ANN FORMA and GERRY MacGILL have been involved with the North Fremantle community for more than 40 years, also serving on Fremantle council. Here they put a case for treating a new traffic bridge across the Swan as an opportunity for community building.
IN its pristine state the Leighton Peninsular would have been the stuff of town planners’ dreams (cue the dreamy music).
“Here we can create a community with ready access to the river and the ocean, cooled by the summer sea breezes, walkable to its town centre, schools, clubs, churches, parks, a local library, and of course coffee shops and pubs. There will be roads, of course, a necessary evil, but they will be low speed, landscaped to reduce impact, and with frequent crossing points and a network of dual-use paths.”
The dreamer wakes. What do they find? (cue the doom music)
While they slept the peninsula had morphed into an urban archipelago of clusters of houses and businesses alienated from each other and their environment by roads carrying regional traffic and container freight.
Fremantle Port had been a valued asset and good neighbour to Fremantle for more than a century, but its offspring, the Container Terminal, had in 50 years grown 20-fold, making ever increasing demands to maintain its container supply chain.
The place Colin Barnett dubbed ‘the best little country town in Perth’ had become just another traffic-choked suburb, where getting almost anywhere by foot or bike had become a life-threatening experience.
Streets of houses, the post office, shops, erased.
Was the dream then lost forever?
Probably ‘yes’ if the road makers continue to reign supreme and see the exercise as defined by Infrastructure Australia: improve freight productivity and access to freight gateways; increase transport infrastructure capacity; and improve network reliability.
And certainly ‘yes’ if they, as planned, forge a brutal connection of the West Coast Highway across North Fremantle to join the Stirling Bridge.
But ‘maybe not completely’ if the objectives of the exercise are re-defined.
Top of the list should be that the project not only doesn’t diminish the quality of community life, but materially improves it.
This can only happen if the regional context of these critical elements of the road network is thoroughly reviewed.
Other river crossing possibilities exist.
We should examine them all, not just from the narrow perspective of ‘viability’, but to seize the opportunity to design a road network that will enable its disparate elements to be united into a Greater North Fremantle.
While we need road makers and bridge constructors they must not be allowed to set the agenda. They should be the servants, not the masters, of people of vision, the dreamers who see their mission as community building.
We must refuse the invitation from MRWA to participate in the current travesty of ‘consultation’ about a pre-determined outcome. We must instead demand that the creativity, inspiration and cooperation of our community be harnessed to take advantage of this opportunity to find solutions that will yield benefits now and into the future.