Fremantle – Major achievements prior to 2010

Agnieshka Kiera

Establishing Fremantle as the heritage and cultural capital of WA took roots with the major overhaul of the Perth Metropolitan Region Scheme 1971 and the Town Planning Scheme no.2 which for the first time stopped the planned massive demolitions in Fremantle. But it was the post-America’s Cup period (1987 ->) and the Town Planning Scheme no.3 when the heritage of Fremantle was accepted as the important social and economic asset to the city. Interestingly enough at the time, Western Australia didn’t have legislative means to consider heritage, so the recognition came from the community. It was the group of professionals, artists and history lovers that established the Fremantle Society in 1972 and in 1979 produced the list of Fremantle’s heritage places. The City took this list as a base and, over the next 20 years, has revised, expanded and threaded it through the various material and legislative processes, including the much, later introduces Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990, to finally formalise it under the Planning and Development Act 2005 and adopt it as the Heritage List under the Local Planning Scheme no.4. Simultaneously with the process of identifying and expanding the legal recognition of Fremantle’s heritage, the successive Councils of the 1990s-2010’s period gradually developed the planning framework to manage heritage protection and conservation as well as the strategies for sustainable growth and revitalization of the Fremantle with heritage as the main driver of development. The culmination of establishing Fremantle as heritage and cultural capital of WA was the physical transformation of the declining 19th-century port city into the prime tourist destination of WA. The evidence of this introductory statement can be summarised as follows:


3600 individual places and 18 heritage areas on the Heritage List under Local Planning Scheme no.4. The next closest heritage list in terms of heritage wealth is Perth and Subiaco with some 300 listed places each;
Fremantle Prison inscribed on the World Heritage Register. On 31 July 2010
the Australian Convict Sites became Australia’s 18th World Heritage listed place, including the most intact surviving convict establishment in Australia in Fremantle. It has been a culmination of some 20 years long process for the local, State and National Governments, and ultimately, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to accomplish what the Fremantle City Council initiated by commissioning the first Australia ICOMOS World Heritage Evaluation Report on Fremantle in 1990; 
the State Heritage listed area (the West End). The process of State heritage listing for Fremantle historic core was initiated in the early 2000 and involved a lot of preparatory work required by the Act such as heritage research, evaluation of significance, preparation of expert report, staged community consultation, numerous revisions and discussions with the senior officers of the WA Heritage Office and, in 2010, submission of the area called Fremantle Historic Town to Heritage Council of WA for inscription on the State Heritage Register. However the newly elected 2010 Council took over the process and immediately reduced the originally proposed whole of the historic city centre down to the 1/3 of the area, which has ultimately been accepted by the Heritage Council and inscribed on the State Heritage Register as the West End of Fremantle;
• the Fremantle Society put numerous submission objecting to the reduction of the area and when the objections were ignored the Society nominated Fremantle Historic Town to the National Heritage Commission for inscription on the National Heritage Register. While this process has not yet been resolved, it’s worth noting that to date only Broken Hill in Victoria is listed on the National Register as the whole historic town.

Heritage Places Reserve Fund – the fund was established in 1987 and periodically amended until in 2006 the Council’s adopted the Capital Conservation Works Strategy, which identified 10 years worth of capital conservation projects for staged implementation. The final revised Heritage Fund, still in operation, allocates a proportion of income from the selected, incrementally restored properties together with the 1% of rates to the fund. During the 25 year period, this fund was available to the City for implementation of the capital conservation works. The selection of projects for implementation was decided annually in accordance with the Capital Conservation Works Strategy as part of the Council’s budget process and availability of the external funding. Over the years the City became successful in obtaining funding from external sources due to the quality, depth, and professionalism of its submissions and success in delivering the outstanding outcomes. Supplemented by the external grants, the Heritage Fund has facilitated implementation of the ambitious strategic program of conservation projects, outlined further below.

Heritage grants – in 2008-2010 Fremantle adopted the heritage grants budget as the financial incentive to conserve Fremantle heritage. The owners of heritage listed properties may apply for funding assistance for up to $10,000 for conservation works, which are in public view and can reveal the significance of a heritage place. Examples of eligible works include restoration of original verandahs and repointing and restoration of masonry facades. While the grants’ policy is still in place, there is no evidence of these grants being used since the 2010 elections.

