A report by Knight Frank identifies that there is a shortfall of well over 23,000 Purpose Built Student Accommodation-PBSA in Perth and a staggering near 300,000 shortfall in Australia.
I have long advocated for more student housing in Fremantle for Notre Dame University students and for those at Murdoch and Curtin, as long as the accommodation is built near public transport nodes.
With an oversupply of residential apartments it might now be the time for developers to start thinking about student accommodation and for governments to support it by offering land at reduced prices.
In Fremantle it would be an economic investment to support our traders and the hospitality industry as thousands of students living here would shop and consume here and eat and drink at our cafes and restaurants. And they would bring that great youthful vibrancy to the city.
This evening Fremantle Council will decide if it wants to extend the Kings Square Project contract between the City of Fremantle and Sirona Capital and I wonder if it would be an acceptable compromise to extend it if both parties agree to make public the entire contract and Leedwell consultants business case, if the Department of Housing signs a lease to move there. Commercial confidentiality would surely no longer apply once the deal is done, as a third party could no longer benefit from the information. When the contract is signed total transparency could occur.
It is also likely that the Department of Finance, which will make the decision where Housing will be relocated to, would want to scrutinise the project’s contract details to make sure they don’t sign up for something that is dodgy and that might end up in court, as community groups threaten to do.
For me the project is too important for Fremantle’s recovery to stop it now because it would take a very long time to renegotiate a new contract with Sirona, as some suggest, and the company might not be interested in doing that. It would take forever to start from scratch and come up with new plans for the civic square, after extensive community consultation for the current plans.
Stopping now would mean we lost three years, while there is a real 50 per cent chance of Housing moving to Kings Square. Premier Colin Barnett has said the government is only considering two locations in Fremantle, one of them Kings Square.
I am in favour of the Kings Square Project because I believe the revitalisation of the CBD hinges on an active civic square, but I remain sceptical about the process and the lack of transparency and want to elaborate on that.
The City of Fremantle claims it cannot release the Leedwell business case report because the consultants own the copyright to that report. That is rubbish. Consultants who are commissioned to write reports for local governments are aware that local governments are accountable to their ratepayers and the public and that the report will be made public.
The City of Fremantle releases information to the public that is copyright constantly in agendas and agenda attachments. The new civic centre plans are copyright of Kerie Hill architects but were released by the City. The Hilton Hotel, the Queensgate, Spicers site, etc. etc. were all released by the City although they clearly do not have the copyright. Every architectural plan and artist impression is copyright, but that has never stopped the COF releasing them to the public. The Cantonment Hill plans are copyright of CODA, but they are out in public. So why are they hiding the Leedwell business case report and claim it is a copyright issue?
Commercial confidentiality is the most used excuse for not releasing information to the public by local, state and federal governments, but it is an abuse of process because the same governments will release anything that suits them, but just not the controversial bits we want to know in detail about, and have a right to know.
We know for example exactly how much money the contractors will get for the renovation of the Townhall, so why is that not commercially confidential? We know the names of design companies who tender to become part of the pool, we know which ones get shortlisted and we are told by the City who won the tender, but when we ask who the other companies were who tendered for the lease of Studio 1 at J Shed we are not told, but assured Sunset Events was the most suitable tender. No wonder the residents of Fremantle think it stinks and that something synister might be going on.
We are not really asking that much, we just ask for transparency and accountability, so why do we only get some of it and only in dribs and drabs as we keep pushing and demanding for more?
The same questions have been asked for years by experts such at Martin Lee and well respected auditor Craig Ross about Kings Square, and they don’t believe the answers they have been getting, mainly from Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt, are satisfactory, so where is the problem? None of the three people mentioned are stupid, so somehow the communication is not working and that is not acceptable. I don’t want to believe the Mayor is deliberately evasive so why don’t we seem to get the right answers to the questions?
Maybe it is time for Lee and Ross to write a polite letter to Leedwell telling them their reputation is on the line as the information released by the City of Fremantle is very different from what other experts say about the finances of the Kings Square Project and building valuations. Maybe Ross and Lee can ask Leedwell exactly the questions they have been asking the City of Fremantle and they can assure the consultants that the City would be happy for them to make their valuations public because COF has only not done that so far to protect Leedwell’s copyright.
On Tuesday the new CEO of Fremantle will officially start work, so maybe Phil St John is more inclined to release more detailed information about the Kings Square Project to the public, we could just very diplomatically ask him to do that as one of the first jobs in his new position.
I am no longer a member of the Fremantle Society but I have been leaked a letter their president John Dowson sent to the members after he met with Premier Colin Barnett about the Kings Square Project. Dowson claims: “As the Premier said to me today: “There are elements of this Business Plan that smell of WA Inc.”
That is a pretty defamatory statement by the Premier after his Minister for Local Government said he had no issues with it.
With Fremantle Council having to decide in the next weeks if it will extend the Kings Square project contract with Sirona Capital, I believe it would be a good idea to revisit the actual ideas and question if they will be the best outcome for our civic square.
