Quest Apartment Hotel Fremantle
This brief report reviews the process and consequences of the City of Fremantle permitting a five-storey development at 8 Pakenham Street Fremantle. The author is an adjunct senior fellow at the University of Western Australia where he teaches and researchers urban planning. The report provides evidence of how Fremantle’s heritage rich West End precinct can so easily be compromised as the City of Fremantle focuses on facilitating development rather than protecting its greatest asset. New taller developments in Fremantle can be encouraged and there are many areas in the city other than the West End where this encouragement is appropriate.
THE West End precinct is arguably the most intact and much-visited heritage precinct in Western Australia, probably Australia. Its tourism value is well known as people from all over the world and the state come to visit an authentic port city. The addition of two floors to 8 Pakenham Street sets a dangerous precedent for others to follow which could see many five-storey buildings or higher, emerge in the West End.
It would appear that in Fremantle, developers need only to make a case that the current height limits in the precinct do not permit them to achieve an economically feasible development and the City willingly disregards most of its planning rules to appease them. The image below clearly shows the out-of-scale Pakenham Street development in comparison to the buildings on the other side of the street.
This redevelopment would potentially be regarded as unlawful if an objection based on an independent and objective assessment had been possible. However, in a state where third party rights of appeal do not exist, no provision for the public to pursue objections through the courts exist, therefore testing its lawfulness can never be made.
The planning regulations established for the West End precinct were devised to conserve its unique qualities for all to enjoy, not for developers to make a profit. Building height, particularly in relation to street width and adjoining buildings, is one of the most important qualities defining the visual character of heritage cities and towns and the City of Fremantle Local Planning Scheme 4 (LPS 4) recognises this through establishment of certain planning provisions.
The key relevant planning provision in LPS 4 is to limit all buildings within the West End precinct to three storeys or 11 metres. One additional floor can be added provided it cannot be seen from the adjoining streets and is consistent with the general height pattern of adjoining properties and does not exceed 14 metres. LPS 4 does have provision to allow building heights to be increased in order for a new building to be consistent with higher adjoining buildings however in this case there are no higher adjoining buildings.
The developer’s section below shows how the five storeys was constructed behind the existing street façade. The 11 metre maximum building height for the West End is shown as a red line. The section also notes on the far right a 14 metre overall height. This is the additional height permitted in the West End provided the additional height cannot be seen from adjoining streets and is consistent with the height pattern of adjoining properties and with the conservation objectives for the locality generally which are outlined later in this report.
So how is it possible that a five-storey building can be approved in the West End precinct.? This is where the City of Fremantle and/or the JDAP manipulate the City’s planning provisions. LPS 4 has one provision which allows the Council to vary any site or development requirement in order to facilitate the conservation of a heritage place and it is the misuse of this provision which provided the basis upon which 8 Pakenham Street was approved. In the case of 8 Pakenham Street, the only argument the developer could have mounted would have been that they were retaining the building’s existing façade.
While 8 Pakenham Street does not appear on the National Estate listing it does lie within the West End Conservation area therefore demolition of the façade would be highly unlikely in any event so to invoke a provision in LPS 4 on the basis that the developer was conserving a heritage place would appear to be an opportunistic interpretation of LPS 4. The City of Fremantle however went beyond merely varying specific site and development provisions; it also disregarded a raft of provisions written into the City’s legislative planning framework dealing with many important qualitative issues associated with good city planning.
Disregarding the City’s West End Conservation Area Policy (D.G. F14) is a notable example. The following is an extract from D.G. F14 with respect to Townscape and Amenity in the West End precinct:
The Council recognises the [West End] precinct as the major commercial asset of the city and recognises its present fabric as the city’s greatest long-term economic asset. The growing realisation of the value of this asset is being reflected in new uses, in considerable renovation activity, and in prices being paid for quality buildings.
To conserve this valuable asset, it is essential that existing buildings be protected through the promotion of evenly spread development consistent with what already exists; through preventing the pre-emption of potential by the over-development of single sites; and through ensuring that new development is sympathetic to (and subordinate to) the present townscape and traditional uses of the area.
D.G. F14 goes on to state the following with respect to height in particular:
The appropriate height is one which respects the scale and reinforces the integrity of the existing streetscape. The Council’s officers and advisers believe that in principle this is to be a maximum height of three storeys, on the street frontage. The height will be assessed by appropriately considering its relation to and effect on the existing landmarks, on recognised vistas, skyline and in particular on the heights of the adjacent buildings.
Note in the above the phrase in particular on the heights of the adjacent buildings. The relationship of buildings to each other is the fundamental building block which drives the character of historic streets. The developer provided this misleading and deceptive recession plane diagram which showed that the additional height would not be visible from the street.
Recession plane diagrams are notoriously misleading and often used by planners to demonstrate the impact of building height at pedestrian level. The greatest weakness of recession diagrams is that they only apply to a fixed location directly in front of the building. Of course, this is just one view of a building so when a pedestrian moves along the street to view the building, which is how all pedestrians view a street, the recession plane no longer applies.
It can be seen in the images below that the additional floors are very clearly seen from the street. It would also seem that the setback used in the recession diagram has been reduced, adding to the significant impact of the development on the street.
The image below shows a further misleading height study used by the developer. It depicts the development in relation to a building horizon shown shaded behind their proposed development. The intent of this diagram is to show that the development is lower than the silhouette of sections of the city well eastward of their development.
What the developer has failed to understand is that it is the pedestrian-level experience which creates the sense of place so valued in Fremantle’s West End, not an abstracted view which only exists on an architect’s drawing board.
The abrupt change in height between the Terminus Hotel and the new development can clearly be observed in the above street elevation. This is an unsympathetic response and wholly disregards a range of statements in various Fremantle planning policies about building adjacency and height. It also paves the way for developers to use provisions in the City’s planning scheme to argue for similar height increases by virtue of the fact that they are permitted to match the height of adjoining properties.
In this case a developer can argue for a five-storey building on the Terminus Hotel site and the adjoining properties along Short Street. This is why the precedents set by permitting taller buildings in the West End are so dangerous; it starts with one building then, like a row of falling dominos, can sweep through the entire precinct.
Apart from the visual impact, there are also important environmental impacts associated with elevating buildings from three storeys to five storeys. Pakenham Street, like all other streets in the West End, is not a wide street so when buildings increase in height they can begin to overshadow the street.
In this case, the entire width of the street in front of 8 Pakenham Street and the Terminus Hotel will be in shade until noon during winter time. Allowing sun to enter the narrow streets of older precincts is a fundamental urban planning principle which this development ignores. This alone should have been sufficient grounds to reject the proposal. Wind too can become a factor particularly when a row of buildings of this height emerge.
By supporting this development, the City of Fremantle has proven itself to be an unfit custodian of Fremantle’s West End precinct. The great paradox here is that the City invokes a dangerously open ended clause in its planning scheme which enables all planning rules to be overruled in order to conserve heritage values, and in doing so it seriously compromises those same values.
The City will argue that this is a one-off occurrence and the concern that similar heights will occur in the West End is unfounded. It has however already demonstrated this not to be the case by supporting the extra height associated with the redevelopment of the Atwell building. The development at 8 Pakenham Street has compromised the heritage character of the street.
fourth storey could have been added and set well back from view however the City of Fremantle acquiesced to a demanding developer and they most likely will continue to do so. For the long-term protection of the West End, the City of Fremantle should not permit this height increase to occur again in the West End.