It started with a public meeting and finished with a war cry : ‘We Have A Vision For Fremantle’

Two weeks ago the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association (Ficra) called a public meeting, chaired by Dick Baynam, to discuss three major issues which may affect the city’s future development: The Wardens’ Cottages in Henderson Street; the issue of a youth plaza and it’s placement on The Esplanade and issues surrounding the development of Arthur Head as an arts and heritage precinct.

The meeting was well organised and former councillor John Dowson made five-minute presentations prior to the discussion of each issue. It had the potential to show what can be achieved with public input. Inexplicably some of the 200 attendees jeered the mayor, Dr Brad Pettitt, as he attempted to clarify issues.

In hindsight Ficra must see it as an error of judgement to discuss three major issues at one meeting. The net result was that two points, those related to the cottages and Arthur Head were completely lost in what amounted to a slanging match between West End  residents and about a dozen skateboard park supporters who sometimes struggled to be heard.

While the meeting didn’t quite descend into chaos the mayor and Dick Baynam did have a heated discussion when the meeting closed.

Councillor Coggin: ‘We’re Not Mad’

The following Wednesday a general meeting of the Fremantle City Council was held and important lessons must be learnt from it. Principally Ficra and the Fremantle Society must realise if they wish to gain any traction against changes in Fremantle they have to understand the power of social media  and the necessity to deliver messages succinctly across a broad base of residents.

With little effort the supporters of a Youth Plaza were able to encourage approximately two hundred skaters into the council chamber. Skaters confirmed they had responded to a Facebook posting.  Well briefed enthusiasts, parents and teachers outlined their reasons for a skateboard park to be constructed in Fremantle, supporting the council’s preferred site of The Esplanade. The case was eloquently repeated by skaters aged anywhere between 15 and 40 who were greeted with rousing applause.

To coin a skateboarding term they effectively  ‘kick flipped’ Ficra out of the debate. The evening finished with majority vote by councillors in favour of the skateboard park to be built on The Esplanade. Councillor Dave Coggin, in a moment of Churchillian eloquence and speaking on behalf of a united council effectively concluded the debate with a rallying cry:

“We are not mad. We know exactly what we are doing. We have a vision for Fremantle as a vibrant, creative and welcoming place. For more people living, working and recreating in Fremantle. Children and Youth are a core part of that vision, which is why we are welcoming them into our hearts with the Esplanade Youth Plaza”.

No Alternative

A point made after the meeting by Councillor Andrew Sullivan was that nobody, at any point in either debate, had offered a realistic alternative to the Esplanade site.

He said:  “Objectors are telling us they’d support the Youth Plaza if it were built somewhere else but they’re being disingenuous because the only sites they mention are on the fringes of the City. Those who oppose the Esplanade would be even more outraged if we moved it to Kings Square, Pioneer Reserve or Princess May Park”.

Sullivan continued: “Modern thinking on providing facilities for young people is they need to be located in the inner city where they feel safe and included. They need to be located where there is a mix of activities for toddlers through to teens so that parents can take the whole family to the one central place. It’s not easy finding a public place large enough to accommodate these different and often competing needs.
“The Esplanade is our largest inner city park and even when 20,000 people turned up to watch John Butler there was still loads of unused space, mostly where we want to put the plaza. The proposal locates the facility in the least used and most barren section of the park.
“It proposes a lot of new landscaping including seating and shade trees – it’s not just a concrete bowl. Hence, it will have far more appeal than just for skaters. I’ll certainly be very proud when it is completed”.

Will Ficra and Fremantle Society Fightback?  An Opportunity For Strong Leadership

The back to back meetings represented a setback for Ficra. Both the Fremantle Society and Ficra, who seem to have  similar broad based interests, must develop a strong plan to carry their opposition forward. They stand against a united council who rightly believe they have control of the ball and are running with it.

Now that Roel Loopers has resigned from the Fremantle Society presidency (for the second time) there is a real opportunity for the society to elect a strong, unambiguous, leader.

Loopers finally admitted failure in his presidency of the society. In his resignation he said:
“I have had enough of ramming my head against brick walls, my input being ignored, and my time on workshops and committees being taken for granted. When elected members become arrogant and patronising and unwilling to compromise at any level, it is time to move on and stop wasting my time.”

Build on Overwhelming Vote

The only chance these organisations have of overturning or modifying plans they disagree with is to do so from within the council chamber. They certainly have the numbers to fight an effective election campaign in September but they should signal their intention to challenge for seats now, promote their policies and present credible candidates. It will be essential to accommodate social media in their planning – they have just witnessed how effective it is.

Former deputy mayor John Dowson said: “It is sad council has not put this out for public consultation”  but in agreeing that residents want to have good youth facilities in Fremantle he reiterated  the feelings of the previous night’s meeting at which an overwhelming vote against the Esplanade site was recorded.

The vote at the public meeting was close to unanimous. Several councillors who attended would attest to that but without a well organised campaign it is unlikely that challenges to current planning will be effective.

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