The article and opinion piece in today’s West Australian are an interesting insight in how WA governments, present and past, have mismanaged the development of the Perth metropolitan area and public transport. The article is about the book CITY LIMITS by Jane-Frances Kelly and Pat Donegan that was published by the influential Grattan Institute.
The authors claim that in some new Perth suburbs only one per cent of the residents live within a one hour bus or train journey to their place of work and that there is a lack of good public transport to the outer suburbs. They say that while there is job growth in the established inner city the population growth happens in the outer suburbs, where there are fewer job opportunities that are paid significantly less than jobs in the CBD.
The book claims that traffic gridlock in Perth will be inevitable unless government prioritises public transport, build toll roads, introduce congestion charges and increases higher density living in suburbs close to the Perth CBD. They say Subiaco is the best suburb in Australia because of its proximity to central Perth and its medium and high-density residential development. Town houses and apartments are lacking near the Central Business District.
I have written about this before as I see the madness of capital city development as part of the problem, a problem the Barnett government is making worse by concentrating on Perth, instead of prioritising decentralisation of government departments and agencies and putting incentives in place for businesses to relocate to places like Fremantle, Joondalup, Midland, Armadale, Cockburn, Kwinana, etc.
One of the best solutions to decrease the number of people driving their car to work each morning is to provide them with jobs closer to home, so they can use the bike or walk instead. Fewer people are using the train system because of overcrowding during peak periods and governments are to blame because they have been to slow to react and order more and bigger cars and extend station platforms so they can accommodate longer trains.
City planners want more people to live in high-density buildings near public transport corridors instead of really attacking the problem of the centralisation of work places in the Perth CBD. With all the modern communication and IT technology there is no real reason why big businesses have to have offices only in the CBD and force the workforce to put up with having to travel for many hours a day to get to and from work. I am sure traffic peak hour gridlock creates a less happy and less efficient work force, so why not relocate the office to the outer suburbs and accommodate staff.
I was very surprised to read the spread about development in Fremantle in the West Australian yesterday as there is nothing new in the article, but for the fact that reporter Kate Emery calls the old railway bridge the Queen Victoria Street bridge. The article is one big PR promo for Fremantle with little substance and I suggest the City sticks to promoting the great things that are actually happening in Fremantle, such as the Hilton and Quest hotels, Atwell Arcade, the Fort Knox Heirloom development, MSC in Cliff Street, other development along Beach and Queen Victoria Street, Knutsford Street, Kim Beazley site, Bathers Beach activation, the probable development of the Woolstores shopping centre, etc.
There is plenty of good news and there is a sense of positive anticipation about the future of Freo in the community, so there is no need for spin and false hopes about Kings Square.
For the time being Kings Square is like flogging a dead horse, even when Sirona Capital refuses to call a three-year delay a delay. With the present office vacancy rate in Perth and many thousands of new square metres of office accommodation becoming available soon, the likelihood that Housing will move to Fremantle is unrealistic. High property prices and rent in Fremantle mean we can’t compete with reduced rents in Perth and West Perth and with the cheaper Midland, Cockburn, Joondalup, etc. That is probably the reason we hear little about the Victoria Quay development because Fremantle Ports might have realised this is the wrong time to release land for development.
When well-managed companies like Atlas Iron are on a deep decline we have to see the signs that a mining resources recovery is still a long way off and there won’t be a big demand for high quality and large space offices.
In a perfect world Sirona should get started on the smaller Spicers site first and leave Kings Square till the time is right for it, to at least restore some confidence in that big CBD development.
The big problem I see with the Transformational Moves document is the reliance on State, Federal and private sector funding, so it is a mere wish list and not based on realistic outcomes and economic reality.
I just read on the Facebook page of a friend who was involved with MANY 6160, the former MYER building at Fremantle’s Kings Square, that the retail and design incubator has been given another year to operate. This means that the Kings Square development project by Sirona Capital will now not commence before 2016. That to me is a disaster for the revitalisation of Freo’s CBD!
There are some wild rumours flying around about the Fremantle Kings Square development and Sirona Capital. It is best to stick with the facts I believe, so I asked the City of Fremantle to clarify some points.
CEO Graeme Mckenzie told me that, as per Council resolution, the COF has a two year contract with Sirona with a further one-year extension if Sirona can demonstrate it has achieved certain milestones. That two-year period finishes in May this year.
