FREMANTLE COUNCIL EXPOSED TO FRAUD AND CORRUPTION

AUDITOR’S REPORT STATES CITY HAS NO ANTI-CORRUPTION FRAMEWORK: SECRET MEETINGS ARE CAUSE FOR CONCERN

In an extensive report delivered to Fremantle Council the City’s auditors have revealed:

‘The City has no Fraud and Corruption Framework, there is no Fraud and Corruption Prevention Policy nor Procedures’.

The auditors, Paxon Group Pty Ltd, describe themselves as specialists in aspects of urban renewal, development feasibility and the structuring of joint ventures between public and private entities. 

 Paxon Group also reported that the City has no Fraud Prevention Officer.

The audit reveals:

‘Purchase orders have been raised after expenditure’ and ‘Invoices have not been approved by authorised personnel’.

Paxon’s note that issues related to the delegation of authority have “been actioned”.

WARNINGS GIVEN IN 2015  :  REQUIRED TRAINING NOT IMPLEMENTED

Paxon’s findings reveal the lack of Risk Management Analysis dates prior to 2015. They say that under a previous Regulation 17 report of 2015:

“ . . . risk analysis was new to the City and required further refinement and training scheduled for 2015. This did not take place”.

(Links to the auditor’s information published in Council’s agenda and minutes are at the end of this article)

COUNCILLORS MUST HAVE ACCESS TO CONTRACTS  :  MAY HAVE NO LEGAL PROTECTION.

Fremantle is increasingly favoured by developers and at least one, Sirona Capital, has been described in court documents as having questionable professional ethics.

If councillors did not receive advice related to aspects of fraud and corruption they may have a defense against future legal action associated with the financial failure of projects, especially if councillors have not been given full details of projects’ contracts. 

Fremantle Backchat understands councillors have not had access to contracts. Therefore they cannot understand the implications.

Not requesting access to contracts may indicate a lack of due diligence which could expose individuals to legal action in the event of financial or other failures of projects.

By understanding contracts fully, if necessary consulting independent legal advice, councillors would be in a position to question the administration and clarify any doubts they may have. Due diligence may help protect elected members from legal actions and advise the administration to refrain from imprudent management practices. They may also protect ratepayers from costly misinterpretations.

REQUEST FOR CONTRACT IGNORED  :  COUNCIL SECRECY IS CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Lack of transparency within the Council’s administration is palpable. The administrator’s findings cast doubt on past and current administrations and their procedures. The findings should prompt councillors to ensure legal protection which may be assisted by having a  full understanding. of contracts

Fremantle Backchat has written to the City’s CEO, Philip St John, requesting a copy of the contract between the City and Sirona Capital so that it may be independently examined in the interests of Fremantle ratepayers who are repeatedly described as partners with Sirona Capital in the redevelopment of King’s Square. He has not replied.

SECRET DISCUSSION OF  CASH FLOW BY AUDIT AND RISK MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE

Underlining the Council’s lack of transparency a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee was held in camera to discuss the Kings Square Civic Building Cash Flow Summary. The meeting was on 14th May 2019. In some circumstances Government legislation does allow council business to be closed to the public. 

The council has recently contracted Pindan and concerns have been raised that the contract may not have a fixed price. That is not uncommon but ratepayers have been given details of costs which appear to be fixed.

If contracts are not fixed price there may be concerns that substantial increases in construction and fit-out costs can be expected.

Fremantle’s ratepayers who are financial partners in the development of  Kings Square should have considerable cause for concern that contracts and related financial matters which are shrouded in secrecy are not available for inspection.

NOTE: For detailed information related to the auditor’s report refer to these links:

Agenda:<https://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/Agenda%20-%20Ordinary%20Meeting%20of%20Council%20-%2022%20May%202019.pdf>Starting on pp95

Minutes:<https://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/Minutes%20-%20Ordinary%20Meeting%20of%20Council%20-%2022%20May%202019.pdf>Starting on pp111

Roger Garwood, Editor, Fremantle Backchat; <editorbackchat@gmail.com>

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FREMANTLE COUNCIL NOT IN BED WITH AirBnB

PUNITIVE TAX WILL FURTHER DAMAGE FREMANTLE’S ECONOMY

The Fremantle Herald recently published a story related to AirBnB (7th July ’18) which suggested Fremantle Council may have been pressured by hotel industry lobbyists to levy a rates surcharge on small accommodation rentals.

That punitive tax, which  raises only $35,000, will inflict further damage to the city’s battered economy.  Another levy on small business will not help the city or its retailers out of their financial crises and it’s doubtful it will help the ailing hotel market.

Visitors who choose to stay in AirBnB establishments may do so because they prefer not to stay in hotels. The offering of comfortable home accommodation to visitors is not necessarily a great deal cheaper than a hotel. Some travellers, often couples or family groups, may have been attracted to visit the city for something other than another festival but simply to enjoy the sights, the variety of restaurants and cafes and also the remaining retailers. Any saving in relation to accommodation costs frees up expenditure for enjoyment in other city attractions.

