I like the idea of the Future Bayswater organisers to hold a Speakers Series about urban infill and density and it is something the City of Fremantle and/or Fremantle Network should consider doing without bias and with a wide variety of opinions, not just the green one.
There is little use in playing the blame game and dividing communities when talking about inevitable urban infill and higher density and it will always get some form of NIMBY opposition.
Most reasonable people accept that the urban sprawl of Perth is not sustainable, but local and state governments need to be very careful to not destroy the unique character of older cities. Good sensitive infill and medium density in carefully selected pockets of Fremantle will be very good and might also help create badly needed affordable student accommodation just a 15-minute bike ride from the CBD.
At a recent forum of Future Bayswater Committee for Perth chair Marion Fulker expressed that heritage was often used as an excuse against infill, but I don’t agree with her. Heritage protection here is Fremantle and elsewhere has to be paramount and an absolute priority! That is not difficult to accommodate as there are many under developed areas just on the outskirts of the inner city where substantial residential development will help increase the amenity instead of damaging it.
That is the conversation we need to have in Freo so let’s get organise some forums. Good leadership is taking the community with you when implementing change!
Fremantle needs to have a robust community debate about infill, high(er) density and the role the WA Development Assessment Panels-DAP play in it. I believe the contribution below that I copied of the blog of Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt is a very good start as the Mayor makes very valid points about the complexity and need of infill.
I encourage everyone to have a say but please stick to the issues and don’t engage in personal attacks. If it goes out of hand I will start editing comments.
DAPs – are there better ways of enabling development and density?
DAPs are a contentious issue in Perth right now. You might have read about a growing campaign against them led by predominantly inner-ring and western suburbs councils (ABC story here). While they are getting lots of press and “Scrap the DAPs” is a punchy slogan, I am not convinced that the current anti-DAPs movement offers the best way forward if we are interested in creating a more liveable Perth.
Former WA planning minister John Day recently dismissed the DAP opposition as ‘cause célèbre‘ and I am not sure this dismissal is quite right either. There are some real and concerning issues with the current DAP system that need to be reviewed and rethought. DAPs have been shown to be slower, more expensive and less representative than the approvals process was before – and that is when they are not approving developments that are pushing the bounds of local planning schemes and good design.
In fact, a WALGA report in collaboration with the Local Government Planners Association conducted a comprehensive analysis of all DAP agendas and minutes from meetings held between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2014. Analysis of the 520 development applications dealt with by Development Assessment Panels during this period revealed that:
there has been an increase in applicant fees by 19%;
it takes longer than 100 days to process applications (on average);
the process results in a high number of SAT appeals at great expense to the Department of Planning; and
DAPs expended vast resources in determining a significant number of relatively straightforward and clear cut applications that could have easily been processed under delegated authority by Local Government officers.
While DAPs might not be performing as well as promised it is important to remember that they were brought in, in part, because Perth was failing to realise its urban infill targets and address suburban sprawl in a coherent and strategic manner, in part due to an overly localised, NIMBY attitude to new development and density in some areas.
While in a post-DAP world we are now seeing higher rates of urban infill and higher density development slowly emerge (we have gone from 27% to 31% infill in recent years) I am not convinced that this approach is working as well as hoped. For a start Perth’s urban infill rate of 31% is still way off the 47% target signed up to (See recent report in The West)
I am even more concerned that the urban density that we are currently getting is not the high quality, strategic kind of smart density Perth really needs. By that I mean density located in around train stations and good transit, in activity centres and close to jobs and schools and shops. Instead we seem to be getting haphazard often dumb density away from good transit and centres and often approved by DAPs. This dumb-density is angering local communities who can clearly see what this density is costing them in terms of their suburb’s amenity and character but cannot clearly see what benefits smart density could achieve in terms of a less congested, more diverse, sustainable and liveable city.
In other words DAPs have failed to adequately solve the problem they we largely created to address and are instead in danger of fuelling a new density hangover that will once again set back community support for density for decades.
