Architect Carl Payne Slams Councillors over Manning Buildings

Carl Payne graduated as an architect in 1974; travelled overseas; and moved to Fremantle in 1977. He was active in the Fremantle Society through the late seventies and eighties; and was acting President for a while. Carl worked in private practice in Fremantle during this period. Like others, his Society contributions were pro-bono.  He sent us this essay.

Here is the COMPLETE essay. The Fremantle Herald have now published this, but have omitted 300 words.

I thank Cr Ingrid Waltham for assisting me in previous Council dealings, when feedback from officers was less than ideal. But I was alarmed to read her reported statements regarding the FCC Planning Committee approval of the Manning Buildings redevelopment. She said: “There’s still a lot of work to be done”. I took this to mean a satisfactory result would be achieved. She then said “she’s a bit torn by the verandah issue”; that “she loves to see heritage protected”, but “doesn’t believe it should be imposed if it affected a building’s functionality.

Her comments took me back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, before a kind of truce was achieved. Wholesale heritage loss was averted. It’s now supported by legislation; and improved planning schemes. This is a good thing, but it leads to complacency; to a notion that the war was won. The current Manning Building redevelopment proposal proves that it wasn’t.

“An elected official – is making statements which literally mean that heritage protection should not be imposed if this affects the building’s owner”

The Manning Building shows that we pay lip-service to heritage conservation. It’s rare for heritage architect to do a large redevelopment, because the game in Fremantle – all of WA – is to get around the heritage issues. An elected official – part of a process to protect what makes Fremantle what it is – is making statements which literally mean that heritage protection should not be imposed if this affects the building’s owner. This approach is counter the proper and orderly conservation of Fremantle for the whole community.

I hear the “Damn leftie, it’s my private property.“ response. If Ingrid and the rest of the planning committee are in full support of this private-property ideal, let them say so. I doubt they all are. Knowing some, my feeling is they genuinely want the best for the Fremantle community; for the City itself.
My guess is they don’t fully relate to how a creative and positive conservation approach can be consistent with the best heritage results; and good for ALL property owners.

Good heritage legislation provides a stable foundation; and defends the essence of a place. It offers generous tax-concessions, grants and bonuses to property owners when they develop with strong conservation values. There are examples, in similar cities all over the capitalist world, of creative responses that could apply to Fremantle. Private owners are not dictated to. They are part of a unified approach, with real advantages for them as well. We need to be truly progressive; and not simply rely on an outdated development model.

Manning Buildings are the most dominant example in Fremantle, of a building of this style and importance. They occupy extensive frontages to Market, High and William Streets, with presence on Paddy Troy Lane. They are a vital, substantial piece of inter-connected Fremantle property. They are opposite the Town Hall; and form a partial boundary to the south of the Kings Square development.

“This is no way to run one of the most important and intact 19thC streetscape cities in Australia.”

It may be true for Council to say, “we have achieved a better result than we started with.” But with developers just trying to get away with all they can, the community must continually fight for more. This silly system places total reliance on the skill, judgement, experience, and preferences of councillors who happen to occupy council at the time of any development proposal. This is no way to run one of the most important and intact 19thC streetscape cities in Australia. Councillors need to be supported and informed by legislative certainty and muscle.

Good restoration demands as little change as possible. The Planning Committee heritage report makes relevant points. But actions of councillors are not consistent with the Burra Charter ideals expressed in the report. I’ve heard Cr Waltham’s statement many times, but mostly from those who, unlike Ingrid, don’t especially “love to see heritage protected”. It’s galling to hear them from one who professes to love heritage. Strong heritage legislation is educational too, another huge plus.

The Council minutes say: “Detailed drawings of the decorative posts should be provided.” Architect John Kirkness has researched details for accurate reconstruction of the verandahs. Council should demand these details be part of the approval; and John should receive reward for his work. Is heritage not worth paying for?

“The approach is totally arse-about.”

The minutes say this about the internal timber stairs: “There are a small number of authentic staircases in original condition and it is proposed to retain one or two of them if possible.” One or two, if possible? Developer’s response? “Sorry, wasn’t possible. Computer says No……….” The internal staircases are part of period detailing; the language; the story of the buildings. The staircases should influence the planning; and not be discarded so that the planning can proceed without them. The approach is totally arse-about.

The buildings represent 100% of the current story. The heritage report mentions single-storey add-ons. Retaining these may not be justifiable, but they DO represent aspects of the total history of the buildings. Their loss means a lesser figure, say 96% of the total. Then we lose other stuff. Sure, we get a heritage report. Not much better than nothing really, let’s be realistic. Reports sitting in a drawer don’t have much effect on the urban streetscape.

