Lutton Slams Planning System ‘Council Must Listen to Residents’

Fremantle Not Broken

Dr Linley Lutton, who recently retired from Fremantle Design Advisory Committee (DAC), made a public presentation on Tuesday evening (18th February) as to the faults in the city’s current planning system.  He  outlined the importance of street level activity encouraged by using a blend of cafes and a variety of shops and advocates a mix of office and residential accommodation above street level. He stressed that Fremantle is not a broken city.  The overwhelming impression he gave is that Fremantle can be readily developed with medium to high-rise buildings providing more consideration is given to the style and use of buildings.

The public meeting, organised by Fremantle Inner City Residents Association (FICRA) attracted a near capacity audience of about 200 at Notre Dame University.

Dr Lutton detailed faults with the plans for Queensgate and the massive Point Street proposal. Underlining what he considered essential setbacks of higher stories in order they are not visible from street level, he used a simple projected presentation for the purpose backed up with drawn on buildings to underline systems which he explained are being used around the world.

Lutton was emphatic that the planning approval system operated by Fremantle council should be changed. In particular he feels the city’s planning committee should be abandoned and proposals should be placed before all council members.

He also stressed that regular changes to the committee chair should be made, dispensing with what he described as ‘political appointments’.

‘ … you’ll only get developers views’

The most radical recommendation is that an incorporated body should be formed to mount legal challenges to council decisions related to poor quality development.

Dr Lutton underlined that councils should listen closely to residents. He said: “If you only listen to developers you’ll only get developers views”.

He also stressed that council’s wish list for property development indicated the amount of office space planned was impractical. Latest figures show Perth is oversubscribed with office space. The figures have been challenged by Councillor Andrew Sullivan in information given to Backchat following the public meeting.

Two councillors attended the meeting. South Ward councillor Andrew Sullivan who was the former chair of the city’s planning committee and Bill Massie from Hilton Ward. City Ward councillors Rachel Pemberton and newly elected Simon Naber did not attend. Mayor Dr Brad Pettitt sent apologies (He had an official engagement with the Portuguese Ambassador) but has asked for a viewing of a video made of the presentation. Fremantle’s Director Of planning, Phil St John, attended.

Massie:  ‘I disagree’

Councillor Massie, while agreeing with the overall thrust of the evening’s presentation was at odds with Dr Lutton on a few points: “I disagree with Linley that Fremantle is not a  broken city. What council are trying to do now is repair damage caused by our predecessors”.

He went on to say:

“I also disagree that mall’s do not work … you only have to go to Perth’s Hay Street Mall to see they can …I also believe that Fremantle does require major retailers in the heart of the city attracting customers that may look elsewhere, Dr Lutton stating major retailers can go to Cockburn, Garden City or Claremont is driving business out of the heart. There is a need for Fremantle to move forward which includes development residential, retail & office space which may not be in demand at this point but the market changes & we need to be in a position to meet the demand as required”

Sullivan: ‘Fremantle clearly in the doldrums … faces insignificance’

Councillor Andrew Sullivan did not discuss any of the points made by Dr Lutton publicly though he has given a detailed response to Backchat. 

He agrees to an extent that Fremantle is not broken but says: “It is clearly in the doldrums”. He believes the city can be a much better place than it is and fears it is slipping into  ‘cultural and commercial insignificance’.

Illustrating a need for balance Sullivan says he does not want to see the city evolve into either a vertical dormitory or ‘quaint retirement village for baby boomers’.

East End Deserves a Rebirth

He says: “Our place may not be broken but cities must evolve. The east end is a pretty soulless place that deserves a rebirth.

“Councils strategy is to increase commercial office space by 70,ooosqm, not the 275,000sqm that Linley suggested”

Sullivan continued: “The development focus is to bring a few thousand inner city residents into an area that has very low residential density which Linley highlighted as being desirable”.

He explained residential targets should be relatively easy to meet but commercial targets will be difficult in the current economic climate. He stressed that council are encouraging restoration of heritage buildings to provide high quality office accommodation.

Council’s Ambitious Targets

Sullivan explained that councils targets are ‘unashamedly ambitious’ but it is essential for Fremantle to outbid other centres as a desirable location for companies to establish themselves.

“Fremantle is a great place to work because of its setting and lifestyle advantage – why would anyone set up in Cockburn Central when Fremantle is beckoning?”

Sullivan, the former head of the Planning Committee, said: “I was pleased that Linley emphasised that residents should not be afraid of building heights proposed in Amendment 49. I agree it is important to focus on how the buildings are presented. Design quality can and should be measured objectively. That is why we established the Design Advisory Committee”.

