geraldton, Karratha, Port Hedland and Broome.

There is little doubt that Fremantle is on the cusp of major change associated with sea port relocation, and that various parties support and oppose that change (or at least the need and timing for the change) according to their perception of opportunity.

The reality is that the WA Bicentennial dates are fixed, and the question remains as to how we prepare those places and spaces to reflect on 200 years of achievement, as we also enunciate our aspirations for the next 100 years – and Albany shares that challenge in its own way.

Meanwhile, Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt and the council are pursuing Kings Square to revitalise a struggling city centre, with grand visions for a Victoria Quay including passenger cruise shipping, the development of retail, services, recreation and residential, linking across the railway the CBD to waterfront.

There is also little doubt that once the container stevedores vacate Rous Head for Kwinana, then that urban space on the coast will attract a lot of attention from property developers, and so it should as part of the financial solution.

We have witnessed the 2017 state election where premier Mark McGowan and WA Labor referred to the Roe Highway extension as the road to nowhere (that stopped three kilometres from the port), subsequently cancelling those contracts, and installing the Westport Taskforce to plan for Kwinana.

So how does this all come together in advance of the state and local government elections next year and the federal election in 2022?

Whichever way it goes, whatever happens, there is going to be some serious public and private money invested in WA over the next decade as a function of change, growth and development.

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