SLAM DUNK IN FS ELECTION

Chris Lewis Defeated 84-22

The challenge for the leadership of the Fremantle Society resulted in a slam dunk victory for John Dowson.

Speeches by each candidate, mercifully restricted to five minutes each, were incisive but, in the end,  boiled down to delivery.

Lewis was casual in his approach but his voice didn’t carry well in the packed meeting and his enunciation was poor. He outlined a campaign for better quality in development, emphasised the need to revisit the town hall/King’s Square redevelopment and overall, called for balanced and harmonious development.

Dowson, not widely known for his speech presentations,  surprised the audience with a powerful, skilled and succinct speech calling for a robust and independent society which would assist change and evolution in the city.

The atmosphere in the room became electric. The campaign had been rugged and John Dowson’s supporters had been anticipating an embarrassing defeat.

Cathy Hall announced the results, saying 107 votes had been cast of which 106 were valid.
She slowly read: “John Dowson, 84 votes. Chris Lewis 22 votes”. After a few seconds of silence the hall erupted into applause for Dowson.

The count for committee members proceeded for well over an hour. In the end it was an almost clean sweep for John Dowson’s supporters.

Fremantle now has three strong organisations  aligned to challenge council and developers and ensure proper processes are followed: The Fremantle Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (FRRA), Fremantle Inner City Residents’ Association (FICRA) and The Fremantle Society.

By coincidence the Fremantle Society celebrated it’s 43rd birthday yesterday. Maybe this victory will go down in history as the icing on the cake.

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

Loopers’ Attacks on Dowson Are Dangerous and Devisive

The Politest Description of Fremantle Society’s Former President Roel Loopers is ‘Enigmatic’. 

Even the most casual observer will have noted that he seems to change his mind with the wind, to blow hot and cold with the same breath.

Closer examination reveals he continually manipulates the truth about his experience and achievements.  For example it was only about two weeks ago that Loopers said he had been a Fremantle resident for 17 years. Now he says he has been living here for 22 years. Soon we’ll be told that he was born here.

His flippant attitude to facts and analysis can be noted from his recent attacks on John Dowson, referring to him as ‘the old guard of Fremantle Society’.

Many of the members of The Society have lived in Fremantle for decades longer than either Loopers or Dowson. John Dowson, an historian and lecturer, has a genuine passion for the city’s architecture as well as a deep seated knowledge of the history which accompanies the infrastructure – not only the buildings but the lifestyles which blended into the old city and latterly into the immediate suburbs.

Dowson, has been maligned by detractors who see him as pedantic and have successfully labelled him as anti-development. Those detractors are developers or the supporters of developers. That includes Roel Loopers.  Do they have a vested  interest in destroying Dowson’s reputation in his drive for high quality development? You bet they do.

When studying Dowson carefully he emerges as an avid supporter of development. Backed by his study of the city and its social and economic lifestyle, he strongly favours high quality, low rise structures. Most Fremantle people favour quality development of no more than six stories.  That belief is shared by two members of The Society’s committee who have resigned saying they  cannot work with Loopers. A third recently resigned but the reason is unknown.

 Dowson Want’s High Quality development. Looper’s Changed His Mind.

Loopers had been a great admirer of Dowson. Suddenly Loopers once more changed his mind. Why? There is no reason other than the fact he sees  an attack on Dowson as another feather in his cap among his, Loopers, supporters. Loopers will always, carefully,  go with the flow but Dowson has not flinched from his “high quality,  low rise” stance. Dowson, or for that matter, any other member of the committee (other than Loopers) is not driven by ego or vested self interest. It must be remembered that before joining The Society Loopers was an advocate of high rise developments. He posted pictures on his blog, admiring proposed concrete and glass boxes of ten plus stories.

The best thing that could emerge from a Dowson victory is that Loopers keeps his promise to resign from the Fremantle Society’s committee.

Looper’s Achieved Nothing … Except turn the Society’s Newsletter into a Public Relations Mouthpiece for Developers.

And why is that? Loopers was greeted as a saviour by the society a couple of years or so back. He promised to rejuvenate the organisation. To attack  –  a cut and thrust knight in shining armour who would devour anybody who dared to ruin the city. Now he has turned the society newsletter into little more than claptrap supporting council and developers, spending much of his time socialising with the very people who plan and support crass developments.

The membership of the Society has halved in two years and, in spite of Loopers promises, has not attracted a younger brigade.

When Loopers finally retired as president (for the second time) he openly admitted he had achieved nothing.  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”.

It didn’t cross his mind that his ideas may have been impractical, that better minds didn’t agree with him, that they had picked him as being a manipulator of facts to boost his own standing.

