Power up or pull the plug?

•Kerry Stokes doesn’t want it, so is there a future for the beachside South Fremantle Power Station.

I really like the former  South Fremantle Power Station. 

The huge 71-year-old Art Deco building has something majestic about it in it’s minimalist architecture, so I am one of many who would like the building to be preserved and activated again. 

But are calls for the WA government to spend big on it, now that Seven West Media billionaire Kerry Stokes has pulled out of buying the site, realistic?

According to news report it will cost anything between $60 to $ 80 million just to do the necessary remedial work. The site is seriously contaminated, so it can’t be developed without trucking off thousands of cubic metres of dirty soil, to a depth one can only guess until work starts on it.

The building is one of only four cathedral-style power stations in the world and the largest one built in Western Australia, so it probably deserves the same kind of investment by the WA government as the former East Perth Power Station has been given. 

Or are those who ask for that, such as Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett, too sentimental and nostalgic about the current neglected eyesore? Do we have to be more pragmatic about preserving our heritage?

The former Barnett government had huge plans for the site, even adding two storeys of residential apartments on top of the building, but at the end that was put in the too hard basket, while money was spent – some say wasted – on developing Elizabeth Quay in Perth.

It seems criminal to even suggest that the heritage-listed power station building should be demolished, because it is in very poor condition, with concrete cancer and rotting steel, but just preserving it will cost so much money that it is questionable if the government should use tens of millions of taxpayers’ money on it, so that private developers can make a killing out of it, once the site is decontaminated.

We need bigger and better hospitals, more social housing, school improvements and paying nurses better, etc. so would it be responsible governance to use money that might be better spent elsewhere? I have to admit I am in two minds about this and am sitting on the fence, which is very much unlike me.

This dilemma is not dissimilar to the old wooden Fremantle Traffic Bridge debate. 

Is it responsible governance to spend our money on retaining something that has no practical need? 

The state government does not want to keep the bridge, Fremantle council does not want the financial responsibility to have to maintain it, even as a New York style ‘highline’ attraction, and the Fremantle Society has not found any private investors willing to buy the bridge and maintain it for some 50 years. 

As the former president and vice president of the Fremantle Society I sometimes ask myself if preserving heritage is more important than building homes for those who sleep rough, and if  preserving the past is a bigger priority than looking after the future?

I love our heritage and wished that more WA millionaires would see it as their civic and corporate duty to invest in preserving it, but that only happens sporadically, and not anywhere near often enough, so what is the solution?

The South Fremantle Power Station site has enormous potential to become something very unique for Fremantle and Cockburn, even more so than the one in East Perth, but will the Perth-centric McGowan government see it that way, I wonder? I doubt it.

Roel Loopers
Catch my blog at: www.freoview.wordpress.com

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