Bad News and Good News





Tsunami of Poor Quality Development Continues

The bad news is that yet another low quality oversized building is proposed for the heritage heart of Fremantle as above.

The bad news is that council said the 5 storey backpacker box is not a significant development and therefore the public doesn’t need to know about it.

The good news is that following two letters from the Fremantle Society  to the Fremantle Council and a front page story in today’s Herald, they now admit it is a significant development, and therefore we are allowed to know about it.

High Rise Deferred by DAP

52 Adelaide Street (former Spotlight/Coles site)


The 8 storey proposal shown above for 72 flats, 6 commercial tenancies and 98 car bays was deferred at the state government’s Development Assessment Panel (DAP) meeting yesterday (Monday 19 September).

Two Fremantle councillors, Crs Sullivan and Pemberton, voted with one other DAP member to have the matter deferred so the developer could bring back revised plans showing parts of the building above 21 metres being set back as per council policy. Councillor Sullivan proposed the deferral and it passed with a narrow 3-2 vote.

The developer is seeking 8 storeys straight up from the street with no set backs. Council’s lawyer insisted that it could not be approved, but the applicant’s lawyer cleverly shredded the council officer’s report to argue otherwise.

The Fremantle Society has invested a great deal of time on this issue because of its importance, and the fact that any variations to the current scheme that are approved will set a precedent for future developments in this city centre area.

For the Fremantle Society, four architects scrutinised the plans and the officer’s report,  and all were scathing at the quality of the report written.

The council report recommended refusal on grounds of:
a) height
b) detriment to amenity under clause 67.
(though nowhere in the officer’s report are the arguments presented to support that refusal)

Despite the officer’s recommendation, Mayor Pettitt, and councillors Nabor, Hume, McDonald, Walthan, and Jones all voted to send the item to the DAP to let them decide on the legal advice. By the time it got to the DAP, somehow the officer’s recommendation for refusal had turned into a glowing approval. The applicant’s lawyer said she had  been at the planning meeting and that there had been ‘a unanimous decision to approve.’ The applicant said that council staff ‘are clearly supportive of this plan’. The chair of DAP Ian Birch said that ‘the alternative recommendation (for approval) had been adopted by the planning committee.’ Remarkable stuff.

The Fremantle Society presented their case and a Fremantle lawyer was brought in to present for the Fremantle Society as well. This is a very complex case with many facets and issues to be dealt with, but the focus from DAP was mainly on how could the developer have the extra storey he was seeking.

The applicant’s aerial view of the 52 Adelaide Street proposal as shown is dishonest and should not have been allowed to go forward by council officers. The drawing shows Johnston Court as being significantly higher, whereas both are almost the same height. The applicant has shown his building bathed in light on the facing side, whereas the same side of Johnston Court is ominously dark. Also there are no lift overruns or rooftop clutter shown on 52 Adelaide Street, clutter which always ends up adding considerably to how buildings are viewed around town.

Claudia Green from FRRA was there and supported the Fremantle Society case, as did Julie Matheson from Scrap the DAPs.

Further details will be provided of the expert analysis from Fremantle Society architects.

High Rise Not Needed – Herald • Letters 17 September 2016

HISTORY will show that mayor Pettitt and councillors Hume, Nabor, McDonald, Waltham, and Jones are happy to see new developments in the heart of Fremantle as high as the detested 1970 Johnston Court block of flats.

38letters-1They are the ones who voted to allow an eight-storey, plus basement, plus rooftop clutter, development to go through council’s planning committee to the development assessment panel, despite a legal opinion by council’s own lawyers that council could not approve the eighth storey.
The mayor and councillors danced around the legal advice and decided to let the DAP decide. On this former Spotlight site (originally Coles) adjacent to Westgate Mall, 72 residences, 7 commercial tenancies and 97 cars will somehow be jammed into the 1390sqm site.