We lose staircases; internal walls and ceilings; fireplaces; a whole collection of rooms and spaces, for a beer barn. Now I love a good beer barn. I’m in one now, as I write these words. Sea breeze coming off the Fishing Boat Harbour. But the 96% falls further with the loss of these elements. It’s 80% now.

The verandah job may achieve the correct detailing accuracy. But no guarantees. What is our percentage if this re-constructed verandah is a cliché approximation? A major streetscape failure drops the figure to say 65%.

“No well-managed historic city anywhere in the world would allow this to happen”

We find a large section of the courtyard is taken by a new basement carpark road. No well-managed historic city anywhere in the world would allow this to happen. The best experiences in old towns are finding tucked-away courtyards, back-lanes. We are filling these up in Fremantle with over-development. This is not valid urban consolidation. Some recent examples in central Fremantle are so poor, they qualify only as urban exploitation. We can easily hit 50% at this point. A bare pass.

50% makes it easy for a future Manning Buildings owner to say: “These buildings have already lost their 3D-heritage value. They are a façade only. We should bowl ’em over; build something really good!!” “You make a good point” says Council. Don’t laugh, it’s happened before.

Finally, consider this excerpt from the Minutes: “The applicant is encouraged to consider carefully removing acrylic paint and any cement render from the building to allow the walls to breathe. This practice is not only an aesthetic recommendation but will reduce the rate of deterioration of the wall and improve the longevity of the original building fabric.” This type of essential detail should be mandatory for a heritage building; written into the conditions as a requirement, not as an encouragement. 

The Planning Committee approval, with its compromises which miss the importance of achievable, proper and well-considered heritage conservation, was unanimous. Committee members were as follows: Cr Jon Strachan; Cr Bryn Jones; Cr Ingrid Waltham; Cr Jeff McDonald; Cr Dave Hume; Cr Rachel Pemberton.

“We are talking about arming and educating Councillors.”

We can do far better than this. A constructive strategic approach can build a strong heritage policy. Sure, this requires lots of work. But the officers’ report to Council is already a lot of hard work. There are many examples we can use to build this better and stronger Council policy. We are talking about the future of Fremantle after all. We are talking about arming and educating Councillors.

Carl Payne
1 Bostock Street
White Gum Valley
0408 900 446

Fremantle Society Vision

The Fremantle Society has put forward its progressive and sustainable vision in a full page advertisement in the Herald which will appear this week in over 50,000 copies. Many thanks to former Fremantle Council City Heritage Architect Agnieshka Kiera and others for their valuable input.

Fremantle Society Committee

The Fremantle Society welcomes Pat Baker, former senior photographer for the WA Museum onto the committee and as Membership Secretary.

Peter Scott of Fremantle is also a welcome addition to the committee. To cover for committee members who are travelling or unavailable, we are asking for members to consider being an “Emergency Committee Member” for occasional meetings. We are pleased to have two former Presidents, Don Whittington and Ian Alexander volunteering last week for this position. Please contact us if you are interested. In some cases we need representation on important committees, and Professor David Hawks has kindly undertaken for some time now to represent us on the Inner Harbour Community Liaison Committee of Fremantle Ports.

South Ward Election

South Ward voters have received their ballot papers for a rerun of last year’s election.

Maria Vujcic and Chris Williams, both members of the Society, are running against the former incumbent Andrew Sullivan.

There has been some ill informed comment on social media that the Fremantle Society are running two good people against each other in order to split the vote and allow Andrew Sullivan, who voted for all the recent poor quality developments around town, to win. The Fremantle Society did not speak to either candidate before they nominated and is not funding either of them.

We encourage everyone to be active in local government elections, and congratulate Maria and Chris for putting their hands up, and working to be elected.

Precinct Review

There is currently a review of the Precinct system, closing 12 March. The Fremantle Society helped initiate the Precinct System over 20 years ago, and is now being left out of the system, along with FICRA (Fremantle Inner City Residents’ Association). We ask members to go to Have My Say on council’s website and fill out a submission insisting that the Fremantle Society and FICRA stay as precincts.

Precincts in recent years have often been used by incumbent councillors to promote themselves and have often not been functioning as intended.

One reason for having precincts is to give the community a heads up on upcoming events and developments, but there has been little from council staff to make that work optimally. For example, submissions for this year’s Heritage Festival have closed but the Fremantle Society, a heritage group, was not even informed.

It is extremely time consuming writing detailed submissions on complex issues, and the Fremantle Society and others need as much advance notice as possible, and need to stay within the precinct system for that reason alone.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society
22 February 2018

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