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

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A Tale of Two Cities

Napier NZ  v  Fremantle WA

Should Napier’s Financial Recovery be Studied as a Template for Fremantle’s Future?

Visiting Napier in New Zealand is a revealing and somewhat elevating experience. It is worth comparing Napier to Fremantle.

Situated in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of North Island, Napier is as remote a place as you could wish to find. About 30 years ago the city was staring in the teeth of financial ruin and only had a couple of claims to fame. It is one of the first places in the world to see the light of a new day and the original city was wiped out by an earthquake early in 1931. Following the earthquake a firestorm incinerated those buildings left standing apart from a small group of wooden houses on the beach front. They are still there.

Apart from making headlines following the earthquake the city may have remained unnoticed to this day –  isolated in one of the most remote countries in the world.

Napier - Art Deco detail as far as they eye can see. © Roger Garwood 2013
Napier – Art Deco detail as far as the eye can see.
© Roger Garwood 2013

In the aftermath of the earthquake Napier went through a total rebuild.  Four architectural firms co-operated and redesigned the city at the height of the Art Deco era. Using a combination of inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright , Maori motifs and  influences of the Spanish Mission style the city was totally rebuilt within two years.

In 1985, with financial gloom on the horizon, Napier needed a wake up call and it came when a small group of concerned residents saw potential for tourism.  An Art Deco Trust was established to underpin what is now one of New Zealand’s major industries, tourism.The Trust had recognised the city’s architecture could become the cornerstone of  financial revival. They were right.

Napier: Riding on the back of an Art Deco Wave are Astronomic Tourist Figures

Napier is now recognised as the worlds best preserved enclave of Art Deco architecture. That may be stretching a point as Miami in Florida could possibly lay the same claim. Nevertheless the Art Deco society promoted the city as such. Tourism statistics are now astronomic. In a recent 12 months period over 75 cruise liners visited the city, each packed to the gunnels with close to 2000 visitors. In addition the city hosted 1,600,000 tourists and of those over 600,000 stayed in hotels or other accommodation for one night or more.

In a recent broadcast of  ABC Radio’s Correspondents’ Report Dominique Schwartz interviewed Napier’s mayor, Barbara Arnott, who was expounding the virtues of Napier’s architectural trove.  ” … [tourism] generated fifteen million dollars just this weekend, but this weekend is the tip of the iceberg. We have Art Deco 365 days a year. And for Napier it is our point of difference”.

Napier, promoting itself as the world's Art Deco capital, attracts in excess of two million visitors a year.  This is the entrance to the Tobacco Company office © Roger Garwood 2013
Napier, promoting itself as the world’s Art Deco capital, attracts in excess of two million visitors a year. This is the entrance to the Tobacco Company office
© Roger Garwood 2013

The mayor continued: “It’s huge, not just for Napier but for the whole of Hawke’s Bay. Our accommodation is booked out, usually a year ahead, throughout the whole of Hawke’s Bay.”

Thus, riding on the back of its architecture, Napier performed a financial miracle. The town looks prosperous.  Comfortable street furniture situated in bright and airy pedestrian malls is placed under shady trees. The malls and streets meander though an Art Deco time warp and host  high quality shops which range from clothing stores, art galleries, restaurants, antique shops and general stores. It seems that flowers are everywhere and Art Deco sunrise motifs  rise from many building. Waterfront cafes are blooming and booming but principally this is a city of people who picked up a simple  idea, planned it thoroughly and used it to propel them into a secure financial future.

And here’s the rub. Fremantle’s gold rush architecture leaves Napier for dead.

High Street,  Fremantle. The world's finest example of gold rush architecture. © Roger Garwood 2013
High Street, Fremantle. The world’s finest example of gold rush architecture.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Fremantle: Riding on the Back of a Coffee Bean

In 1985, at the time when Napier woke up to its major asset, Fremantle was cresting the wave of America’s Cup fever. The city got a coat of paint and hosted about 40,000 visitors for close to three years. And then, with little more than a puff of wind, Fremantle fell off that wave and is now experiencing what may become the worst financial downturn in the city’s history.

The old adage is ‘When the going gets tough the tough get going”. And the tough did get going in Napier.

The problems with Fremantle have been well documented. The city is looking shabby, it has problems with social behaviour and violence, its service industry is second-rate. Shops are closing, rents are higher than anywhere in the world and days when Fremantle can ride on the back of a coffee bean are rapidly coming to an end.