Heritage Regime – It was pre 2010 Councils that, over time, have established the wholistic heritage regime, involving combination of the relevant expert skills, heritage listing, the local planning scheme provisions, policies, guidelines, plans and strategies, practical models, incentives and an active role in building conservation projects that encourage the heritage driven revitalisation and redevelopment of Fremantle in the 25 years period post America’s Cup to the early 2010s i.e. before the Council elected in 2010 has changed the priorities and introduced corresponding amendments to TPS4.


The pre 2010 Council commissioned the production of the Local Identity and Design Code for Central Fremantle with the view, like with the first World Heritage Evaluation Report in 1990, that it could be used as a planning tool by the City, owners, architects, and developers, to guide the harmonious and sustainable development, consistent with the city character as opposed to demolitions and replacement with much bigger scale buildings. While ensuring the protection of the city’s heritage the Codes promote using it as the inspiration and driver of development. The Codes represent the innovative planning and design approach to the development of the city and provide means for advancing and fostering the locally specific urban architecture. In the established cities around the world, the similar codes are used to manage change by reducing the negative impact of new development on the urban fabric of the historic cities and the social heritage of their communities. In addition to the Local Identity and Design Code for Central Fremantle, the commissioned consultants also prepared the specific Design Codes for the Spicers site and Point Street site, which were to be redeveloped at the time. Yet the 2010 Council resolved to adopt the Codes only as a study and the community resources as it was then considered as potentially a hindrance to much more aggressive transformation and large-scale developments favoured by the City’s elected body at the time. Both, the Spicers and Point Streets sites remain undeveloped.


During some 15 years of implementing the Capital Conservation Works Strategy, the City assisted revitalisation of Fremantle by undertaking the heritage driven the development of its then extensive property portfolio and leading by example. This has proven to be a very successful strategy. The City’s award-winning projects involving the combined, straight conservation and restoration/adaptations projects worked as a model for private developments and together have added thousands of the new residents to Fremantle (the precise number is yet to be determined) and attracted equally large numbers of state, national and international visitors to the city. In addition to strict conservation, the Council’s developments involved a creative modernisation of the heritage buildings, inserting new uses and extending their economic life. At the same time Council’s projects celebrated the design excellence across a range of building types and public spaces. Among the most successful were the State award- winning adaptions and redevelopment of Moores Buildings, the 1988 restoration/ adaptation of the Town Hall and Kings Square upgrade, Union Stores and Victoria Hall. Other successfully implemented projects involved Victoria Pavilion, Arts Centre (former Asylum), Fremantle Markets, Fairbairn Street upgrade, Gilbert Street Reserve, Fremantle Park and the Pioneer Park Archeological Project. The most successful of them and appreciated by the community and visitors alike according to the latest Catalyse Survey has been the most transformative Arthur Head Project. It has taken some 20 years for Council to accomplish and involved the complete transformation of the former Fremantle Port depot and the only reconstruction of the beach in Australia into the A Class Reserve – the significant to Western Australia historic site, the settlement place of Swan River Colony. It also involved extending the A Class Reserve’s boundaries to include the underwater area of Bathers Bay. In terms of physical transformation the project involved the staged and progressive reconstruction of the 1870s shoreline, Bathers Beach, the dunes and coastal vegetation, restoration of the Round House, Pilots cottages, Fort Arthur, J- Shed, former Kerosene Store (now Kidogo gallery), stabilisation of the cliffs and the Whalers Tunnel, restoration of the Whalers Station, culminating in the most successful of them all, the Old Port Project. The latterly involved construction of the boardwalks, steps and decks, shade structure (formerly Mortuary) and public facilities including the seating, paths, extensive heritage interpretation, the wooden structure of the Long Jetty, the rails and rail carriages and (constructed previously on the headland), public toilets and the Round House bakery. The Old Port Project served as a catalyst to a very successful revitalisation of the former Co-op building on the Reserve’s southern boundary.

The 1990-2010 Councils were also involved in a provision of the community services involving, among other things, the construction of low-income housing and the women refuge. These projects aimed at making Fremantle more inclusive and liveable for the city’s mixed community thus hindering its gentrification. They represented the then Council’s true commitment to Fremantle community. The particularly successful was the Small Housing Scheme involving the construction of the Council’s designed and constructed medium density housing complexes in Jenkin, Sydney and Wardie Streets and the Women Refuge in Knutsford Street. The then Councils were also involved in the successful negotiations, active cooperation and design of the Steven Street redevelopment (former quarry) for a mixture of public and private medium density housing and the public park. Another successful example was the joint preparation with the State Government of the Fremantle Prison Management Plan and retrofitting the Council owned property in the corner of Tydeman and John Streets in North Fremantle for the then State Housing Commission’s tenants.
The friendly cooperation of the former Councils with the State Government has resulted also in the State implemented developments that positively contributed to solving the housing shortage prevailing within the city’s low-income groups at the time. Most notably the medium density housing complex in Queen Victoria Street that incorporated the heritage buildings and the retrofitting and adaptation of the former Newspaper buildings in Leach Highway. The State Government funded exemplary restorations/ adaptation included Fremantle Prison’s complex, the Courthouse complex and Warders Cottages on Henderson Street, the former Girls School in Princess May Park, the former Drill Hall, and Fremantle Railway Station.