On this block bounded by Adelaide, Queen and Cantonment streets, on 15 December 1965, Charles Court opened council’s Westgate “Super Centre”, a transit orientated development with Bairds, Coles, and Walsh’s as key tenants. It was promoted as the ‘shopping mecca of the western and southern suburbs.’ It wasn’t long before Myer came to town and wanted something bigger and so within seven years the centre of gravity shifted to King’s Square and Westgate Mall went into decline with Myer (which opened 1 August 1972) and the adjacent Queensgate (1987) becoming the latest salvation of retail in Fremantle.
The photograph showing all the paving leading into Westgate Mall was taken in 1968 from council’s Point Street car park (the first split level car park in WA)  soon after Westgate Mall opened. In the background stands the handsome Johnston Church, weeks before it was demolished to make way for the Johnston Court flats seen in the second (1971) photograph, which also shows the new Crane House at the rear.
Soon after Johnston Court was built in 1970, the mayor and some councillors were aghast at its negative impact, and promised that something like it would never be built again. But here we are 46 years later and neither the mayor nor any councillor blinked when the developer for 52 Adelaide Street argued that Johnston Court was ‘adjacent’ and could be ‘built up to.’ Once 52 Adelaide Street goes through the DAP next Monday (9.30am in Fremantle Council Chamber) the rest of the area could well be blighted with such heights.

The mayor said that nothing ‘but a bomb’ could improve the Westgate Mall area, hardly a considered planning argument for that small part of Fremantle which sits between the important heritage areas of King’s Square and Princess May Park. It may be run down and lacking investment but at  least it has a human scale that suits Fremantle.
The solution for Fremantle’s regeneration is not high rise nor super high density housing creating the slums of the future.
Rather, we need the high quality new buidings we were promised by this council, and some ‘bomb proof’ sensitivity to whatever site the mayor and councillors next lay their eyes on.
John Dowson
The Fremantle Society


The Past Should Inform the Future

But for a Few Major Planning Errors Like Johnston Court and Myer We Could Still Have a Homogenous Historic Town Centre 

This aerial view c1980 is helpful in understanding the evolution of the town centre.

a9fb1173-dd44-412d-865b-952aa00b46b8High Street runs up the middle to King’s Square where council installed large water fountains can be seen and blocked off through traffic.The massive bulk of Myer on the east side of the square dominates with the car park behind. Next to Myer is Woolworths, a few years before the council built Queensgate on that site. Woolworths and Coles moved around to different Fremantle locations over the years, generally doing damage to heritage properties in the process. A point in case is the new Coles at the top left of the photo next to the basilica. Coles replaced the beautiful convent.

On the very left with the striped roof is part of Fremantle’s greatest wool store (now Coles), which council allowed to be demolished soon after this image was taken. It could have provided office space for 100 years. To the right of it sits council’s 1965 Westgate Mall project (see today’s Herald page 5). This £2 million refurbishment with Boans and 26 other retail tenancies was hailed as a cost effective project for ratepayers, supposedly only costing them £80,000 after lot sales. The next Council project, Queensgate, by the time it is sold at a bargain basement price to Sirona, will have cost ratepayers many millions.

Dominating the picture is the 1970 Johnston Court block of flats. Unlike the current 52 Adelaide Street proposed block of flats, the same height as Johnston Court,  that council sent to the Monday 19 September DAP meeting, Johnston Court at least has a court, or areas of open space, and its face to Adelaide Street is narrow. However, it is currently the single biggest blight in the whole area. Without it and Myer, the scale of the original historic town would be largely intact. Unfortunately council now regard Johnston Court heights as being OK in that area, an area immediately adjacent to King’s Square, one of the few town squares anywhere in Australia.

Council decided in 2006 that tall buildings were supposed to be built in the east end of Fremantle, not in its heart. And, with the future relocation of container traffic to Cockburn and the opening up of North Quay land for development, much greater heights there could take the pressure off Fremantle’s sensitive town centre scale. That scale is a valuable economic asset which should not be damaged.