I am increasingly of the view that we need to rethink DAPs and more fundamentally how we best achieve greater density in Perth. To do this we should consider turning the DAP idea on its head by returning power to local communities how and where they put density. But to avoid the NIMBYism that has plagued development in Perth so far local Councils should be required to sign up to agreed density targets and the onus should be on them approve developments that achieve these.
If these targets are met then those local governments should be rewarded with greater infrastructure spend by the State Government This localises power and responsibility and with the right incentives to communities it should result in better informed and strategic decision making. This is covered in part of the DAP item that came to Fremantle Council last week which (along with other possible improvements) called for:
“Consideration of incentive based replacement for DAPs which rewards local government for setting appropriate density targets for their area (through community led design) and making strong progress towards meeting these targets. This should include a particular focus on development and density located in areas adjacent to transport and near designated activity centres. Local governments who are delivering on agreed density targets will be rewarded with infrastructure and other funding that will not be available to Local Government not meeting their targets.”
The DAP debate in Fremantle has a fair way to go but I am pleased that the Fremantle Council’s approach so far has been about more than a catchy slogan that says “no”. Both the Labor and Liberal parties in WA support DAPs so this approach is not likely to lead to much change. That is why we are looking towards a more sophisticated approach that is willing to work through the complex issues so we can then advocate improved and workable solutions to our challenges of development and density.
Brad Pettitt-Mayor of the City of Fremantle
It was very interesting to read two articles in two newspapers on the weekend about high-density living. In the West Australian Kate Emery wrote that Western Australians don’t have the mentality for high-density housing and that the W.A. Planning Commission(WAPC) is proposing to State Government to change the R30 and R35 buildings codes because there has been a huge community backlash against inappropriate and out of character high buildings being detrimental to the overall community amenity. The WAPC also wants to increase the minimum parking requirements for new dwellings.
In the Subiaco Post renowned urban planner and architect Dr Linley Lutton writes under the headline “Frantic Density Push Is Alarming” that …”experts warnings from those outside the industry are rarely heeded.” And that the warning for a huge population growth in Perth is an unrealistic and alarmist over-estimation of future growth.
We have already witnessed that planning schemes by Local Governments are completely overridden by State Government agencies and are a real worry to especially older suburbs like Fremantle Subiaco, Cottesloe, etc.
Lutton writes “High-density European and Middle Eastern cities work because they provide a diversity in stimulation, convenience and interaction opportunities. The piazzas, squares, courtyards, parks, shops and streets of these cities are where people live and grow. Most high-density development in Perth offers none of these things.”
The article continues that Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that only 5-7% of people living near suburban train stations actually use the train to go to work. A 2010 study in Australia, Canada and the USA showed that the main users of public transport were those living in the low-density outer suburbs, not those who live in high-density areas with railway access.
Dr.Linley Lutton also warns for health impact of high-density living along main streets near traffic noise, especially on the older population, because poor air-quality and noise trigger mental and physical health problems.
Lutton suggests that self-sufficient suburbs with a variety of housing densities and with ample employment opportunities, and less need to commute far and wide to work, would be a better way to plan for the future, and I could not agree more. In an ideal world no one living in Rockingham should have to commute to Joondalup for work.
Fremantle Council also needs to heed these warning and realise one cannot change a decades-old entrenched culture and lifestyle overnight. Change happens slowly and only when the community embraces it and takes ownership of it. Collaboration and integration is what is needed, not a narrow focus anti-car mentality.
New developments like Kim Beazley and Stevens Reserve offer very little in lifestyle enhancement, with no green lingering nodes between buildings and only a strip of green on the periphery. As Lutton points out, the piazzas, parks, town squares, etc. are needed to create a lifestyle people embrace. Much better and more creative and innovative city planning is required in Fremantle and the ambiance of the CBD needs to be improved with modern seats, shade structures, green areas, more trees, play nodes for children and better and creative lighting.
Higher density living will only be embraced by the community if it supports and enhances the Freo lifestyle and when it allows for diversity.