McKenzie said that the City is confident that the project will go ahead, but also pointed out than nobody is going to spend over $ 200 million speculatively, and that it takes time to get tenancies secured that are necessary before construction will take place.
The City’s CEO points out that COF is being informed regularly about the progress through the Strategic Liaison Committee that is required to meet monthly under the contract. Graeme Mckenzie said that he understands the frustration in the community, but that work on the Kings Square project is ongoing and progress is being made.
Sirona’s managing director Matthew McNeilly told me late last year that the Kings Square Project is as large as the Treasury Building Project in Perth and that had taken eight years from implementation to completion.
I think patience is what is called for, although we all like to see this happen much faster to get Fremantle’s economy and retail sector back on track.
In a surprising move the City of Fremantle’s Special Projects Committee this evening declared the agenda item FREO 2029 TRANSFORMATIONAL MOVES confidential so the only two mature observers in the public gallery, Mark Woodcock and I, had to leave and only Councillor Dave Coggin’s young sons could stay in the public gallery till their mum picked them up.
I do get it that commercially sensitive items are made confidential agenda items and the public banned, but to make a strategic document confidential and exclude the public from hearing the debate about it is not good democracy.
Cynics might think that because the Final Draft document is really nothing else but a wish list from Dreamworld instead of a list of achievable goals, Council wanted to avoid scrutiny, but I’m not a cynic. ; >)
Why am I critical about non-achievable goals in the document? Because most of what has been dreamed up is dependent on other agencies and we all know how much State Government cares about Fremantle and what they have invested in Freo over the last 20 years or so. Zilch!!
Who is responsible for the areas the COF wants to ‘transform’?
KIng Square development-Sirona Capital
Railway Station Forecourt-Public Transport Authority
Police Station/Courthouse/Warders Cottages-Housing Department
Victoria Quay-Fremantle Ports
Fishing Boat Harbour-Marine and Harbours Department
Light rail- no support from Labor and Liberal parties
Fremantle Oval- leased to the Dockers for another 20+ years
So most of the ideas in the Transformational Moves document are dependent on the goodwill and investment of other parties and not within the power of a small local government to do much about. The document is all hoping, wishing and dreaming, but with no tangible and realistic goals and outcomes. That is very disappointing, and similar to the very costly Fremantle Visioning 2029 project that delivered nothing but hyperbole.
W.A. Premier Colin Barnett conceded on ABC radio this morning that he had failed with the local government reform and had put the white flag up. A big concern though should be Barnett’s remark that the government would take more responsibility on matters such as local government planning, which could mean taking more power away from local councils on planning decisions, so less opportunity for the community to have an impact.
That would be very dangerous, because the State’s DAP-Development Assessment Panel has overruled many local council decisions and allowed for inappropriate buildings to be erected at the loss of local amenity and unique identity. We can’t allow that to happen!
The City of Fremantle should follow the lead of the Perth Design Advisory Committee, who have recommended that the City of Perth introduces a strategy to address the architectural quality of new development. Both cities often approve very mediocre buildings, that have little to none architectural merit and that lack creativity and grandeur because developers are more interested in fast and cheap than in beautiful and great.
The Perth DAC said that building applications “often do not demonstrate a finesse, expertise or mastery of design.” The DAC also said that developers are not interested in the amenity, layout or interface with the public realm. That is very much the kind of criticism development in Fremantle often receives from the public and community groups.
One of the main problems I see in Fremantle is the pressure put on Council by developers who threaten to walk away from development unless it is approved fast and additional height granted. Councillors panic and rather approve mediocrity than not getting the much-needed development. The impact on the streetscape, the heritage amenity, the lack of public open space are all pushed aside and too often we hear Elected Members say in Chamber that the changes to the plans are ” close and getting there” and that the application should be approved, although it is far away from excellence.
Because we had so little development in Fremantle for many years, Councillors and Planning staff appear too eager to compromise and let developers get away with boring and inappropriate buildings, some even citing the development’s economic viability as a reason to approve a bland building instead of insisting on outstanding architecture.
Developers often complain about the long process of planning approval, but there is a good and fast way around that; submit plans for great buildings from the start and don’t try to get away with murder by applying for inappropriate height and bulk that has no reference to or respect for the amenity of our city!
Buildings of architectural excellence attract people to cities, while ugly and boring ones deter visitors, so in the long run insisting on high quality buildings is better for the City’s economy.