When community consultation was under way there was always talk about having a hotel on the square to ensure 24/7 activation, but somehow that came undone and the project as it stands will only deliver retail and office accommodation.
I do not believe that Kings Square will ever become truly activated unless there is a residential component in either or both the Queensgate and former Myer buildings.
Possible future development within the large block between Queen Adelaide, High Street, Queen Street, facing Kings Square, should also only be approved if it contains residential apartments that would help with the passive surveillance of the square and day and night activation.
Without residential and/or tourist accommodation at Kings Square it will remain a dark and uninviting place at night in the centre of the city, a few street level bars or cafes within the KS poject won’t be enough. That is even more of a worry when the planned hotels at Cantonment Street and Point Street are built, as hundreds of visitors would walk through the deserted and hence unsafe area to the cafes and restaurants west of the square.
I wonder if the City of Fremantle will be flexible enough to revisit the new masterplan for Princess May Park now that the Hilton Doubletree hotel development is delayed for at least two years, and might never happen because of the new Adina Hotel development on the Woolstores shopping centre site over the road.
The masterplan is in parts about linking the western part of Princess May Park with the terraced planned section of the Hilton, that would open up into the park with a cafe, etc. If this does not happen that part of the park might have to be redesigned to accommodate other development should the Doubletree remain a plan rather than a built reality.
The controversial State Development Assessment Panels-DAP are here to stay by the sound of it. The West Australian reports today that Gail McGowan, the Director General of the Planning Department, has dismissed the angst around DAPs as not being helpful.
McGowan told the West that Councils and DAPs are bound by the same planning schemes, but adding that the discretionary options DAPs have are interesting. Yep, like building a 17 storey building in the centre of Subiaco when Council’s planning scheme only allowed for eight storeys!
There has been a lot of protest by local councils against the DAP system with Vincent, South Perth, Stirling, Subiaco, Cottesloe, Mosman Park, Bayswater and others asking for it to be abandoned or significantly changed.
All development over $ 10 million is assessed by a DAP and developers of over $ 2 million projects can opt-in and bypass councils.
There is no doubt that the urban sprawl can’t go on indefinitely as WA does not have the funds for all the extra infrastructure, so urban infill makes a lot of sense. It should however only be done with quality architecture and in very targeted locations that don’t destroy the local character of especially the older suburbs.
The population of metro Perth is predicted to rise by 70 per cent by 2030 to 3.5 million, so all those new people need to be catered for.
Demographer Bernard Salt told a Property Council conference that Perth needs to address the challenge of densification and that is is inevitable as it has happened in all major cities in Australia.
City planning experts URBIS predict that within ten years 30 per cent of dwellings in Perth will be apartments.
Premier Colin Barnett warned Councils a few weeks ago that unless they get closer to their urban residential infill targets the State would take over and enforce them. That would severely erode local government democracy and is not acceptable.
I am worried about the discretionary allowances in planning schemes as they are far too often used to bypass and overrule the schemes. As I understand it the Fremantle Hougoumont Hotel in Bannister Street will be allowed to build a fifth storey loft in the West End Conservation Precinct although the planning scheme only allows four storey. The invasion of additional height in the West End under the guise that it is only a loft and set back is not acceptable and Fremantle Council and the DAPs are too lenient in that regard.
I hear the arguments that Bannister Street is not a great street and has little heritage value and already some pretty average buildings, and that to just add a little loft does not have much impact on the streetscape and surroundings, but that does not cut it for me. It should be a matter of principle to not award discretionary height in the West End unless a very, very good case can be made that is would be the very best heritage outcome for the building, the streetscape and the West End. There would not be very many projects that would apply to.
Yes to modern development for inner city Fremantle, but only with extreme restraint and exceptional architecture.
The Fremantle Society is calling another public meeting, this time about the Kings Square project. While this project is very much in limbo and the business case for it questionable, I can’t see any purpose in rehashing what has been debated extensively in the local newspapers, mainstream media and on this blog and social media over the last two years or so.
The invitation to the event claims that the project would bring high-rise to Kings Square and that is incorrect, because the Myer building would be only 5 storeys and the Queensgate building in parts go up to only six storeys. That might be considered ‘high-rise’ in a country town but it is not in a modern developing city.
Fact is the project might never get off the ground unless the State Government relocates a department there. The project partners Sirona Capital and the City of Fremantle have been hoping and waiting for that for three years now.
FS also claims the project would split Kings Square in two triangles, but it has been like that for a long time, as half of the square is owned by the St John’s Church and the other triangle half by the City. Developing the City triangle won’t change that. St John’s might well want to develop their triangle or part of it in the future. The High Street road reserve splits the two triangles.
After having been a Fremantle Society committee member for many years, and president and vice president, I decided to cancel my membership with the organisation this week as I find them too narrow-focus and negative for my liking. They no longer represent my views on the future of Fremantle. Disappointing.