AS in so many things, strength in retail is in numbers and contrary to appearances, the number of operating shops in central Fremantle is proportionately increasing – but only due to shop numbers decreasing. The solution to the CBD’s retail vacancy rate has been revealed: demolish. Please explain!

Well, with the levelling of the “Point Street” site, corner of Adelaide Street and the current reshaping of Atwell Building and Arcade, there are currently about twenty-four shops fewer to count, many formerly – well, overlooked. Should new shops replace them? “No”, is the immediate response. Yes, more retail strength would be most desirable, however building a new shop does not necessarily guarantee a built-in tenant, which anyway could represent more competition, while alternatively new shops in planned developments for the CBD could encourage inter-shop swings and roundabouts old to new, leaving one deserted.

Although High Street Mall ones will have to be reinstated, tenanting them with quality retailers will prove a difficult exercise. Finding a major attractor not already represented at nearest centres is a considerable challenge. In the clearly changed Fremantle shops situation, just as it is not so much a situation of too high rents but rather of too few customers, now there are not so much too many vacancies, but too many shops. Despite those recently removed premises the actual percentage of vacancies is still disappointing. An addition to the new retail reality is the burgeoning number of central city’s cafe, bar and restaurant temptations plateau-ing toward unsustainability. Ways have to be found to draw regular custom from beyond the present horizon.

For too long Fremantle has seen itself as competing with other centres, while the gravitational pull of those now immense and growing centres, notably Garden City and Gateways, has drawn traders and customers away. Claremont Quarter is of some concern, but less directly. Even the once-threatening Phoenix Centre is being denuded and shows signs of slipping into victim-hood. Fremantle is not in competition, it should recognise it has not been for a long time and should stop trying; it is itself and has its own unique offer and must concentrate on that. Driven by the debilitated look of the Mall, the town hall has been moved to set up discussions with property owners in the centre and it is to be hoped reality will prevail in negotiations to make those properties more attractive to tenants and to the public.

Mayor Brad Pettitt has been making efforts to consult and to expedite that, along with Economic Development and Marketing – Manager Tom Griffiths. Finally, the town hall may be activating. Distance is not a great consideration when a shopping centre contains a vast range of attractions and is therefore a destination in itself and Fremantle’s supporting population catchment is shrinking because of that. Under amalgamation, citizenship numbers will be increased but people will not be moved closer.

Fremantle Central is a naturally air-conditioned shopping, services and entertainment centre with location, facilities and attractions others envy and that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Therein lie the primary strengths and focus which must be developed and promoted, but quickly.

by Colin Nichol


RECENT reports referring to Rokeby Road Subiaco and Claremont Quarter taking business from Fremantle is surely another case of ‘passing the buck’, or blame-shifting. How does that relate to Fremantle’s trading woes?

Try tootling up to Claremont for a little disposable income splashing-out and you will find it’s not a journey you would want to make more than occasionally; it’s an excursion and the traffic situation is no encouragement. Subiaco is even further away.

Alternatively, the cause of the city’s woes, according to one source is the “Dowson Effect”. They may as well call it the (Les) “Lauder Effect” or the “Fremantle Society Effect” – the power of a lot of people. Suddenly, it’s all over the media that Fremantle is in trouble and everyone is deflecting responsibility and running for cover.

Warnings have been sounded for years; check back on local papers. But there may be a double dichotomy here, are we discussing sins of commission or of omission and is Fremantle losing businesses, or business (customers), or is it all of the above?

Perhaps that explains why Claremont and Subiaco are being brought into the argument; that is, the claim they may be taking customers from Fremantle. Unlikely. At the risk of trivializing a serious matter, that’s a chicken and egg situation. That they may be taking some businesses away is possible, but ‘why’ is the core of the matter.

The answer has to be that fewer customers are being attracted to central Fremantle for dry goods while the flagship food and beverage areas are holding in, but are close to the line and there have been significant closures recently.

While customer numbers for them still look good superficially, the average spend is way down – as much as half. A new take-away is likely to add to the pressure. Many businesses are cutting back while putting their hopes on the forthcoming Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships.

Back to Subiaco and Claremont. Their woes have been publicly expressed in newspaper spreads in recent weeks. A raw expression of this is in their shop windows. The red ‘sale’ signs are everywhere: 50% off is common and in some cases, as much as 70%. Not much to envy there. Yes, new Claremont quarter, that glamorous concourse is still fully tenanted, but wait ’til rent review time.