It was the Councils of the 1990 – 2000s that have established a very effective heritage regime and planning framework to manage Fremantle’s development, much of which is still in place. Over the years the combination of regulations, policies, and incentives not only encouraged the heritage driven revitalisation and redevelopment of Fremantle but saved the economy of the city from collapsing in the decade post-America’s Cup. The development pressure during the America’s Cup had resulted in some rather unfortunate developments (almost complete demolition and replacement of the Tram Barn in High Street, gutting and upwards extensions of the Navy Club in corner of High and Pakenham Street, the façadism of the Custom House complex in Pakenham/Phillimore/Henry Streets), so the Council’s learned lesson from that period was to adopt the Town Planning Scheme no.3 that included at the time innovative heritage provisions, measures, planning controls, and incentives – all aiming at protection of Fremantle’s heritage and encouraging sympathetic redevelopment of the city. It has proven absolutely essential when following the America’s Cup temporary spur of economic activity, the WA experienced economic downturn-a that set the real economic setback for the city.

It was in the late 1980s that most wholesalers, shipping companies, woolstores and factories closed down and departed from Fremantle en masse, leaving behind large number of big, empty industrial buildings and raising fears of the bankruptcy of the local economy. The massive departure of the vital industry was followed by the commercial businesses, including the famous Pellews, furniture shops, garden and equipment suppliers and number of other wholesalers. The Western Australia’s economy was in recession and the future of Fremantle looked doomed. Yet the City, in cooperation with all other tiers of government and the supportive community, took the lead by providing tangible planning incentives i.e. using the heritage provisions of the then TPS3 to induce developers of all kinds to invest in Fremantle. The Council decided to use the TPS3’s clause 9 (?) that permitted relaxation of all provisions of the scheme for developments that involved a retrofit/reuse/revitalisation of a historic building. So instead of enforcing the then planning scheme’s low density, the owners and developers of empty buildings were able to design and built as many residential units within the existing building shell, as the particular old building would physically accommodate. It was the Notre Dame University that first took advantage of these incentives when in 1988, after the withdrawal of the promised private funding for their planned country campus in Broome, the then vice-chancellor David T. Link looked for opportunities to establish the Australian campus elsewhere and came across Fremantle. At the time Fremantle represented an unprecedented market opportunity created by the oversupply of empty buildings and the enthusiastically supportive Council. It was the positive negotiations and cooperation between David T. Link, the Council and the State Government that saved the West End at the time. By their willingness to adopt heritage buildings rather than demolish and replace them, the University quickly established itself in the beautifully restored and adapted buildings acquiring the timeless and respectable quality of an old institution afforded by the Victorian character of the area. And the City, by assisting the University, had facilitated the urgently needed salvation for the ailing Fremantle economy. The City’s support wasn’t only restricted to the planning incentives. The senior officers of the City cooperated with the State Government agencies in order to come up with the alternatives to the then strict building regulations to allow the old timber structure to remain and be restored instead of being replaced by the concrete slabs and walls. The then converted old warehouses remain to this date the University’s exemplary and most creative adaptations. These include the Batemans complex of buildings in Henry and Mouat Streets (now the lecture rooms, chapel, library, and offices), the Old Furniture Factory (now the school of medicine) and the former Courthouse in Marine Terrace (now the public lecture room). The early success of Notre Dame University in the late 1980s/early 1990s was followed by the rapid succession of the privately funded developments involving reuse of the vacated heritage buildings. In a span of some three years, all the vacated industrial buildings in Fremantle were restored and converted into the alternative uses including the medium to high density residential units, restaurants, cafes, breweries, art studios and galleries. These privately funded and heritage driven developments include, in the West End alone, the former Bag factory and Saddlers warehouse in Pakenham Street, the Samson Warehouse in Little High Street, the Trade Union building and Esplanade Hotel on the corner of Marine Terrace and Collie Street, the Kakulas Sisters shops in the former Princess Theatre, the superbly restored and adapted National Hotel in Market Street, the B&B in the former German Consulate in Mouat Street and a number of residential adaptations of the heritage buildings in Cliff, Bannister and Phillimore Streets. In the late 1990s and the first decade of 2000, the planning framework provided by the TPS3 also facilitated a range of the new infill developments in the West End. The planning scheme aimed at protecting the heritage and character of Fremantle by restricting the height and scale of new developments to max three stories with an option for the strictly controlled extension of a fourth story. Thus Notre Damme conversions were followed by, to date harmoniously inserted, new infill buildings such as the corner of Cliff and Croke Streets or corner of Henry and Phillimore Streets. In addition, the new sympathetic, award- winning infill buildings were also privately constructed in Henry Street, Pakenham Street, Market, Collie and Leake Streets.