Blind Followers Faced Legal Action

His ideas appear to be poorly researched. A case in point is QR coding which is described world wide as being an outdated technology being replaced by more efficient systems. For some reason people blindly followed his idea. We’re yet to see it working in spite of considerable public expenditure being invested.

Recently the Society committee had to disassociate  themselves from Loopers’ blog under threats of legal action for defamation. It emerged the entire committee would be responsible for legal action following Loopers defamatory remarks made against several people (including this writer) with no supporting evidence whatsoever, being reposted on the Society’s blog.  The committee came within a hair’s breath of being sued but the simple fact is that people with no profile, let alone those who have a high public profile, will not tolerate being called cowards, nazis, bullies etc.

Loopers, and by default, the committee, were saved by the fact that Loopers is a failure (he has admitted that in his blog several times). As such he is simply not worth suing. However some of the committee members do have substantial assets and the legal advice was clear:  ‘Sue them as they have repeated his  defamations via The Society’s blog and web site’.

A Vote for Dowson Will Emasculate Loopers.

So, a vote for Dowson at todays meeting will be a vote to emasculate Loopers in much the same manner as he, Loopers, has emasculated the society.

Hopefully Dowson and Farrar (who claims to be a great friend of Loopers) can make things work between them and rescue The Society by offering constructive opposition to poor quality developments. They would also regain the profile the Society had under it’s stronger leaders, who include Dowson,  all of whom Loopers failed to invite to The Society’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

Dowson would attract many of the people who have deserted the movement. The committee would find themselves on an even keel and able to do what the society does best – encourage high quality development, and attack the fast buck gang of developers and architects who seem intent on killing off Fremantle’s character. That may go some way towards attracting the city’s newer residents to an experienced society which has respected membership base of experience and intellect. The old guard have a prodigious  record and a new and intelligent group is needed to join them to ensure a smooth transition which is less enigmatic and more decisive than the immediate past history has shown.

There is little question that if Dowson becomes president he and Henty Farrar could work well together. They have a deep respect, built over many years which will re-form the Fremantle Society into a powerful and respected body.

A Big Question Hangs Over QR Codes

Are They Dead or Alive? 

The Fremantle Society in co-operation with Fremantle BID have recently started to install QR code plaques on historic building in Fremantle. These are neat, high-tech panels each containing a unique code which is scanned by an App installed in a smart phone or tablet. If all works well the App should open a website which allows the viewer to study information about the building or other artefact to which the plaque is attached.

Was it a good move by Fremantle BID and the Fremantle Society to implement their use on Fremantle buildings or a waste of public money?

Fremantle Backchat asked Tim Milsom, the CEO of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce, if he knew of any Chamber members who had installed the codes. He said the Chamber itself used them on its business cards but offered no further information.

A local photographer, Glen Cowans, has them installed in his gallery on information panels beneath each of his pictures. He  sees some people using the codes but has not noticed an increase in sales and has no idea if they do have an effect on sales.

The West Australian newspaper, in an article related to the effectiveness of QR codes explained that of the number of QR codes applied in adverts they found from a survey of advertisers that less than 2000 readers had used the codes. The newspaper claims a blanket coverage in Western Australia, a readership approaching two million a day.

Fremantle Society Committee Member Resigned Over QR Codes Issue: ‘They had better things to do with resources.’

Ron Davidson,  a pillar of the Fremantle Society, said The Society’s resources were far too limited to waste on the QR codes. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and he resigned from the committee.

Davidson said:

‘I was teetering on the brink at that point … the FS had limited resources and they’d be better spent doing other things  … the standard things the society has always done … to study plans … to project a general philosophy about Fremantle.’

Davidson agreed that The Society has become little more than a public relations mouthpiece for Fremantle Council. He continued:

‘The last newsletter seemed bizarre, all it did was list things they [council] were doing  but offering no critical analysis. The basic feeling [among the committee] was that you couldn’t be critical … that you have to be positive. One of my colleagues has said:  “One of the most positive things you can have is good criticism.’”

Did BID and The Society Ask the Hard Questions?

But did BID and The Society conduct due diligence? A simple search indicates there are many arguments which indicate the codes are not effective.

Only between 6 and 17% of smart phone owners have downloaded a QR code App to their phone. The biggest uptake has been in Germany.  Also, while smart phones are widely used they are by no means owned by every mobile phone user. Thus the target market is relatively small compared with the overall number of mobile phone users.

No smart phone manufacture has incorporated a QR scanner within their product. There are several Apps available which will scan codes but why, if the system is good, have they not been built into smart phones at the manufacturing stage?