Andrew Sullivan states Dr Lutton’s accusations that the DAC is being corrupted is ‘wholly unsubstantiated and offensive’.

“I fought hard to have the DAC created . I wanted them to help us deliver better buildings in Fremantle … but Linley is right to suggest that some developers come kicking and screaming to the DAC table … we all want standards to  get considerably better”.

Dr Lutton gave an extensive overview of the proposed developments of King’s Square and Newman Court as well as Queensgate.

Councillor Sullivan said: “He actually had the wrong drawings so the basis of his assessment was flawed. The 3D images he used of Newman Court was actually the proposed internal arcade for Queensgate. Neither I nor the Director of Planning had ever seen the plans he referred to. That said  I agree the aim is to get people using streets rather than developing internal arcades.

“Linley’s assessment of the new Queensgate building in relation to additional height was also flawed”. Councillor Sullivan explained that Amendment 49 provisions allow for extra height at street frontage but only if design excellence is achieved. The planning committee deferred that proposal because it wasn’t satisfied the DAC had given approval … that’s evidence the system is working”.

No Right of Appeal

On the issue of Dr Linley’s proposal to establish an organisation to handle appeals Andrew Sullivan said: ” Sadly there is no right of appeal to the SAT on planning matters. I have campaigned for years to to get our state government to introduce third party rights of appeal for some planning matters … only a developer or proponent can initiate an appeal”.

There were calls from the audience that Dr Lutton should be re-appointed to the DAC. Three resolutions were passed:

More Experts Called For

• That FICRA make representations to have Dr Linley Lutton reinstated to the DAC committee.

• That FICRA seek to have Fremantle Council improve the DAC committee with:

a) A rotating chair every three months

b) An increased pool of experts to draw from

c) More detailed recording of and reporting on committee minutes

•  That FICRA establish a community expert reference  group to make submissions on major developments.

FICRA have tapped into a growing groundswell of public opinion from a sector of Fremantle’s residents who are asking for their opinions to be considered seriously by council. The current feeling is that their opinions are being ignored at best or simply dismissed with no consideration. If this organisation can expand to encompass a a broader membership, possibly by broad cooperation with the Fremantle Residents and Ratepayers Association, it will represent a very active movement and possibly ensure a balanced approach to management within council

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Lutton Underlines Fremantle’s Angst: Public Meeting

Opposition having little impact

There is underlying angst among  a broad sector of Fremantle’s residents. Dissatisfaction with aspects of council’s direction in the city’s management has led to many small groups forming and voicing opposition to various plans and the effect those decisions may have on lifestyle.

While opposition appears to be gaining pace it is not gaining strength and has little impact on elected members.

Disparate groups need to pool common goals. 

The principle problem with the disparate groups is they have lost sight of their common interest – that of ensuring Fremantle offers a lifestyle which suits all residents. Unless these groups pool  common interests they are unlikely to influence changes.

Two bodies are now taking the high ground. The Fremantle Inner City Residents Association (FICRA ) and Fremantle Ratepayers and Residents association (FRRA).

Sadly the Fremantle Society, a once respected body, is virtually ignored and suffers from floundering management, dwindling membership and a lack of connection with the public which was its most valuable attribute.

Failure to communicate with public

These groups  fail to recognise that effective opposition can only be achieved by regular, widespread,  correspondence outlying constructive solutions to the city’s future. It is likely this can only be achieved by extensive use of social media. This has been effectively demonstrated by groups who support the Youth Plaza and Skateboard Park. Use of social media saw these groups literally swamp meetings with supporters and out-voting any opposition.

Like it or not that is one way rapid and effective communication operates in the 21st century.

Groups virtually inactive … but crying ‘foul’

Other groups and the precincts seem to be virtually inactive. All cry foul in the face of council’s unpopular decisions, implying the members have no mandate for many of their decisions. They do a have case. Many changes being made were never placed before voters. There is also evidence to suggest that council manipulate numbers in relation to petitions and may have a cavalier approach to the actual location of residents and ratepayers. However, with a 40% voter turnout (very high for council elections and the highest in WA) and any opposition slam dunked into oblivion, it is small wonder elected members have taken on the mandate mantle. But members should not forget they act on behalf of all residents, whether they voted or not.

Major issues have surfaced … public forum called

In the immediate past weeks two major issues have emerged. That of the resignation of Dr Linley Lutton from the council’s Design Advisery Committee (DAC) and the continued notion the area around J shed will host a large bar with a license for 850 and 10-15 concerts per year on Arthur Head for 1500 ticketed patrons. The public expectation was for a small bar.

