Trade coast hope to fill empty Freo shops

Kwinana Industrial Council director Chris Oughton and Fremantle mayoral candidate Frank Mofflin discuss how to repurpose empty retail shops in Freo for small firms allied to Lithium Valley and other Western Trade Coast initiatives. Photo by Steve Grant.

FREMANTLE could fill its empty shops with small businesses allied with a resurgent Western Trade Coast, says mayoral candidate Frank Mofflin.

The plan has the impress of Kwinana Industrial Council director Chris Oughton, who believes the WTC’s 30,000 workforce is set to double under initiatives such as Lithium Valley and the Outer Harbour project.

With lithium prices stabilising after a glut-induced crash and Macquarie Bank urging its investors to have another look, Mr Oughton says two lithium hydroxide plants are already in the pipeline, including Tianqi Lithium’s recently rebooted project.

Lithium Valley

“There’s high purity aluminium companies and graphite companies as well. They’re the ones that make the cathode material or anode material that goes into making batteries,” Mr Oughton said.

“So that’s happening: Europe’s talking about Lithium Valley in WA – Kwinana – and the Americans are too.”

Although his enthusiasm for bringing Fremantle’s port into his territory puts him at odds with Freo council’s position of wanting to retain its working port, Mr Oughton said it’s adding to constraints holding back the WTC.

He says Kwinana’s jetties are already near maximum capacity, while rail freight is too packed to allow a new regular train service in.

Build the harbour and those problems disappear, while the selection of a land-backed port meant the almost moribund Latitude 32 industrial park could be tailored for Lithium Valley, doubling the area’s workforce.

Mr Mofflin says Freo’s task will be to position itself to capture the opportunities the WTC’s expansion presents.

“I want people to be doing the thinking stuff in Fremantle, and for us to say ‘we’re the thinking hub of the Western Trade Coast’,” Mr Mofflin said.

Urban attractor

“We’ve got that urban environment that those smart, cool people like to live in…it certainly is an attractor.”

He says the city could “flip” its problem of empty retail shops to attract the allied businesses.

“And then we start to get those people who then want to live in the middle of Fremantle as well, because their work’s there.”

He says one of the challenges will be improving the transport corridors between Fremantle and the WTC, saying he’d already had feedback from a company that was keen to get kids from Freo TAFE’s maritime courses involved only to be thwarted by the virtually non-existent public transport.

“The important thing for us to do is look outside, we shouldn’t be just looking within our local government area for answers,” Mr Mofflin said. “We’re on the doorstep; this is a big West Australian project and we need to be a part of it.”

by STEVE GRANT

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