Meanwhile, on Bay View Terrace itself, there are seven vacant street-level premises and twelve nearby. Rokeby Road has five, with ten adjacent, not including the long-closed Subiaco Pavilion or the rows upon rows, at very least 30, ‘for lease’ signs in immediate surrounding buildings. Subiaco’s parking situation has always been a problem and has to be controlled with metering, but there is little problem at Claremont where a vast concourse of free parking provides up to three hours at the Quarter, with more provided by private operators and council. That council is to spend $3.5 million on upgrading the shopping strip. Perhaps, instead of blaming, Fremantle should copy them?


Fremantle Chamber of Commerce CEO Peter Nolin‘s attack on Councilor John Dowson and other “heritage watchdogs” in the Fremantle Herald is an attack on the intelligence of the people in this city. Nolin should get rid of the blinkers he is wearing and also open both eyes, so he can see the world as it is. To blame the demise of retailers in this town on the “Dowson Effect” is sheer stupidity, as many retailers all over  metropolitan Perth are suffering, not only those in Fremantle.

Nolin appears to want to step in the footsteps of those who believe Fremantle should be bulldozed and start from scratch, as his attack on John Dowson suggests that looking after our heritage is akin to killing retail in Fremantle. That is bollocks with a capital B!

Councilor Dowson has done tremendous work for this city for many many years. His love and passion for Fremantle cannot be questioned and neither can his proffessionalism. Peter Nolin’s attack on him and heritage groups is totally unwarranted!

Nolin suggests that preserving our heritage is detrimental for retail in this town. That can only come from a one-eyed person ignoring the facts. Let’s check it out.

FACT ONE: More buyers are turning to the internet for shopping. A result of the ”Dowson Effect” as Nolin calls it?

FACT TWO: 140 Colorado shops all over Australia are closing. A result of the Dowson Effect, Peter Nolin?

FACT THREE: All Angus and Roberts bookstores closed. A result of the Dowson Effect, Peter Nolin?

FACT FOUR: All Borders bookstores closed. A result of the Dowson Effect, Peter Nolin?

FACT FIVE: “Retailers are failing to meet the high demands of shoppers” says Wayne Spencer of the Retail  Traders Association. A result of the Dowson Effect, Peter Nolin?

FACT SIX: I speak with hundreds of tourists when on guide tour duties at the Round House. Many say they will return for a longer period because Fremantle has such beautiful old building, while Perth is so bland.  These people eat, drink, sleep and shop in Fremantle. THAT is the result of the Downson Effect, Mr Nolin!

Heritage preservation has been good for Fremantle, Peter Nolin, and instead of blaming those who tirelessly fight against the destruction of Fremantle’s unique identity, you and your retailers need to get off your high horses, work harder and better and do things differently. Pull your heads out of the sand and start making the changes your Chamber of Commerce needs to make to remain relevant.

Roel Loopers

P.S. This is my personal opinion. I do not speak for the Fremantle Society!



Colin Nichol has been dissecting three years of surveys about Fremantle

FREMANTLE businesses received an emailed questionnaire last October, latest of a twice-yearly survey that has been conducted since August 2008 for the Fremantle City Council, usually in February and around August – October.

So far five survey results have been processed. The surveys are ‘designed to gain an understanding of the issues facing business within the city as well as the opinions of business managers in relation to future expectations’. So, what do they reveal?

There is now so large an accumulation of information a few snapshots of them should throw light on thinking in the city. Assessment does demand cautious handling, as the number of respondents to each has been fairly low.

The first four surveys were conducted over the main city CBD area, while now, with the council’s greatly enlarged email address base of businesses, the entire city is encompassed.

With the first four surveys, ‘accommodation, cafes and restaurants’ accounted for up to 18.0% proportion of responses while in the latest, these now amount to 12.2%. Similarly, the ‘retail’ participation has reduced from a high of 45.8% to 36.8%.

In the summary of all surveys 2008-10, the top ten main concerns are, in order from top: security (particularly property), information on existing and/or new markets, local population growth, national economic performance, private investment in the city, access to capital, public investment in the city, tourist and visitor numbers, waterfront development and at ten, access to new markets.

Surveys indicate that after what appears to have been an unhappy February 2009, positive economic expectations for Fremantle itself generally improved, then dipped again by October 2010. Opinions expressed by then were that the city’s prospects were in decline compared with the two preceding surveys: 47.6% were confident as against 51.0% and 50.3%.

Respondents’ sentiments were similarly negative regarding their own business prospects: down to a 47.1% confidence level. ‘No change’ (not good in itself), or else an actual decline, was anticipated by 52.4%, an increase on the previous survey period of 3.4%.