Hoteliers have a vested interest in encouraging guests to patronise hotel facilities which frequently include restaurants, cafes, spas, bars and small retail outlets. Visitors’ money spent in a hotel’s  in-house attractions is detrimental to local businesses.

Retailers in Fremantle’s West End who  offer a variety of  particularly funky shops are already paying elevated rates, ostensibly to be used by council to promote their businesses. That differential rate levy , originally established to support the BID scheme, has been diverted to a hand picked Destination Marketing committee by the cash strapped council.

One AirBnB operator, Alison Roberts, told The Herald: “All Airbnb and Homeaway owners already use their websites to promote Fremantle as a destination, recommending local eateries, tourism operators, retail outlets and artists”.

TAX CONCERTS INSTEAD

It would have been expedient and a greater revenue raiser for council to levy music festivals and other large scale ‘visiting businesses’ such as Winter World. Minutes from a SW council indicate Sunset Events festivals in their region were levied $20 a ticket. That’s not done here presumably because it was never considered or, as the Mayor publicly demonstrated, one of the Sunset company directors, David Chitty is a ‘mate’ of his. Also a  Chitty family member placed considerable funds into the mayor’s election  campaign.

A $20 per ticket levy to a music festival which attracts 10,000 patrons would raise $200,000 for council. Even a smaller festival of  2,000 patrons would raise  $40,000, considerably more than the Council’s punitive impost on the AirBnB businesses.

Most companies who operate festivals and other events are not based in Fremantle. They arrive, utilise the city’s amenities, make truck loads of money, and leave.  Festival patrons add little to the city’s retail businesses other than to booze barns, cafes (and possibly drug dealers). They also leave expensive clean up liabilities.

AirBnB hosts  offer friendly alternative accommodation services to the city. They attract people who may have responded to the council’s revised Destination Marketing program which, by coincidence, has hoteliers on its advisory board in addition to Chris Lewis. Lewis is the spin doctor who was instrumental with a few members of the G4F group, including Councillor Sullivan, in organising fundraisers for Brad Pettitt’s mayoral campaign.

ELECTED COUNCILLORS SHOULD ASK “DO THESE CONNECTIONS INDICATE CRONY CAPITALISM?”

Lewis’s company, LewiCorp PLC, was paid $22,000 by Fremantle Council for ‘Strategic Services’ rumoured to have been connected to the Keep Dockers in Fremantle campaign spearheaded by Lewis and his confrère, former WA Inc Premier Peter Dowding.

Lewis, Dowding and Pettitt  appeared unworried that to retain the team in the city would  cost city ratepayers in excess of $100,000,000.  The campaign failed as did Lewis’s attempt to gain a position on the Dockers’ board.

Fremantle has a Council, many of whose elected members appear to be unwilling or incapable of thinking outside The Square but apparent respond to  pressure from ‘mates’ in business or those who facilitate and lobby on behalf of businesses, including developers. It could be Crony Capitalism at its worst, a reflection of the corruption endemic during the governments of WA Inc. It is becoming clear that councillors should investigate who is behind the scenes, driving the city and advising the Mayor and some colleagues.

Note:
Crony Capitalism is defined as: “An economic system characterised by close, mutually advantageous relationships, between business leaders and government officials.”

 

Roger Garwood

Editor: backchatfremantle@gmail.com

ARE SIRONA SOLVENT?

HAVE FREMANTLE RATEPAYERS  SETTLED SIRONA CAPITAL’S DEBT TO BUILDERS COOPER & OXLEY?
In February this year the administrators for Perth builders Cooper and Oxley implemented legal action to recover a debt of  $6.12m allegedly owed by Sirona Capital, the developers of Fremantle’s King’s Square.
   Last month (May 2018) Sirona Capital’s  Managing Director Mathew MacNeilly quietly announced the case was settled. Presumably the debt had been paid.
   It’s reasonable conjecture to ask whether Fremantle’s councillors may have fallen for a well orchestrated smoke and mirrors trick.
   Over a year ago Sirona Capital requested a twelve month extension to pay for one of several properties purchased from Fremantle ratepayers’ assets.
   The 12 month deferred payment of $6.65m was due on May 9th 2018. It is for Sirona Capital’s acquisition of the Spicer site, one of a number of assets sold to the developer by council but not yet paid for.
   On February 8th this year journalists Kim MacDonald and Grant Taylor reported in  Perth Now  that a Supreme Court writ had been issued against Sirona Capital.
   MacDonald and Taylor outlined the writ claimed Sirona Capital’s directors and other executives had acted “fraudulently”,  “negligently” and made “misrepresentations” related to the conversion of a $5m loan into equity.
Cooper and Oxley’s administrators were seeking $5 million plus 15% interest on that sum since late 2011, about $1.2 million, plus unspecified damages.
WERE, OR ARE,  SIRONA SOLVENT?
   If Sirona Capital did pay Cooper and Oxley Councillors must now ask why did they not pay the $6.65m debt to ratepayers first?
If they did not pay money to Cooper and Oxley, nor to Fremantle the question is: “Were, or are, Sirona Capital solvent?”
   If on May 9th, 2018, Sirona could not pay their debt to Fremantle City Council and/or to Cooper and Oxley, they may have been insolvent,  had a legal obligation to stop trading immediately, or seek settlement with creditors. It appears they did the latter when asking for extended time to pay Fremantle Council.
IS THIS A TIMELINE OF INTRIGUE WORTHY OF WA INC?
APRIL 2017
SIRONA CAPITAL : PAYMENT TO COUNCIL FOR $6.65M DEFERRED