Former Deputy Mayor John Dowson,  a leading advocate of medium rise development and high quality architecture, has spearheaded discussions about several Fremantle issues.

Dowson and his colleagues have now organised for FICRA to host a public forum to debate Fremantle’s future. He has invited Dr Linley Lutton to speak saying:  “Dr Lutton is ideally placed to help the community understand the consequences of intended developments”.

The invitation to the meeting,  open to the public, promises Dr Lutton will outline why the community must re-engage with the city’s planning process; whether the planned developments for Fremantle are realistic and the future of the principle developments in the CBD.  These include Queensgate and Myer, King’s Square, Spicer Site, Point Street and the proposals related to Victoria Quay.

‘I watched a crisis develop …’ 

It will be no surprise if social media is used to muster vocal opposition to Dr Lutton. In the past couple of weeks there has been a “He said, they said” exchange between Lutton, Fremantle Council and the chair of the DAC, Geoffrey London on behalf of the DAC committee. They have refuted his claims.

In his “Thinking Allowed” (The Fremantle Herald 1st Feb 2104) Dr Lutton took a broad approach, not naming names or specifics.  He said:

“I watched a crisis develop as projects being pushed by the council failed to meet acceptable design standards … Inevitably they were dealt with by the planning committee in a way which suited certain pro-development agendas”

London: ‘DAC relations  with city professional and respectful’

Professor Geoffrey London, Chair of the DASC, in a letter to The Fremantle Herald (Letters: 8th Feb) refuted these claims. In a letter supported by the DAC committee he said:

“In my view, relations between the city and the DAC have been supportive, professional and based on mutual respect. I believe the DAC is working effectively to bring about significant improvements in the design of projects …”.

Backchat asked Dr Lutton to expand on his comments. He emphasised it is important to understand the majority of Fremantle’s elected members are working for the good of their constituents. He went on to say:

“A new group of elected members have come to power wishing to see Fremantle change and they believe that this can happen through property development. The means they use is to change the planning regulations to attract developers.

Lutton: ‘Intentions good but results fail’

“What inevitably happens is that the people pushing for change put things in motion which are difficult to stop and a considerable reputational [sic] and material investment starts to occur. The intention can be good but so often the result fails. There are many examples where this approach fails. I have been involved in several such exercises where no change has occurred years after these intervention tactics are devised”.

Dr Lutton  supplied an extract of a letter sent to Fremantle Mayor Dr Brad Pettitt. He said, in part:

“An experienced Councillor attended several DAC meetings when the DAC first commenced and on one occasion briefed the DAC members on the importance to the City of a  major project we were just about to review. I am sure his attendance will have been recorded. I complained at the time asking why he was attending our meetings. “We can’t stop an elected member attending DAC meetings” was the response by a senior council officer. This of course is incorrect. At Victoria Park, no elected members are permitted in DRC meetings”

Dr Lutton explained the ‘major project’ he mentioned was the EG [Coles Wool Stores] development.

Councillors asked to be ‘nice’ to developer

“The Councillor effectively asked the DAC to be ‘nice’ to EG. I was the only DAC member to raise serious concerns about the project at EG’s presentation, which was attended by a large group of people. At the end of the presentation the DAC chair summarised the views of the DAC members, all of whom had spoken, but left out my concerns. I had to interject publicly and state that building heights of 17 or so floors was a major concern to me and could my concerns please be recorded. I recall at this meeting that Ian Alexander [Former President of The Fremantle Society] expressed major concerns and asked why the COF was so intent on pushing for such major change. The DAC chair responded saying something to the effect that he was desperate for change to happen in Fremantle – this was hardly an objective position for a chair to take. I was later berated in private by him for my comments”.

Lutton contined:

“The project being reviewed [Coles Wool Store] was the biggest being proposed in Fremantle and the proponents were favoured by the City. I had serious problems with the project but the DAC minutes failed completely to record the strength of my concern”.

In his letter to The Mayor Dr Lutton explained:

“There are three significant projects I will attest to where the DAC had very serious reservations and these projects have continued to go through the system at COF. At Victoria Park, projects causing major concern to the Design Review Committee would mostly be rejected. I sent this email in August 2013 regarding two projects. I have no idea if my concerns were properly recorded. The views are strongly expressed in this email but are consistent with the DAC committee discussions on both projects”.

‘Projects among the worst … set poor precedents’

8 Packenham Street and  85 Queen Victoria Street

“These two projects are among the worst I have evaluated in many years. Each suffers from gross over development of their respective sites. In both cases the proponents have been uncooperative and have attempted to chip away with minor revisions without attempting to resolve the major problems.

