Electors force public meeting

William Dalgety Moore’s former home became Woodside Hospital, but is now being eyed for a major redevelopment as an aged care facility.

CRANKY electors have sprung into action to force East Fremantle council to a public meeting over a massive aged care facility about to drop into their midst. 

Just as the Chook was going to print, Joanne Taggart and Meagan Cox on behalf of local home owners around the historic Woodside hospital site submitted a petition to the council with 149 signatures, 49 more than required, to trigger the public meeting under the WA local government act. 

It’s a meeting the council now has to call, for a comeuppance it simply cannot avoid. And the locals want it called before the council submits anything to the WA government’s Joint Development Assessment Panel, so they get a chance to press home their concerns. 

The council has failed to call a public meeting itself, blaming the Covid-19 pandemic, and opted for its planning staff dealing one-by-one with affected residents trying to grapple with the complexities of town planning, hundreds of pages in all. Since the Herald’s first editorial comment last week the matter has blown up and has put the planning staff under a lot of pressure. 

The closing date for individual submissions is now this coming Monday, August 15, at 11pm.

Local residents expressing a mix of anger, bitterness, disappointment and despair want the council to explain fully and publicly all the implications of the aged care development they say is asking too much of the attractive residential area where many of them have complied with all the planning rules and invested their money to turn East Fremantle into one of Perth’s Top 10 sought-after suburbs over the past few decades.

Angry

Residents are particularly angry the council has had numerous meetings with the developer – even taking a tour to inspect a similar facility the applicant owns – and has been promoting the proposal as part of its strategic plan for the extra population the WA government wants to shoe-horn into existing built up areas: All the while doing little to rethink its too-cosy relationship with land developers who have turbo-charged Perth’s urban sprawl for decades.

Residents feel the council has left the developer a clear field to manage all the development processes so far and that they have failed to call in any independent experts to make sure the council’s and residents’ interests were being protected.

Worse, many residents think it’s a huge potential conflict of interest for the WA government to be so central in deciding the current proposal through the WA planning commission when its own agency, the WA Fire and Emergency Services Superannuation Board, reports directly to the WA premier and treasurer Mark McGowan, and is also a partner and mortgagee on the site.

And it’s fast become a much wider issue than the Dalgety Street/Fortescue Street Woodside precinct with the potential sale of the Juniper aged care facility on the corner of Preston Point Road and Wolsely Street. 

With the huge growth in aged care facilities East Fremantle is ‘ripe for the picking’ with its large homes and blocks for top end service providers like the current contender for the Woodside site. 

The WA government planning pressure on land use planning has seen the outbreak of a number of suburban skirmishes which are fast becoming urban warfare. 

On the one side are developers, many cosying up to the WA government and its planning agencies, most of them ‘fat cats’ with well paid day jobs. On the other side are disaffected and angry residents who have to devote their own time and money after hours to try to defend their interests when they know their local councils should be doing this.

More often these days local councils are either nowhere to be seen, passively hand-balling the difficult developments up to the WA government agencies or worse, actively supporting the developments against residents’ interests.

Melville council recently lost the Attadale wave park proposal – at its heart it was a huge entertainment and bar area – and in the process local electors fought tooth and nail to have the application quashed, then at the next election, unceremoniously dumped the long term mayor and many of his supporting faction.

In the 2016 battle against the Barnett Liberal government’s proposed amalgamation with Fremantle when the current mayor Jim O’Neill and the then council folded, local residents rose up and voted the  measure down. All were shocked by the failure of the mayor to fight the proposal, the council’s endorsement for the mayor along with the then Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt to take up $150,000 jobs proposed by the WA government to oversee the amalgamation, and in the process simply hand cash-strapped Fremantle council over $70 million of East Fremantle ratepayer-owned assets.

A detailed legal opinion circulated at the time by Denis McLeod asserted the Body Corporate structure of local councils, despite their existence via an Act of the Parliament, meant they were first and foremost responsible to their constituent members, that is, the ratepayers, and not to any other governments of the day. Few councils are observing this key legal principle as they tug their forelocks deferentially elsewhere. 

While all who’ve spoken to the Chook say they want to see modern, state of the art residential care for the elderly and others in need, they want the development to fit into the existing area. 

Many are critical of the scale of the current development – in particular a huge four and five storey buildings in an area where all the homes are single storey or limited to two storeys – and they want it to serve the local area not a wider region, especially if it means a drop in the existing local amenity. 

They are particularly unhappy with what seem to be commercial scale medical consulting rooms, a wellness centre with a pool, gym and ‘exercise studio’ with a huge waiting area described as ‘incidental’ uses in the development application, as well as sizeable training facilities, community meeting spaces and a cafe designed to draw in a much wider number of people plus cars and on a scale much larger than the needs of residents in the  proposed 158 bed centre warrant.

What they feel is being proposed is a large range of commercial facilities – better suited to a regional centre like downtown Fremantle – which have forced the new proposed buildings out to the boundaries and up several storeys beyond what is permitted by the current zoning. And if approved they feel it’s certain to degrade their area with a huge influx of people, traffic and parking not directly linked to the residents in care. 

Most imagined the development would be much lower in scale and fit in with their attractive and important heritage precinct which includes the original historic Woodside home of William Dalgety Moore. He was one of the 1880s gold rush era Merchant Princes of Fremantle. 

Moore supplied vital hardware – wheelbarrows, shovels, pans, sieves and camping equipment –to  thousands of gold miners who flocked to WA, with many walking their way to the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie goldfields and beyond.

They don’t feel this important part of the state’s history has been respected and they also feel too many of the longstanding buildings from the site’s role as a very important maternity hospital over decades are being swept off the WA heritage register, and the site, to allow so many new buildings on such a huge scale.

Disclaimer: Herald publisher Andrew Smith lives on Dalgety Street and is a former East Fremantle mayor.

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