The new due date for payment of the Spicer Site was 9th May 2018.

FEBRUARY 2018
BUILDERS COOPER AND OXLEY CALL IN ADMINISTRATORS
7th FEBRUARY  2018
WRIT ISSUED AGAINST SIRONA CAPITAL FOR $6.12m
It was reported  the administrator of Cooper & Oxley , Cameron Shaw of accountants Hall Chadwick, issued writs against Sirona Capital for $6.12m.
11th APRIL  2018
SIRONA CAPITAL SEEK ADDITIONAL EXTENSION FOR PAYMENT OF THE SPICER SITE : GRANTED BY COUNCIL
   Council members unanimously approved a proposal by Mayor Pettitt and seconded by Cr Hume that Sirona Capital be granted an additional 6 months to pay for the Spicer site.
Council minutes record:
  “That Council authorise the Chief Executive Officer authority to approve extension of the settlement date for the former Spicer property for a period up to 30 September, 2018 and amend the Project Development Deed in accordance with this extension.”
This was probably the earliest possible date the application for an extension could have been put before full council since the writ was issued.
19th APRIL  2018
ACTION DROPPED : WRIT ‘SETTLED’
   Immediately after gaining the  extension Matthew McNeilly, Sirona Capital’s Managing Director, announced action by the Cooper and Oxley administrators has been  withdrawn. Had $6.12m claim has been paid?  McNeill described it as  ‘settled’.
   It is reasonable supposition that the $6.65m for the May 9th payment for the Spicer site may have been used to settle the debt claimed by Cooper and Oxley’s administrators.
17th MAY  2018
SIRONA CAPITAL ANNOUNCE $190m FINANCIAL PACKAGE FOR KINGS SQUARE PROJECT

Only four weeks after the Cooper and Oxley case was settled McNeilly announced $190m funding for the KSP.  The company had secured the funding from First State Super (FSS) and Altis Property partners. FSS manage the superannuation funds of 800,000 public service employees. McNeill claimed  banks  had ‘lost out’ on the chance to fund the King’s Square project.

A $190m financial package is not achieved overnight.  Sirona Capital must have been aware they had finance arranged, or were sure of getting it, before they asked for additional time to pay for the Spicer site.

  Fremantle’s Councillors may have fallen for a well planned financial manoeuvre.
SIRONA CAPITAL ARE ‘CASHED UP’ BUT FREMANTLE’S ECONOMY HAS COLLAPSED
   Observers are aware that Sirona had difficulty gaining financial backing from investors for the King’s Square redevelopment.
  There are close to 130 empty or demolished retail premises in Fremantle.   That includes shops demolished to make way for the shelved Hilton Hotel development; the Woolworth’s centre next to St Patrick’s Basilica; shops empty in arcades including the Coles Woolstore centre; shops under redevelopment by Sirona Capital and about 85 visually empty premises in the CBD.
   Faced with that scenario it is not surprising  investors display  caution before funding the construction of retail premises which form a substantial part of the King’s Square Plan.
  Fremantle cannot survive on the smell of coffee beans, hop extracts and festivals. The city is now ranked among the least financially secure shires in Western Australia. In short, the city’s economy has collapsed.
COUNCIL LOSING MINIMUM OF $1,000,000 BANK INTEREST
   Councillors must demand Sirona Capital settle for their purchase of ratepayers’ assets. They owe $6.65m for the Spicer site alone. They could be earning considerable interest on  money which is lost to the city and could be in excess of $1,000,000.
   To cover Sirona’s Capital’s non payment for a number of assets the City’s financial managers have removed $12.65m from the reserve fund, thus losing interest on that deposit. Over  3-4 years that could amount to interest of  $3,000,000. The council have described to cost as insignificant.
   Fremantle’s ratepayers – the real financial lifeblood of the city – must ask for an independent inquiry into the Kings Square Plan which has been shrouded by secrecy and spin.

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

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