Change in the wind for DAPs

This article from the Weekend West Australian of 17-18 September refers to the anticipated latest development from the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) on the ongoing saga of Development Assessment Panels (DAPs):

dap-west-aust-walga-report-17-sep-2016-p-26It is disappointing in that it refers to times taken to arrive at decisions, rather than appropriateness of them. The final quote from the Planning Minister is revealing – that applicants are passing over councils for the DAP – thus eliminating a major function of councils as well as indicating dissatisfaction with councils by applicants (or indicating that applicants have found a way of avoiding local planning guidelines) and acknowledging that, if an application could end up with the DAP anyway, why bother going to council at all. It would help somewhat, if the $2M mandatory threshold were fully enforced.

There are a number of interpretations of the situation, most indicating that if councils were the final arbiter, there would be better and more appropriate local control and answerability – something the Fremantle Society believes is lacking under the present system.

Given the Minister has stated she requires changes to DAPs but will not agree to their elimination, the last media release from WALGA provides the best hope yet of at least some advancement in addressing significant concerns, although the proposal for, ” a Ministerial call-in power”, warrants examination and there appears to be no opportunity for community representatives on DAP panels:

Campaign Seeks to Solve System Inefficiencies

Monday, September 12, 2016

 A campaign to change the Development Assessment Panels (DAP) system has received the green light from WA Local Government Association State Council, allowing communities to have their voices heard on large scale developments.

The State Council agreed on Friday, 9 September to support a campaign that lobbies for changes to the Development Assessment Panels.

The campaign will call for the following changes:

  • A full and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of Development Assessment Panels be conducted by an independent organisation.
  • Abolishing the current opt-in mechanism which allows applicants to choose either elected Councils or the DAP as the decision maker in favour of a Ministerial call-in power for projects of state or regional significance, with a minimal value of $20 million, as has been adopted in the eastern states.
  • The Local Government sector be consulted prior to any amendments to the Development Assessment Panels system, to ensure that operational efficiencies can be achieved.

WA Local Government Association President Cr Lynne Craigie said the upcoming state election presents a valuable opportunity to change the flawed DAP system.

“WALGA five-year review of the DAP have proven that the current system has a number of failings,” she said.

“These include exceeding legislated timeframes for development application outcomes, running inefficient meetings and dealing with small-scale development applications rather than projects of that affects the state.

“The suggested changes will deal with these failings and improve the system.”

Messages and Media

The West's Cartoonist, Alston, summed up the situation.
The West’s Cartoonist, Alston, summed up the situation.

Last Wednesday at its monthly council meeting, Fremantle Council controversially canned the annual fireworks show on Australia Day for political reasons, which drew strong criticism from Aboriginal leaders across the nation. The story made the front page of The Australian newspaper and Alston devoted his cartoon (above) to the subject.Some have said that the fireworks issue was deliberately put forward to deflect the heat from the issue of the King’s Square Business Plan, which made the TV, radio and newspaper two days earlier, a subject which got into the media not because the media finally understood what a sham the business case for King’s Square actually is, but  because a celebrity lawyer put his name to the issue.

The council meeting raised the issue of trees on private property, and council indicated that, following public consultation, it may one day require landowners to apply to chop down large trees on their property, instead of council having to do the work of making a significant tree register for private property like the one they did for public property.

Ironically, if a landowner currently wants to demolish a building on his property, his request cannot be refused unless his property is ALREADY on a heritage register. Good luck to the trees.
The tree and tree canopy issue is urgent and important, especially given that Fremantle has the second worst tree canopy cover of any municipality in WA. The council’s target of 20% tree canopy cover by 2020 is impossible to achieve unless council gets out of its political handbooks and into real action. Council has not allocated nearly enough money in this year’s budget to tackle this climate change issue which has significant social and health outcomes as well as environmental ones.
Thanks to Alston and The West for the cartoon.