South Terrace. Fremantle's economy rides  on the back of a coffee bean.  © Roger Garwood 2013
South Terrace. Fremantle’s economy rides on the back of a coffee bean.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Revival urgently needs kick starting with lateral thinking. What is wrong with The Fremantle Society  encompassing the potential of tourism? The combination of gold rush architecture and Fremantle’s overall history, marketed well,  would be a giant tourist magnet. Backed by BID, The Chamber of Commerce, WA Tourism Commission and Ficra as well as the City Council, all pulling in the same direction, it would be possible to turn the city’s current economy around in a short space of time.

Any one of Fremantle’s disparate groups could become the figurehead for a tourist led recovery. The Fremantle Society previously saved the city from structural disasters. It has the ability to follow that success through by utilising in-depth knowledge of the city’s architectural ancestry. Linking Fremantle’s potential with Kalgoorlie’s tourism promoters would be  feasible. The cities share a common historical foundation in a deep-rooted gold rush history and are linked by the umbilical cord of a railway line. The romance of gold, history and architecture – the finest of its genre in the world – could be marketed with a little imagination and a few people pooling common interests.

Send in a Gunboat – or a Delegation

The city’s principal asset is iconic West End architecture. Partly a result of the Fremantle Society’s past efforts it is the world’s best preserved 19th century port. With careful management and a touch of civic pride it can attract many more visitors from overseas. At present the economy will not turn around without more people visiting and spending  money in a revitalised city.

A starting point could be to send a delegation to Napier from The Fremantle Society, Fremantle City  Council, The WA Department for Tourism, BID and The Chamber of Commerce to speak with the groups who have made tourism work so well for them.

Market Street. Iconic buildlngs on every corner. © Roger Garwood 2103
Market Street. Fremantle has iconic buildings on every corner.
© Roger Garwood 2103

What a Week That Was

 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.

Fremantle – A Perfect Storm of Commercial Crisis and Bad Management?

Fremantle is in the grip of a commercial and social decline. Is there a case for a ratepayers’ association to be formed to help retain the lifestyle cherished by residents and visitors alike?

Thirty  years ago the advent of the America’s Cup  accelerated a process which had been simmering, serving the needs of citizens adequately. The term ‘Fremantle lifestyle’ was coined and contrary to popular opinion the city was thriving well before the America’s Cup arrived. When it was lost the city was left with little more than fading posters behind the counter in Gino’s to remind us of the event.

Radical Plans or Panic Stations?

In recent years Fremantle, like many societies throughout the world, has experienced a decline in retail trading which has led to the current council planning reforms to guide Fremantle into the future. Some critics say this is unplanned panic, others point to opportunism led by developers who have formed a tunnel vision of the future. The slogan is ‘sustainability’, the vehicle is ‘high rise, high density’.

For good reason citizens cherish the lifestyle offered by the city. Fremantle still embraces a reputation of being a working man’s community; artisans and academics rub shoulders with wharfies,  fishers and, we hope for a long time into the future, doctors and nurses based in an excellent (though ugly) hospital. We have also become a bona fide university locale which, in many respects, has elevated the city’s profile. Notre Dame have nurtured many historic properties but have also been criticised for isolating the community from the west end of the city.

During a recent discussion hosted by Notre Dame University a panel of students was invited to outline their vision for the future of Fremantle. Most of them would not have been born by 1983 before the America’s Cup placed Fremantle front and centre on the world map, but interestingly all of the student panelists outlined a vision of the city which actually existed from the mid 1970s (and possibly before then) through to the late 80s.

The scholars painted a perfect picture of a variety of shops, better parking facilities, cleaner streets, less anti-social behaviour. Only one student suggested high density living and none espoused high rise.

Should we look over the bridges for answers?

An observation of some other communities suggests that the current council may have got their visionary solution in the form of Scheme Amendment 49 wrong.

It would not take an hour or two to travel to the center of, say, Swanbourne and observe the variety of shops, the free parking, the trees, the proximity of a railway station, the congenial atmosphere. Nor would it take long to study Napoleon Street in Cottesloe and its adjoining thoroughfares. Angove Street’s charm seems to have been achieved with little more than a coat of paint and the imagination of local traders. Highgate and Oxford Street in Leederville also come to mind as areas which offer a Fremantle style of life.