The Joke Is … QR Codes Have a Negative Reputation

The answer may rest in a quote by Alexander Taub, published in Forbes magazine in December 2012. He says:

“One of the most popular Tumblr blogs of 2012 is Pictures of People Scanning QR Codes. If you click through to the site you will see that it is empty. The joke here? No one scans QR codes (short for Quick Response code). It is obvious that QR codes have a bad rep and haven’t gained much traction on the consumer end of the equation”.

Taub, in an interview with Garrett Gee of ‘Scan’, a company which dominates scanning technology, quotes Gee as saying:

“ … amongst technical experts, QR codes definitely have a negative reputation”

Better Technology is Around the Corner

He continues:

“We believe that better technologies will eventually replace QR codes and Scan will be right there leading the way. However, many people thought NFC would kill QR codes overnight. We knew this wouldn’t be the case. QR codes are far too spread throughout the world and even if NFC gets to where many hope to see it, there will always be certain use cases where QR codes simply make better sense (large signs, magazines, mailers, etc).”

There are problems associated with the manufacture of QR codes. The codes are small square images, looking a little like a miniature black and white mosaic. Problems occur if the slightest error in producing the code is made. This can cause a scanned code to lead the viewer to a different website.

 QR Codes Are Expensive To Use

Code reading is a time consuming process and, if people are using prepaid phones, expensive.

It costs approximately $1 per minute to use a mobile phone, especially pre paid systems. Given  the time to scan and download information many users would not be prepared to scan dozens in a day or so.

Sean X Cummings commented on iMedia Connections in 2011:

“Unfortunately the technology behind QR codes was not invented for advertising and marketing; we are just co-opting its usage, and it shows.

“From the relative lack of public understanding of what they even are, to the dearth of creativity in their usage, the QR code is destined to become just the little box that geek built. But if it does go the way of CueCat, only we are to blame. Here’s why.”

Survey Shows The General Public Are Oblivious to QR Codes

“The current use of QR codes in advertising is … I could finish that statement with “stupid,” “useless,” “uncreative,” or “uninspiring.” Surprisingly, that is not news to anyone at advertising agencies or brands. QR codes seem to be a last ditch effort; … The general public seems largely oblivious to what they are used for, and why they are on all those ads. In my informal “on the street” survey of 300 people last month, I held up a sign with a QR code on it and the phrase: “Free gift if you can tell me what this is.”

Cummings conducted the survey in San Francisco, an area he describes as being the veritable mecca of tech. He simply showed people the code and asked if they could identify what it is. Here are the statistics he recorded:

• 11 percent correctly answered QR code or quick response code

• 29 percent responded with “Some bar code thingy”

• Seven percent guessed some variant of “Those things you stare at that get 3D when you cross your eyes.  What picture is it? I can’t seem to get it”

• The remaining 53 percent tried everything from a secret military code, Korean (uh really?), to an aerial street map of San Francisco

QR codes were developed in 1994 by the car manufacturing industry to assist with production. Only in recent years have they been applied in the broader community.

Dumb Marketers

In April 2013 Aaron Strout published an article, “The Death of the QR Code”, for Marketing Land. He closely examined the death of the QR code and the reasons for it’s demise. He numbered several significant causes, among them the fact that no manufacturer has pre-loaded a QR reader into a smart phone. He lists the importance of wifi connectivity and the simple fact that wifi is not available in many places. In replies to his blog many people confirmed his views. They are liberally sprinkled with comments like:

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried scanning these codes only to be taken to non-mobile optimized sites, or worse, to a site where I scratched my head wondering what the connection to the original call-to-action was.”

“I don’t think they’re dead. I think marketers are/were dumb.”

“…our study results combined with our first-hand experience, lean towards a
fading trend for these little guys for use in advertising. People in
general are curious individuals, but unfortunately pulling out a phone,
loading an app and then scanning the code is possibly far more effort
than most people care to deal with to satisfy a curiosity of discovering
what the code offers, or links to.”

“I could not agree more…I think these are archaic and on their way out. They take too much time, they are ugly, and not convenient.”

“They were never alive. QR Codes have been a failure from the outset. No question.”

Did Anybody at BID or The Fremantle Society Ask The Obvious Question?

There is enough evidence to suggest  QR cards can work well in some situations but the level of dissatisfaction is very high. Maybe too high for the Fremantle Society and Fremantle BID to have risked public and private money until more research into the effectiveness of the system is proven in the manner proposed. Did anybody within BID or the Fremantle Society ask the most obvious question:

“Why have no other cities in Australia adopted QR coding?”

It would certainly have be prudent for the Society and BID to have investigated why no other council has supported the implementation of QR codes. However, such codes or similar systems may well be beneficial but nothing short of a marketing miracle will turn them into the silver bullet Fremantle needs.

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.