Fremantle Society Submission on Woolstores Shopping Centre and Car Park Proposal, 28 Cantonment Street Fremantle DAP003/19, December 5, 2019.
Introduction: The Fremantle Society is keen to see new developments in Fremantle which add to the quality of the town and fit in. Unfortunately, the majority of recent development proposals have been insensitive and of low quality.
The site in question is a highly significant one opposite the well restored single storeyed railway station, and enroute along Queen Street to the newly developed King’s Triangle area.
The site was, until inexplicable council permission to demolish it was granted in the 1980s, the site of the biggest and best woolstore in Fremantle. That history, the size of the site, and the surrounding context, should inform the thinking for a replacement building.
Site Context: The site is a large one in a key central area and needs a coordinated development plan, particularly along Queen Street, where the alignment of the road needs to be addressed as part of any development for this site.
Assessment of Proposal:
1. Comprehensive Proposal Needed: A comprehensive redevelopment of the Woolstores Centre site would be extremely welcome as an important contribution to the future of Fremantle. However this is not a comprehensive development, but an ad hoc, piecemeal and speculative one with far too little detail, especially as it is not known if and when a future police building will be funded within Fremantle.
2. Design:The proposal is a bold effort to provide a variegated solution to a very large site, using an accordion like metal faced upper section for the hotel development, while providing a standard glass and brick box like solution for the housing of the police headquarters at the other end of the site.
Boldness alone is not a measure of success, and the effect of the accordion like upper section is more shocking than satisfying, alien to anything else in the historic town of Fremantle, even the adjacent four-storey bank building built by the same developer, where former planning minister Alannah MacTiernan quipped at the opening: “When is the scaffolding coming down?” The serious failure of the proposed design was well described by architect Carl Payne in a recent letter to the editor in the Fremantle Herald.
3. Height, Bulk and Scale: The most important benchmark for the height, scale and massing of the development is set by the adjoining Goldsborough Mort Woolstores building and, to a lesser extent, the newer building at the SE corner of Cantonment and Queen Streets, and that level should best be maintained consistently over the whole site. No protrusions above this level, other than minor necessary protrusions, should be accepted. Architect Ken Adam has made this point very strongly to the Fremantle Society in his analysis. It is accepted that the 21m height limit approximates this level.
4. Queen Street Shops: A key issue that needs resolution is the six shops on Queen Street that are part of this site. As urban planner Malcolm Mackay stated in a commentary commissioned by the Fremantle Society: The retention of the existing shops to Queen Street is unfortunate as the north-western corner of the site is a prominent corner that is clearly visible to people arriving in Fremantle at the railway station; also, the corner would have offered an excellent opportunity to establish a strong and welcoming architectural feature.
Given that the developer owns most of those shops, and that council has the power of compulsory acquisition, the remaining shop should be acquired, and the six existing shops demolished to allow a better design outcome for the hotel development and the realignment of Queen Street.
5. Car Bays:The proposal submitted is seriously deficient in car bays, and the Fremantle Society believes that the anti-car agenda pursued by the council since 2010 needs reviewing, and the development of this site demands adequate parking for supermarket, office, hotel, and the special needs of the police.
6. Interior Quality:The quality of the interior fit out for residents who regularly shop at Coles and others using this prominent site needs to be higher than previous developments by this developer.
7. Percent for Art: While the percent for art scheme initiated for council for major new projects was a good idea in theory, it has been a catastrophic failure, in general littering Fremantle with substandard art work.
Given the fact that the previous woolstore on the site is partially interpreted by interior original wooden beams, and a historic machinery remnant outside on the northern side of Coles, which should be kept and retained in any future development, the Fremantle Society suggests that the percent for art money be used for further historic interpretation of this important site, which could be internal in public spaces or outside. That opportunity for example was missed when the “Manning’s Folly” site was redeveloped as the Quest Apartment Hotel, without any successful attempt to interpret the highly significant history of that site internally or externally.
8. Design Detail: There is not enough detail of materiality or quality of finish and that should be provided before any approval is given. The lack of effort by the developer is exemplified in the statement that the height of the Coles supermarket ceiling will be ’55 metres’.
9. Design Relevance:The use of bricks as shown is appropriate and supported, but the shopfronts appear incongruous for Fremantle and more suitable to a car show room in Victoria Park, while the materials and design above the shopfronts and the corner treatment for the Coles entrance appear featuristic.
Conclusion: The Fremantle Society supports good development and wants to see developers spend money improving the town. But the Fremantle Society is shocked at this latest iteration for the site. The design has been shown to various architects and to members of the community, who overall are scathing, describing it as ‘dismal’ and inappropriate for Fremantle.
There is no urgency for this proposal to be passed, and the Fremantle Society asks that this design be rejected.