Dr Linley Lutton is an expert urban planner who two years ago warned about the damage Fremantle Council is allowing to the world famous West End. The photo below taken a few days ago shows the truth of his concern as the 8 Packenham Street Sirona development rises above the heritage buildings.
An abbreviated version of his letter is published on the Fremantle Society Facebook page but the 2014 letter from the Fremantle Herald is published below in full.
FREO-NESS AT RISK
FREMANTLE city council is misusing its planning scheme to facilitiate poor development outcomes in Fremantle’s heritage-rich West End precinct.
The development industry argument that heritage hinders commercial progress is alive and well and people who try to voice their concerns are labelled “negative”.
Two over-height and poorly designed developments have now been approved in the West End (8 Pakenham Street and Atwell Arcade) because developers claimed extra height is needed in this height–restricted area in order to achieve commercially viable developments.
For years, in Perth’s CBD, cynical developers have shoe-horned characterless buildings behind heritage facades and this approach is now being applied in Fremantle where approving authorities are jumping to support their initiatives.
It was deplorable to hear that in Fremantle recently the council, at a specially convened meeting, listened to a conga line of commercially-focussed people speaking in support of the redevelopment of Atwell Arcade while one lone figure tried in vain to remind the council of its responsibility to heritage conservation.
What is glaringly obvious here is the powerful influence—both negative and positive—that sense-of-place has on urban dwellers is not understood. The unique sense-of-place associated with heritage environments is highly valued in most Australian capital cities because it offers respite from otherwise utilitarian intensity.
Sense-of-place triggers strong memories, attachments and behaviours at community and personal levels. Our very identities are shaped by sense-of-place. Fremantle’s West End precinct, regarded as Perth’s most valuable tourism asset, exhibits a sense of place found nowhere else in the Perth metropolitan area. This is largely due to its scale, streetscape and evocative architecture. Alarmingly, a pattern may be emerging which threatens the overall integrity of this very special place.
Inappropriate developments are now being approved in the West End by misusing a clause in the town planning scheme intended to protect Fremantle’s heritage character. The clause gives the council the capacity to vary any site or development provision, without limitation, in order to preserve heritage values.
However, it does not give the council carte blanche to disregard other broader aims dealing with a variety of issues including preservation of Fremantle’s character. Paradoxically, this powerful clause aimed at heritage preservation is being cherry-picked from a planning framework to facilitate developments which compromise heritage values.
There are two critical points here. First, the capability of a property to return a development profit is never a criterion used to assess development applications. Only in major urban redevelopment areas is it considered relevant.
Developers always push the envelope and in localities anxious to see development occur they will try to convince gullible decision-makers to accommodate greater demands. Regardless of how compelling a developer’s commercial argument may be it has no place in any development assessment process. It was highly inappropriate for Fremantle’s design advisory committee (DAC) to cite commercial capability as a reason to support the Atwell Arcade development. This is an issue well outside this DAC’s formal terms of reference. Additionally, there is nothing in Fremantle’s planning scheme which allows variations to site or development provisions to satisfy commercial capability.
Second, Fremantle councillors, and the DAC cannot work outside the totality of Fremantle’s planning framework, which comprises many interrelated documents thick with phrases such as: developments are to achieve an exceptionally high standard in terms of appearance; developments are to be distinctive befitting their location; and, developments are to complement and contribute to the community’s desired identity and character for Fremantle.
Additionally, the DAC must satisfy itself that a development promotes character by responding to and reinforcing locally distinctive patterns of development and culture. A third party objective assessment of the two approved projects would most likely conclude that neither satisfies the broad intent of many sections in Fremantle’s planning framework including the overall stated aim to protect and conserve Fremantle’s unique cultural heritage. The approvals could be open to challenge because they so obviously ignore many pertinent sections of Fremantle’s planning framework.
Precedent is everything in planning and the precedent is now set for increased heights and characterless modern buildings in the West End. Preservation of the community’s desired character for Fremantle, a clearly stated aim of Fremantle’s planning scheme, has been ignored in order to satisfy development-driven commercial gain. Future developers can now expect height increases anywhere in the West End, even when the design outcomes are perfunctory and the results are clearly visible from the surrounding streets. All they need do is maintain the building’s façade, which they should be doing as a matter of course in this precinct, make a few internal heritage preservation gestures and then propose whatever they like behind and above. In the process the West End’s overall cohesive scale and unspoilt sense of place is eroded.
The Fremantle community should think long and hard about its attitude to the West End because your elected members and their advisory committee are beginning the process of erosion and the character of this special place is not replaceable.