Businesses stating they would not continue operating in Fremantle peaked to the highest ever level last October at 9.1%. Further, the number in that survey intending to stay, decreased against all surveys except February 2009 and fell by a factor of 65.8% against 71.5% when compared with twelve months before – and by 10.0% against the previous February ’10 survey. The ‘unsure’ factor, significantly represented in these surveys, here at 25.1% of respondents, was second only to the lows of February ’09.

In answer to the question whether they believed ‘the City of Fremantle is effective in facilitating economic development in Fremantle’, 36.8% of businesses indicated they were ‘unsure’, a slight improvement on the 37.9% figure of the previous survey but otherwise higher than all others.

Good news was council’s 33.1% approval rating, a 0.4% improvement on the previous best. On the other hand, at 30.1% the disapproving ‘no’ vote was also higher by 0.7% than the previous survey, but better than earlier ones, which were at their worst in August ’08 at 45.1%.

Careful analysis is important of revelations in these surveys and their relationships to one another. Given appropriate adjustments and with influences from the increased coverage of the whole city, future survey findings will likely be even more interesting.


ONCE again, that creaky wheel of Fremantle’s publicly repeated woes turns and once again rotates to its starting point. This cycle of comment does not bring tangible improvement but rather ratchets up the suffering of businesses stretched upon the rack of declining trade.

As traders tell one other, publicising of problems has to be balanced against the danger of making the situation worse. But central Fremantle is not just losing its magic, it may have gone too far in reverse gear along that yellow brick road, to be able to return to where it was until fairly recently.

Crisis management does not demand ideas and talk alone, it first and immediately requires the psychology of very visible action, to deal with morale. As Roel Loopers wrote, “Procrastination is choking our city to death, so let us make good and positive changes before it is too late.” (Thinking Allowed, Fremantle Herald, July 3, 2010).

What needs to be addressed is the two-headed challenge of reality and perception. It is the same city it was a decade ago, but the overall effect is still run-down and grey. These negatives have long been evident and until recently were not seen as standing in the way business.

Last June, a City of Fremantle press release reported on a business survey during February 2010, noting concerns that small retailers might face closure “due to rent hikes and sluggish trade”. It seems like wish-fulfilment that it claimed respondents reported: “The economic situation for the city and individual businesses was stable or likely to improve”.

Stable at what level? Anecdotal information seems to indicate – not good. Word on the Terrace is that turnover is well down and running costs, notably rent, are becoming unmanageable; Fremantle is too expensive for itself.

A subsequent survey last October showed 65.8% of respondents intended to continue to operate their businesses while 34.2% would not or were uncertain, of whom 9.1% were planning to leave. Retail, accommodation, cafes and restaurants comprised 49% of survey results.

Because of the progressive decline in retail choices in Fremantle, the ‘need not want’ syndrome has swung into effect. The lack of ‘needs’ buying is now bearing heavily upon the city. So, what is the key to overcoming inertia and getting that word-of-mouth buzz rolling again?

Fashion. Really, that’s it. Fremantle is out of fashion. Suddenly seen through a different lens as tired, out of date, lacking colour, tatty, dreary, littered with doubtful types. Suddenly anything but trendy and fashionable, which it so recently was. ‘Daggy and run-down but interesting’, is now out of fashion.

Urgent action is the call, to deal with both the perceptions and realities. Traders need to form an action group. The hit-and-run promotions the city holds do well enough but don’t stick; there is little ongoing benefit. Some continuing element is required, such as New Orleans has jazz – it’s always there.The core issue of making the city itself attractive to visit should be addressed as a priority. The New Reality is here. Fremantle Council has created an Economic Development Working Group of 13 representative members, two cheers for that. Hopefully a lucky thirteen that will form a collective Captain Fremantle to steer the city back on course.

Colin Nichol, former international broadcaster, also retail centre manager, is a long-time member of the Fremantle Society and observer and writer about the city


As a still wet behind the ears President of the Fremantle Society I thank Bryden Dalitz for his Thinking Allowed (Fremantle Herald 4-12-10) because it gives me a perfect opportunity to respond.  I make no apologies for the effectiveness of Fremantle’s peak heritage lobby group, the Fremantle Society, we are good at what we do; perhaps Bryden could look closer to home and lay some blame for “economic growth being severely lacking” at the feet of the business lobby group for whom he works and question why the Chamber of Commerce has not achieved similar success.  Bryden sends mixed messages berating the heritage lobby for their recent work but complimenting us by telling readers; “..citizens of Fremantle should be grateful to groups who went against the zeitgeist of decades past and prevented many wonderful and iconic buildings that characterise Fremantle from being destroyed.”  A case of wisdom in hindsight …..