All of these centers have several common features: Low rise buildings, a variety of retailers, readily available free parking, attractive street furniture and low density to medium density housing.

What they do not have is a plethora of booze barns or the nightmare of nightclubs and hotels which nurture excessive drinking and drug use and appear to stimulate street violence and vandalism.

Private Security

Antisocial behaviour has encouraged traders in Fremantle’s High Street Mall to employ private security guards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has been an effective move but for a society which already employs one of the largest per capita and highest paid police forces in Australia, indeed the world, it is not a good sign.   A well managed police force is an essential core element in any community and indicative of a well managed democracy but if rumours are to be believed the Fremantle council is frustrated with the lack of action promised by the police. This frustration is shared by residents.

Ratepayers have no time for low quality or high rise development

Broadly speaking Fremantle’s population appears to have little desire for high rise, low quality development. The vast majority wish to maintain and nurture the Fremantle lifestyle. They appreciate development is essential but the proposition of high rise in the city has not been widely accepted and will most likely, given council intransigence, see a few seats changed at the next council election.

A Mantra of Dissatisfaction

There is solidarity in the council chamber but that has not translated into trust among the public. There is broad discontent among traders and ratepayers of Fremantle and a mantra of anger from the public which struggles to be heard.

Antisocial behaviour, parking issues, inefficient policing,  booze barns, night clubs, high rise office plans as well as the rebirthing of King’s Square are not seen as beneficial to the lifestyle of the community.

What was effectively presented as a fait accompli in relation to the King’s Square redevelopment is now being opened to international competition which may produce innovative plans rather than CODA’s computer generated offering. Such a competition should have a positive outcome but will depend upon the design parameters set by council.

The current generation of artisans who gave Fremantle a cultural boost are being forced from town by high rents and, in the case of Arthur Head’s  J shed, a lack of secure tenure. High rents and rates have impacted on the ability of a variety of traders to survive. In many cases rents have doubled, tenants have walked away from leases and commercial premises have remained empty for years. Streets are deemed dirty, Fremantle is seen as scruffy, rates have increased, council staff have increased – and services have decreased.

Vibrant Lifestyle Must Be Protected

But within this decline the city still nurses a vibrant lifestyle. We have several beautiful beaches, a crystal clear ocean and a lifestyle Californians and Europeans dream about. A warm evening spent on the fabled Coffee Strip – a boulevarde of baristas – watching a parade of prized cars, a stimulating procession of high heeled fashion and listening to the rhythm of buskers, is pure magic. Fremantle is not known as the City of Festivals without good reason. Almost every weekend has something fresh on offer. This effervescent lifestyle must be protected.

Perfect Storm of a Disaster

Is the city is rolling, towards a financial and structural abyss from which it may not recover for decades?

The mayor protested that he was misinterpreted in a newspaper article related to cooperation between the council chamber and administration but one councillor has broken ranks and said the situation is not good, that it is difficult to initiate the wishes of the elected councillors.

If the administration is not achieving the council chamber’s edicts and if the council members are turning a deaf ear to public opinion Fremantle could face the perfect storm of a social, economic and structural disaster.

Growth Industry

Action groups have become growth industries in Fremantle. There are several established and embryonic groups spawned from the public and traders’ concerns for the city’s future direction.

The Fremantle Society, once a powerful voice in the city; the Save Our Beaches Campaign worked miracles (and is being called upon to do so again); the Fremantle Inner City Residents’ Association (FICRA); the West End Traders’ Association, formed to deal with the obvious problems traders face; BID, financed by ratepayers and recently G4F (Group for Fremantle) became the new kid on the block.  These groups together with the precincts could concentrate their common interests and form an effective umbrella organisation designed to keep the council in line with residents’ aspirations.

Ratepayers Association – A  Strong Body of Opinion

Simply put the city may need a ratepayers association, an organisation to make the council chamber and the administration accountable to the public and city traders. It would not be difficult to form such a body. Existing and embryonic groups could jointly create a  team from their membership and become the most compelling public voice the city has heard.

None of the organisations need lose individual identities but could effectively promote mutual interests as well as their own. They could become a strong body of opinion – a focused action group to ensure the Fremantle way of life grows from strength to strength for all stakeholders.