FREMANTLE council’s planning committee has stopped short of rejecting the Cook government’s proposed district police complex on South Terrace, but made a strong protest about its size and location.
The outgoing chair of the committee, councillor Bryn Jones, took a swipe at the state government’s handling of the development, calling it a “very complicated process and not an entirely satisfactory one for the community or for council”.
Several councillors mentioned that they’d been taken by surprise when the expected local police station somehow morphed into a large district complex, designed to support police stations from Cottesloe to Cockburn.
Cr Jones said that despite Fremantle being the referral agency, the City’s planning officers and elected members were unable to see the advice from the WA and Commonwealth heritage councils.
He said the council ended up having to do its own heritage assessment and bear the costs.
“There were no planning fees paid to the council for this project,” Cr Jones said.
“It’s a 100 million project, but all the planning fees go to the WAPC and to JDAP; the council is bearing the entire cost of this process which again is quite unfair.
“But it points to a number of things that in my view are wrong with the planning system at the moment.”
The City’s planners had recommended the council support the project – with seven pages of conditions – but councillors Adin Lang and Su Groome had prepared an amendment which included a few stronger objections.
“The intent of what the police are trying to achieve I believe is good, but fundamentally the proposal is flawed in the sense that it’s inhibitive of the future growth and planning of Fremantle, and particularly that precinct where it sits,” Cr Lang said.
He praised WA Police for wanting a purpose-built complex that would help attract and retain staff, but said the complex would harm the city’s connectivity.
“Already the hospital presents a very dead zone, and it’s not very enticing for residents or tourists to wander and meander the streets and maybe find the Wray Avenue precinct, and that’s only going to be compounded by the development of the site,” he said.
“I want to be 100 per cent clear and I don’t want to use any conceding language in this discussion about the police station; it’s not too late for the government to reassess this decision.
“Sure they’ve spent money on the forward works, but that can be repurposed for another redevelopment.”
Cr Groome said part of the reason for not outright rejecting the development was that the council could lose the opportunity to improve the outcome by questioning its bulk, scale and impact on the streetscape.
But she said one of her favourite comments from public submissions was that the design resembled a casino, and she feared visitors might think it was an entertainment venue, only to discover an entrance rife with police security measure.
Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge had been pretty quiet on the complex before the meeting, saying she wanted to see the community’s feedback and hear the debate in the chamber before making up her mind.
Ms Fitzhardinge rejected “scuttlebutt” that she’d had a pre-determined decision and praised Cr Groome’s contribution to the alternative motion and the planning committee generally, as she won’t be recontesting her seat in October’s elections.
“It’s very easy to say what’s popular or what people want to hear, but in doing that you run the risk of sometimes not being credible or being able to affect the decision,” she said of not rejecting the application outright.
“I am pretty concerned about the scale, the form, the street appearance, particularly the facade and the way that very prominent end of the building sticks up behind the heritage synagogue; I think that really doesn’t speak to Fremantle and to how we want toes this kind of a building in place,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
Politics in the Pub organiser Christian Mauri spoke in public question time and said he’d rarely seen the consensus at last month’s packed event.
“There were people you could not pay to agree with one another in that room, all agreeing that there were many issues with the location of the complex.”
Mr Mauri said after running the pub events, he’d noticed a disturbing trend.
“From my perspective as a resident who organises events and heads several communities throughout the city, the last year has been especially marked by a real and widespread experience of disempowerment among residents, concerning the relationship between themselves and their city, and their city and the state,” Dr Mauri said.
“Morale is at stake – spirit.”
He said rejecting the station would demonstrate the council cared about its community and could voice their concerns.
“Growing tensions can be mended, disempowerment can be resolved, but you’ve got to start,” he said.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson said he’d taken an architect to the site with the plans and asked them to tell him exactly how high the building would be from South Terrace.
“He said it’s 33.4 metres high,” Mr Dowson said.
“At different points it’s 28.6 or 32 metres, but that is an astonishing height.”
Mr Dowson said a precinct plan drawn up by the council in 2005 set heights at a maximum of 17 metres.
“And to go from 17 metres to 33.4, given that the detested Johnson Court of 10 storeys is about 26, then 33.4 is absolutely massive.
“We met with the architect who did the plan for the government on the previous [police station] site on Henderson Street when the police said ‘well, there’s asbestos there, we gotta get this fixed up, what are we going to do’.
“The report that shaded said ‘spend $20m and fix up Henderson Street and stay where you are.
“So now they’ve gone from a $20m bill to a $100m bill.
by STEVE GRANT