However, the greatest injection of new residents/activities and investment in Fremantle was achieved by the heritage driven developments outside the West End. A lot of them involved conversion of the old buildings combined with construction of the new, sympathetic infill development. These included but were not confined to the former Flour Mill in Essex Street, Ellen Street Factory, the Cold Stores in Marine Terrace, the Primaries in South Terrace, the warehouses in Price, King William and Ada Streets, the former Biscuit Factory in South Terrace, followed by the medium density housing developments in Jenkin and Wardie Streets, the redevelopment and upgrade of the old fishing sheds in the Fishing Harbour as the restaurant and art precinct; the conversion and redevelopment of the former boat sheds into the Little Creatures; the numerous private developments in Marine Terrace, South and North Fremantle and, in particular Hilton Park. In fact Hilton Park was discovered and generated a lot of interest as one of the most thought after residential areas in the 1990s only after the Council declared it to be the heritage area – the only surviving garden suburb in Fremantle. Finally it was then that the concept of restoring the Elders Woolstores in Queen Victoria Street and adapt them as the New York apartments, was born and actively encouraged by the Council. It was in the first decade of 2000s that Council actively negotiated with the then developers to retain the building instead of the initially proposed demolition and replacement. It was also the Council of the early 2000s, in cooperation with the State Government, who successfully negotiated the design of retrofitting and reuse of the existing Woolstores and approved the first proposal based on the requested Heritage Assessment Report and the Conservation Plan. These were the protracted and complex negotiations as even when the developer has agreed to reuse the existing building, he still pushed for the extra upward extension and demolition of the saw tooth roof. Currently known as the Heirloom, the development gives the testimony to the 2000 Council’s commitment to the heritage driven development.


It was the two decades between the 1990s – 2010 that Fremantle successfully achieved the steady and sustainable growth and has undergone a sympathetic transformation from the struggling, largely ignored as an investment opportunity and crumbling port town into a vibrant and attractive residential area for the ethnically and income mixed population of its residents. This was achieved by the active involvement of the Fremantle City Council in a provision of the affordable housing as well as ample opportunities and a wide range of options for private development. These options ranged from the opportunities for compatible infill development, from single houses to medium and high-density unit developments, to the creative reuse of the existing buildings and conservation of Fremantle’s heritage. These opportunities were largely created by the heritage regime and the planning framework adopted by the 1990-2000 Councils that was conducive to the development of the city by the mix of individual private and public investments in the city existing resources and its community.

From the hindsight and as demonstrated on the evidence outlined above, it can be said that the strategies and initiatives of the City prior to 2010 have proven to be successful and produced the tangible long-term benefits to the city. Mainly the proactive use of the Town Planning Scheme no.3 to manage the change, combined with the creative and leading role of the Council in the local development industry by undertaking its own, award-winning, developments that served the community and worked as a model for private owners and developers to follow. Thus the City has provided the successful model of sustainable urban development for Fremantle, added thousands of new residents, and established the city’s reputation as the most attractive West Australia’s international, national and state tourist destination. On the other hand, it looks like the urban development model adopted in the last 8 years of facilitating large-scale, conventional, and the developer’s driven urban development model has resulted in the visible stunt of the previous harmoniously incremental and sustainable growth. With no much of visible achievements to date, it appears to be a retrogressive step in managing change, sustainable development or inducement for the local economy. The time will tell if this change can benefit the city in the long term.


Council records and the summary of the former City Heritage Architect account of the Council’s and Fremantle achievements during the 25 years with the City of Fremantle.

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