Heritage awards and the importance of conservation and urban regeneration

First a big congratulations to all the nominees and winners of the 2015 Fremantle/East Fremantle Conservation Heritage Awards that were announced  last night. It was a great night in the fabulous heritage setting of the National Hotel. Alan Kelsall gave the keynote address and as the last in the series of guests posts by him here is what he had to say:


It is particularly pleasing to see the quality of many of the entries and how they demonstrate that, with a sufficiently imaginative approach to the conservation of Fremantle’s heritage, we can enhance the city’s built character and at the same time improve the quality of community life and sustain its continued economic vitality.

This is an important message and one which I wish to talk to you about this evening because at a time when a new wave of development is starting to have an impact on Fremantle the link between successful urban regeneration and conservation is again being closely examined and tested.

The starting point for all such considerations has rightly been the fact that Fremantle was established as the port town for Perth and furthermore for most of its history it was a prosperous urban centre, acknowledged as the second city of the metropolitan area.

It is these facts that underscore the city’s distinct character and are the reasons it evolved an urban centre that is recognisably different from those parts of Perth that were established as residential suburbs.

A successful centre of maritime trade

Fremantle is a successful centre of maritime trade and until the 1970s the port played a primary role in establishing and maintaining the city’s distinct character because the processing, storage and distribution of export and import commodities took place close to the harbour.

Fremantle’s distinct character evolved during this extended period of prosperity as it adapted to changing circumstances particularly to those in the shipping industry.  Some of these changes transformed the city.

The need for revitalization

The centre of Fremantle now needs revitalization to compensate for the far-reaching decline triggered by the introduction of containerisation in the 1970s.  Containerisation changed not only the port, because of the way ships were loaded and unloaded but also the neighbouring parts of the city centre because commodities were no longer stored and processed in these areas.

Thus the overall effect of containerisation coupled with the planning changes initiated at that time, which sought rigid zoning, low density and the promotion of private transport was to remove people from the port and the city centre. This loss undermined the complex interdependencies that had evolved between port and city to such an extent that, over time, it was no longer possible for the city centre to sustain its earlier levels of economic growth and social vitality.

While it is obviously impossible to replicate the primary role formerly played by the port the development of new, higher density, mixed-use areas located within easy reach of the station could help to re-establish similar interdependencies around Victoria Quay and the city centre.

The aim is to establish the right conditions for the development of a successful, multi-layered urban centre, dense enough to support a vibrant mix of users and uses which will allow business, residential, social and cultural activities to function effectively with less reliance on the car.  The right conditions include having buildings of a quality and resilience that will be valued by present and future generations.

Fremantle can offer something different

Fremantle is fortunate in that, to a degree, its centre already possesses many of these attributes.  In a metropolitan area of increasing sameness, Fremantle’s ability to offer something different which is in no small way, due to its heritage is being promoted as providing the city with an advantage over competing centres.

Consequently, the aim is to not just conserve the buildings, but also to integrate them into urban regeneration schemes that will reinforce the character of the area to create a desirable and sustainable form of urban living.  This way of living, which has become rare in the metropolitan area offers an experience of city living where communities can thrive.  As such, it provides the vision for planning the revitalisation of central Fremantle.

Maintaining a sense of continuity does not mean stopping new ideas:  it didn’t in the past and it shouldn’t in the future. Achieving the right balance between reinforcing the distinctive characteristics of an area and the need for it to be economically successful should always be based on specialist knowledge.

The right outcome is rarely impossible provided all parties involved show reasonable flexibility and imagination and a willingness to avoid standard design solutions in favour of a more imaginative approach.  Sometimes this means doing virtually nothing.  Other times it means developing buildings to accommodate new uses that will both complement and enhance the historic environment and ensure its survival.

Heritage places should be put to good use

The City recognises that, unless they are put to good use, very few heritage places can be maintained at either public or private expense.  Furthermore it believes that even if it were practicable it would not be desirable.  Its preference is for heritage places to become part of the life of the community, while also making a greater contribution to its economic prosperity.

Economic prosperity encourages the inward investment that will secure the continued vitality of the precincts and the continued use and proper conservation of their heritage buildings.  In return, this success will lead to fewer threats to the historic environment and enable it to increase its contribution to the local economy.

In conclusion, the aim is to reinforce the sense of community, by creating places where people can use, enjoy and benefit from their heritage buildings.

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About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

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