JOHN DOWSON is the president of the Fremantle Society. He’s delighted Fremantle council ignored the advice of the city’s planners to approve a six-storey hotel application for the Spicer’s site and have suggested changes to minimise it’s impact on the national heritage-listed Warders Cottages. But, he warns, their proposed amendments might still set a dangerous precedent.
BILLIONAIRE Andrew Forrest’s hotel proposal for the Spicer site on Henderson Street got off to a poor start with the demolition of the much loved numbat art work and a 22-metre heritage wall.
The bulk and scale of the six-storey hotel proposal has been condemned by the former chair of the West Australian Planning Commission, Fremantle’s former city heritage architect, a former Design Advisory Committee member, local architects and the Fremantle Society.
Will Andrew Forrest’s legacy in Fremantle reflect the stellar contributions of his predecessor Sir John Forrest, or will this hotel continue to be mired in controversy like his UWA hotel, his Cottesloe Indiana hotel, and his Mar-a-Lago-style compound on the beach?
Last week Fremantle council’s planning committee appeared to heed warnings from the community about the proposed hotel (Cr Lang said nobody he knew liked it), as Cr Su Groome moved an alternative recommendation to that of the officers’ support for approval.
It sought to better protect the impact of the large hotel on the modest two-storey warders’ cottages just 15 metres away across the other side of Henderson Street, by setting the top storey back nine metres and moving those lost rooms elsewhere on the site.
She was also disappointed that the hotel seemed to be mimicking the ugly, oversized multi-storey car park across the road, instead of getting its cues from, for example, one of Fremantle’s great restoration projects – the nearby two-storey Sail and Anchor Hotel.
All the councillors, except Cr Geoff Graham, waxed lyrical about the importance of protecting the fabulous two-storey warders’ cottages, the only residences in WA important enough to be on the national heritage list (even Government House doesn’t qualify).
Cr Lawver warned of the overshadowing onto Henderson Street of such a tall building. Cr Sullivan was adamant that the amendment – four storeys on Henderson Street with two more set back was what he supported.
It is interesting how the original policy for the site (two storeys max on Henderson and up to four on William Street) disappeared quite some time ago. It was a good policy then and is still strategically sound for the area.
Planning committee chair Cr Bryn Jones picked up on the issue of precedent – how allowing big bulky boxes gives the next developer the opportunity to claim the same height.
Unfortunately, while admirable, a significant outcome from Cr Groom’s amendment will be to increase the over-all height of the hotel to seven storeys, setting an even worse precedent for the future, and even more endangering the centre of the historic town.
Councillors appreciated the significance of the adjacent warders’ cottages, but didn’t deal with the issue of the wider context (or precedent) and how this very large building will sit amongst surrounding smaller ones, and how it will be viewed from around the town.
We have been let down very badly by the Design Advisory Committee who over the years have seemed unwilling to reject overscale developments or deal with complex issues like context.
Former DAC member Sasha Ivanovich said he was often the sole voice on the committee calling for a response to context.
We are also let down these days by the Heritage Council, which seems to be just a developers’ club – and planning chair Cr Jones commented on the lack of concern from them. The National Trust, who years ago fought to have the warders’ cottages restored, are now invisible.
The formerly council-owned Spicer site is part of the council’s King’s Square Business plan. Former Labor MP for Fremantle Dr John Troy warned exactly 10 years ago that the vision was
“about transferring publicly owned real estate into private hands and increasing the debt burden of the community”.
That has unfortunately proven correct- with an EXTRA $20m debt (or extra $1,250 per ratepayer) on top of what was predicted.
So, it seems the defenders of Fremantle need to be its people, especially those who appreciate its unique character, scale, and priceless heritage.
We have waited years for this important site to be developed. Now, we must get it right.