Bryden sings the praises of ING’s Victoria Quay proposal, whilst criticising opposition to it.  I argue a large box shopping centre with multi-storey carpark is not the highest and best use for Victoria Quay, it would not “bring people to the West End“; they would drive past local businesses to park, shop and leave, as at Bondi Central in Sydney and Harbourtown in West Perth.  But of course ING did get planning approval, but then chose to do nothing until their approval is close to lapsing.

Similarly, Council recently granted a third 2 year approval for a heritage building in the West End which remains boarded up rather than adding to Fremantle’s vibrancy.  I must here mention Fremantle’s biggest disgrace, the Cantonment Street woolstores which Council granted development approval over 4 years ago, yet nothing has been done, effectively stifling that end of town.

Bryden, it’s not groups trying to protect our assets, our point of difference, our heritage, that holds Fremantle back, but owners of significant sites and buildings allowing them to disintegrate along with Fremantle by land-banking instead of developing, maintaining and even using these assets.

Enjoy your trip to Melbourne and when you are in hip Lygon or Acland Streets check out the buildings, you will find low rise heritage, like Fremantle’s West End.  Go to Sydney and check out Paddington, travel the world, I bet you come back to Fremantle.

Jon Strachan    9-12-2010


As a relatively new and active member of the Fremantle Society I would like to give you my ideas of what the society should be, and hope this will trigger an on-line discussion on this blog, with members of the society, the general public, and city councilors and planners.

First I like to acknowledge the passion, commitment and hard work done since 1972 by present and past members of the society. Fremantle could have been an awful place if it wasn’t for you voluntarily taking on the custodianship of the city. You stood guard and succeeded in preserving so much of our beautiful heritage.

It has been a long time, and times have changed. We now have access to modern and very fast communication tools like the internet, where we can converse with people all over the world and in real time. No waiting for snail mail anymore. This gives us new opportunities, but also challenges, to reach a much wider audience for our ideas and passions.

The Fremantle Society has reacted to this with starting this FREO TRIBE blog, we have a FACEBOOK page, members Sam Wilson and Michael Adeane are working on modernising and expanding our website, and we’ll have the launch of the FREMANTLE FIGHTERS book, written by Ron and Dianne Davidson, on November 19 by Premier Colin Barnett at Deckchair Theatre.

All this indicates that this group wants to move on to become more pro-active, and change our image from being seen as negative, anti-development, and against everything.

I only speak for myself, but I believe development is essential for the vitality and future of Fremantle. The city needs an inspiration to move it into a new and exiting phase, with more and better public open spaces, like town squares, mixed, and cheaper, housing, quality retail outlets, small wine bars, better street scapes, etc.

The East End is in desperate need of revitalisation, the Princess May area near Clancys could become a wonderful community space, the Woolstores need to be developed urgently. I’d like to see a better connection to the train station, with the busport not hiding the beauty of it, and better direct access to Victoria Quay and the E-Shed Market, cafes, and the soon to open new ferry passenger terminal at the port, and King Square needs to become a real vibrant town square and meeting place.

I would like the society to come up with its own plans for the city, not just being reactive and put essential submissions to the council about new development. I do understand that this will be difficult to achieve for a group with very limited funds, as we would need experts to draw up plans, involve architects, etc.

But there are always solutions, and one of them could be to involve university students in that. Wouldn’t it be great if they embraced the concept of assisting the Fremantle Society in helping to make Fremantle a modern, vibrant place, where students can afford the rent and enliven our streets not only during uni hours but also in the evenings, and they too become a vital part of our city, not just day time visitors.

We should also start regular forums in cafes and other meeting places like Kulcha, and the society needs to take a greater part in events that happen in Fremantle. We need to lift our public profile by being out there and amongst the rest of our community, as we did with our strong presence and hard work at the Concert for Pakistan.

I have great hopes for Fremantle. We have a very inclusive mayor in Brad Pettitt and some good young councillors. I am convinced they will work hard on making Fremantle grow in a sustainable and modern way, with great respect for our heritage, and they are aware we are watching them closely.

Those who believe unlimited high-rise development is the way to go for Fremantle are in the wrong city. Our heritage is non negotiable and we will not compromise the beauty of it. Respect for Fremantle’s history, heritage, and unique lifestyle is the most essential ingredient for any development!

Roel Loopers