“What concerns me most is why both proponents felt it appropriate in the first instance to present such overdeveloped solutions. What message are they being given when they start the process? Why would a proponent think five storeys on the corner of Packenham and Short Street would even be a possibility?

“Both projects set poor precedents and if approved there will be no stopping others.

“Unlike the DAPs, our role goes well beyond simply facilitating development. I understand the development happening but not at any cost, surely!

“I am not able to support either project in their current forms”.

In his letter of resignation from the DAC Dr Lutton said, in part:

“There are three significant projects I will attest to where the DAC had very serious reservations and these projects have continued to go through the system at COF. At Victoria Park, projects causing major concern to the Design Review Committee would mostly be rejected. I sent this email in August 2013 regarding two projects. I have no idea if my concerns were properly recorded. The views are strongly expressed in this email but are consistent with the DAC committee discussions on both projects”.

‘London’s letter a standard political responce’

The public forum could be very lively. In his response to Backchat Dr Lutton contradicted Professor London’s letter saying:

“I regard London’s letter as a standard political response. It certainly does not reflect the true dynamics of working on the DAC. On numerous occasions in DAC meetings I voiced loudly my sense of futility and regularly expressed concerns that the DAC was not being taken seriously. At one meeting I clearly recall one DAC member stating that ‘the COF needed to be more respectful of the DAC’. This statement was made as part of a discussion about the DAC being disbanded, a prospect raised by a senior council officer. The Chair seemed concerned at this prospect and raised the idea of a meeting with the CEO, the Mayor and others to sort out some important areas of concern. If things were going so well with the DAC, why would there be a suggestion that it be disbanded after only 3 years of operation? I am also sure other DAC members must have heard the comment made by the council officer that “councillor X was editing DAC reports”. I reacted so strongly to the comment that anyone in the room should remember it.

‘I would strongly refute London’s tone that the DAC is effective’

“I argued on many occasions that the DAC be stronger in its opinion and be less ambiguous. I urged them to take a stronger stand on poor design projects in which the COF was involved. One other DAC member also urged the DAC members to be clearer about their concerns At one stage I said I was actually proud,  at long last, to be part of the DAC due to their strong words voiced in the committee meeting about Point St. I was therefore stunned to hear that the DAC had signed off on the project.

‘Development … there were no positives’

“On one memorable occasion I raised concerns about a project only to be told by the Chair that he would assure the proponent that he did not share my concerns. This was a very concerning comment by the Chair and I told him so. It not only implied that he regarded his opinion to be more important than mine but it also undermined my ability to say anything further in the committee meeting.

“On another occasion the Chair asked me in particular to focus on the positives about a certain project. I eventually stated that I couldn’t think of any.

“A great weakness of the DAC process has been that recommendations and minutes are not signed off or agreed by the whole committee. The Chair and a council officer write the report and I have never, in just over three years, seen or had direct input into a single report. To me, the process was completely opaque and I had no idea what was actually being reported and by whom– hence my concerns about what the reports contained. I have never been part of a review committee which operated this way.

“The Point Street project, which is on COF land and is one of the largest contemplated in the city, is an interesting case. Firstly, when the COF asked for expressions of interest to develop this site they only had one response (I was told by a senior officer).The DAC met for many months to review this project because we had so many problems with it. I recall, at my last DAC meeting, a committee member saying that the problem is that this project is beyond the capacity of the architect. Other members agreed and we discussed how to deal with it. I even suggested another workshop. Shortly after this meeting I learnt that the DAC had signed off on Point Street. This was a remarkable development considering the depth of concern previously being expressed. My reading of this is that the DAC signed off because they had no real choice. I can recall so clearly in one meeting a DAC member saying words to the effect ‘ how can we deal with this and still keep the credibility of the committee in tact’.

‘Planning committee: Very large projects should be dealt with by full council’

“I suggest one problem in Fremantle is as follows. The COF has for many, many years only had to deal with planning applications of a small to medium nature. Fremantle is not known for major developments occurring in recent time. I can understand therefore that a planning committee was established to deal with these applications rather than involving the full council. This structure still exists however now, the planning committee is trying to deal with very large and complex projects. These  should be dealt with by the full council as they are in most local governments. The Planning and Services Committee has too many members who are pushing for development in the City. This gives the impression, to me at least and I suggest many others, that there is a perceived conflict of interest where pro-development councillors will support projects which they are actually initiating. Examples of this are Point St, Myer, Queensgate and the Spicer site. The Heritage Council  is an example where a committee member must declare a perceived conflict of interest. One member I know on the Heritage Council is also CEO of the Committee for Perth which is a strong pro-development lobby group. When she sits on the Heritage Council, she must declare a perceived  conflict of interest on any projects for which the Committee for Perth has been an advocate. The Council will decide if she is allowed to vote.

