Mair aims for mayoral comeback as Heathcote comes full circle
WE could have been sitting in somebody’s loungeroom.
As former Melville mayor Katy Mair announced another shot at the top job in October’s council elections this week, she shared an impromptu log bench with the Herald on the Goolugatup Heathcote Lowerlands; soon to become the city’s latest curated green space – with formal seating.
But if it weren’t for her dogged and controversial decision to side with the community over the council while mayor in the late ‘90s, the five-hectare site would have been sold off to developers, and we’d have been in the midst of a ritzy riverfront estate.
As Mayor Jackson, as she was known then, she’d signed an agreement with the Court government to take over and restore the empty Heathcote Hospital, with the council to be reimbursed for the works once the state government sold off the lower riverside section to developers.
Locals were having none of it, and rallies and protests grew into the thousands throughout 1999.
“I remember one march going from the Tivoli Theatre up to Heathcote, and it was huge,” Ms Mair recalls.
“We just didn’t have the communications of today, but it was a phenomenal turnout of support by the community.”
By then she had decided to side with the residents and tear up the deal, leaving many of her council colleagues furious.
“It was extremely controversial, because we had already received the upper land, and it cost $6 million to refurbish it,” she said.
“After they’d spent the $6m on the upper land, they weren’t looking forward to another bill for the lower land.”
In the court government’s dying days, she stitched up a deal with former lands minister Doug Shave to sell off “surplus Crown land” around the city to clear the debt, but that wasn’t without its controversies.
Both independent Alfred Cove MLA Janet Woollard and Liberal Riverton MLA Tony McRae raised grievance motions against the incoming Gallop government about the sell-offs on their turf.
Ms Woollard was furious about four heritage homes being carved out of the A-Class Wireless Hill reserve and sold.
“I believe that this proposal has been put to the minister by the City of Melville because the i’s were not dotted and the t’s were not crossed as part of the Heatcote agreement,” she said in Parliament.
“This land should not be sold simply because of mismanagemnet and a contract that was signed between the City of Melville and the former government.”
Mr McRae was also unhappy that bushland on the eastern side of Karel Avenue in Willeton was also being put up for sale; he said it was only within Melville’s borders because of an anomaly and the problems it would create were being foisted onto Canning council.
“This is gross negligence on the part of the City of Melville,” he thundered.
Closer to home, Ms Mair was also facing backlash about Heathcote’s old nurses quarters, known as Duncraig House.
The Gallop government offered it to Melville for $4 million, but after forking out $6m for the hospital there was no appetite in the council for another purchase – other than Ms Mair.
Many believed that if she’d stuck with the original Heathcote agreement, the government would have gifted Duncraig House to the council, but she disputes that: “The government of the day never intended to give it to us; they always intended to sell it.
“Now $4m was a fair bit of money, but not really, considering … it went for $10m very shortly after, so it was significantly undervalued for us to purchase,” she said.
Tensions within the council boiled over and Ms Mair’s colleagues voted to strip her of her mayoral car and allowances, meaning she had to continually submit expenses claims for the remainder of her term. Many saw the fallout as contributing to her loss in the following election to her greatest critic, Russell Aubrey.
But with his loss to George Gear in the last election, she says it seems the time was right after more than 15 years for Melville’s CEO to put the lowerlands,
now renamed Goolugatup in recognition of the area’s traditional owners, back on the agenda.
Late last month the council revealed the designs which will finally reconnect the lowerlands with the hospital site through landscaping and cultural design.
“They’ve got a stairway going up like a Jacob’s Ladder, and that’s very popular for people who want to come down and also people who want to exercise,” Ms Mair said.
“We’ve waited a really, really long time for something to be done with this land, and I’m absolutely thrilled it’s going ahead, finally, and not being put on the backburner.
Green space is also high on her agenda if she’s elected mayor in October, and has recently put forward a motion for a review of the city’s open areas to ensure the community’s needs are met.
“Some areas are well supplied and other areas are deficient,” Ms Mair said.
“And before land prices get too out of hand, we need to start identifying areas where we need to do something about that open space.
“And it may be that we convert a sump; that we have a cul de sac that we can create a park in – it’s not necessarily purchasing.”
She also wants a focus on seniors and people with disabilities to ensure their amenity needs are met and they feel valued in the community.
“We don’t want anyone to feel disenaged or disenfranchised.”
Carbon neutrality is also on her platform list, and a slightly more controversial plan to tighten up the city’s planning compliance, which was found to have some holes in the Weir Report.
“There are occasions where compliance if fairly loose, because it’s no longer regulated, and it tends to create problems,” Ms Mair said. “And most of the time when you go out and have a physical look, rather than reading papers and looking at pictures, it can be a different story altogether.”
by STEVE GRANT