It is very interesting to read the figures in the West Australian, provided by the Property Council, on the very high office vacancy rate of 14.8% in Perth and massive new development there putting out tens of thousands of square metres more in the near future. The West Perth office vacancy rate is also well over ten per cent, so where does that leave Fremantle and the Kings Square development that is starting to look more and more like an unachievable pipe dream.
It seems quite clear that Sirona Capital has not been able to sign up major anchor tenants for the former MYER building, and without that the Queensgate development won’t go ahead either. We still have not received a confirmed date on when the Kings Square development is happening and some sources say there is disquiet about it within Sirona and they are contemplating abandoning the project that Sirona claims is as extensive as the big Perth Treasury building project that took eight years to be completed.
There is also a ‘sunset clause’ in the contract with the City of Fremantle that allows both parties to pull out by the end of the year if development has not commenced. But what if that happened? Fremantle would be in serious limbo with the Kings Square development and it would be a huge set back for the economic and retail revitalisation of our city.
Sirona’s managing director Matthew NcNeilly told me there is a Plan B, and a Plan C, etc. but what are these plans and when will any of them be implemented? The indefinite waiting game and procrastination is holding back other development in Fremantle and it appears the City is powerless to force the issue and get a move on this vital CBD project.
The probable rejection of council amalgamation by the residents of East Fremantle is already a huge disappointment for Fremantle and Kings Square needs to happen for the COF to have any credibility with developers, investors and major retailers.
There has been quite a bit of misleading and factually wrong information going out to support the No vote against East Fremantle amalgamating with Fremantle, so let’s read what Freo’s Mayor Brad Pettitt has to say about it:
As of Monday morning 46.27% of East Fremantle residents have voted on the poll around amalgamation with Fremantle Council. To put this another way – just another 193 more people are required to vote by Saturday for the poll to be valid. As this vote steadily heads towards the 50% required I can’t help but wonder where this all might end up. Assuming it makes the 50% the odds would suggest many of those who voted did so to oppose the amalgamation and as a result the whole amalgamation will be off.
While I’d be disappointed after so much community time and effort has gone into getting a sensible merger plan up for a new greater Fremantle, I’ve ultimately got no problem with this result so long as people did vote with the correct information in front of them.
Unfortunately the ads in Fremantle Herald in recent weeks certainly aren’t providing that accurate information for East Fremantle voters. So this blog post aims to correct the record so people can vote with the facts in front of them.
Fremantle and East Fremantle councils have been working well together for many months to get an outcome that is good for both. I’ve been pleased with the level of collaboration.
Mayors (along with possibly the deputy mayors and an independent chair) as interim commissioners is the most sensible way of keeping a continuity of representation and decision making going. No conflict of interest that I can see given many of us were elected to 2017 anyway. But ultimately this is the Minister’s call not ours.
Fremantle Council’s finances are in a very strong position. You may have seen last week in The West that Fremantle’s cash reserves increased more than any other local government’s over the last few years. Our debt is smaller than this and Fremantle’s finances are strong by every empirical measure.
Fremantle has won a number of awards for it town planning (amongst other things) in recent years and this council has recently ushered in some major changes to our town planning scheme to kick off the revitalisation of the Fremantle CBD. It is pleasing to see these changes now gaining momentum on the ground.
The apparent quote from me “that the reason the Barnett Government wanted Fremantle to take over East Fremantle was because [Fremantle Council is] “pro-development”” is simply incorrect. I have publically said “At the heart of [Fremantle not been forced to merge with Melville] was demonstrating the Fremantle was committed to substantial population growth, economic investment and keeping Fremantle as Perth’s second city. The pro-development approach whilst controversial for some in the community was undoubtedly important to demonstrating to the local government advisory board and the State Government that Fremantle could be a sustainable local government area by itself into the future”. This is quite a different and it is been missed used in this context.
As for the silly idea that Fremantle Council can’t wait to build “massive high-rise development” on East Fremantle oval or View Terrace or Leeuwin Barracks. Again this is just wrong and just plain old scaremongering. Fremantle Council have always said we respect the existing East Fremantle town planning scheme.
Finally, all I’d say to East Fremantle residents is: it is entirely up to you as to how you vote and I have no desire to influence this important decision other than to say please don’t take what is written in these ads as accurate. Instead, dig a little deeper and see what both options might mean for you going forward. Here is some Freo info that might also help: http://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/cityoffremantle/Local_government_reform