Huge Changes Promised

“The Mayor came to power promising change. He and a few other councillors embarked on a strategic sites review and they decided to increase heights in the inner city area as a means of attracting developers. I was employed to help facilitate this strategic sites review process and I saw firsthand how the pro-development councillors and the business lobby group dominated the views of others. The Mayor then assured the concerned community that high design standards would be maintained through appointment of a new DAC. High quality design standards have not been maintained as the Mayor admits in this email a few days ago”.

Backchat asked The Mayor and Councillor Andrew Sullivan, who was the the chair of the Planning Committee until recently, for their opinions. Councillor Sullivan responded:

“I did attend some of the early DAC meetings, but only when they were discussing DAC processes and establishing design principles. There may also have been occasion when DAC was discussing Amendment 49 where I was present to provide the Council’s perspective about that process, although I’d have to check the record to be able to state that categorically one way or the other. I was never present when DAC discussed individual applications as this was specifically prohibited. There was at least one DAC meeting (maybe 2 or 3 even) where their agenda included general discussion about process and principles, followed by consideration of a development and it may well have been the Woolstores Shopping site development as the timing makes perfect sense. From memory, that development process started before DAC was properly formed and so there may have been some general comment about where Council had got to with Amendment 49 and strategic sites owners like EG Funds as a way of providing background information before DAC got stuck into their consideration. It is important to understand that I had been heavily involved in chairing the Strategic Sites Working Group that was then followed by the Amendment 49 process. Hence discussions with EG Funds had been  considerable as theirs is probably the most strategic site of all. I had been saying that quite regularly and quite publicly for almost two years.

Sullivan: “A sad reflection on his [Lutton’s] understanding of the situation”. 

“If Linley believes that by stating an important matter of fact, i.e. that this was one of the most important sites in Freo and was one of the “strategic sites” identified through a robust planning process, can somehow be construed as trying to bully a committee of five professionals into making prejudiced recommendations, then that is a very sad reflection on his understanding of the situation. Indeed, the emphasis I had at the time was that it was critically important that we achieve the highest quality architecture on that site as this would be the landmark building(s) in that area. I don’t want a building approved on that site at any cost, I want a building that Fremantle can be proud of for centuries to come, and I wanted him and his DAC colleagues to help deliver that. The desire for design excellence is why I called for the DAC to be established in the first place and I made it very clear in public forums that I wanted the DAC to help deliver great outcomes.

‘Maybe his opinions were consistently in the minority …’

“I don’t think Linley’s resignation and public outbursts have anything to do with the general operation of the DAC. It may simply have been the case that his opinions were consistently in the minority and that his colleagues reached consensus recommendations that he didn’t support. Perhaps more telling is that Linley consistently argued against what he calls high-rise development, or anything over about five storeys (hardly high-rise but whatever). That was certainly his right to have a minority view but the Council writes the planning rules and after an extensive process the Council settled on heights that Linley is fundamentally opposed to (or has at least been opposed to in recent years – he wasn’t opposed to these earlier in his career). My sense is that in having to assess taller developments ever since, he has felt compromised.  His fundamentalism on this matter is breathtaking and I suspect he has invented his own version of ‘reality’ to deal with his confliction with the planning rules that were fairly mandated by the Council”.

Mayor Pettitt responded:

‘Meeting possibly an open joint presentation … I have not attended any DAC meetings’

“From memory the meeting Linley refers to was not a DAC meeting at all but a open joint presentation by EG on their site that all Councillors, DAC member s and planning staff were invited to.

“I am not sure of exact date but I’d say the last time we met EG to discuss a development was in 2011 – in the very early days of DAC. The question then for Linley is why did it take more than 2 years for him to resign if there were no issues with Councillors attending since then.

“I have not attended any DAC meetings and I am reliably told no Councillors have in the last few years where a specific development application was being considered. This is how it should be and I’d be surprised if he had evidence to the contrary”.

Graeme MacKenzie, The CEO of Fremantle Council, was asked if guidelines for councillors existed in relation to contact with the DAC but at the time of publishing Backchat had not received a reply.

LINLEY LUTTON : PUBLIC MEETING

The meeting will be held in the University of Notre Dame Medical Lecture Theatre, 38 Henry Street. 7pm Tuesday 18th February.

Declaration: The author is a member of the Fremantle Society