A fuller response to John Dowson’s Thinking Allowed

Last week John Dowson wrote a Thinking Allowed that accused the Fremantle Council of been anti-heritage:


I have written a response to this that that was published in the Fremantle Herald today and you can read here.


There wasn’t room to cover all of John’s often inaccurate assertions though and I have had a few emails asking for a more detailed response so here are some points of clarification.

JOHN DOWSON: The wraparound promises $1.3 billion of development, though Dr Pettitt’s advertising admits only $16.2 million has been delivered after six years of his mayoralty.

RESPONSE: While $16.2 in the value completed projects in the last couple of years (not the last 6 years as John incorrectly asserts) there is $269.5 currently under construction and a further $376 million of approved plans about to commence construction. I don’t think any reasonable person can argue there is not a major wave of new developments underway in Fremantle. In fact the title and next paragraph (below) of  John’s article acknowledges development is on the rise in Fremantle.

investment breakdown aug 2015

JOHN DOWSON: To get the development boom under way, the mayor and councillors trashed a perfectly good town planning scheme to allow developers large increases in height despite opposition from the majority of the community.

RESPONSE: Yes the Fremantle Council under my term as mayor did raise heights in key areas away from the important and historic West End to encourage new investment in Fremantle (see map below). Yes it was controversial at the time but I believe that most Fremantle people understood it was necessary. The fact that all of the council members that supported these changes were re-elected at the last election suggests there was not opposition from the majority of the community as John claims. I still think we made the right decision here.

higher density areas

JOHN DOWSON:  Some of the big box proposals were in the West End conservation area, so the mayor simply reduced the boundaries of the West End, despite a $50,000 expert report stating the boundaries should be expanded.

RESPONSE: This is incorrect on a number of levels: John as a former Fremantle Council member knows full well that the Mayor cannot unilaterally make decisions without the support of the majority of the Council.

More fundamentally, the Fremantle West End Conservation Area Policy (D.G.F14) which can be found at http://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/cityservices/Planning/Policies has not been changed since the 1990s nor have the West End Boundaries. In fact the City of Fremantle is working with the State Heritage Office to get the West End of Fremantle state heritage listed for the first time. Page 10 of this states that the West End zone is: “the area bounded by Little High Street (west), Collie Street (south), Market Street (east) and the railway line to the north.” This is what we are seeking state heritage listing for so John is not correct in this assertion.

JOHN DOWSON:  Instead of setting the example and maintaining its own heritage properties (your assets), the council has allowed them to run down to a dangerous degree. It has been unsafe for years to fly the Australian flag from the Town Hall, for example. What recent work that has been done by the council has often been highly controversial — replacing copper guttering at the arts centre with plastic, putting a tin roof on the 1854 boys’ school, and doing repairs to the facade, which have collapsed, at the historic Fremantle Markets.

RESPONSE: As I said in my Thinking Allowed we need to let the facts speak for themselves on this. Over the next year Fremantle Council is spending more than $7 million on a range of heritage projects including restoration work at the Fremantle Boys School, Fremantle Markets, Evan Davies Building (a.k.a. Dome), Fremantle Oval, Gil Fraser Reserve grandstand (North Fremantle), and the Fremantle Town Hall.  This is a record investment in heritage projects by a Fremantle council and will begin to address the generational backlog of heritage maintenance work.

In fact, over the past few years this council has spent more than five times as much each year on heritage maintenance than was spent during John Dowson’s time on the Fremantle Council. That’s right – more than five times as much!

It is true that a tin roof is replacing the asbestos shingles on the 1854 old boys school because a tin roof is what it has had most of its life (see photo below from 1911). We have unfortunately had to replace some stolen copper downpipes with copper painted plastic ones as the high price of copper meant thieves were damaging the arts centre building as they pulled the copper downpipes off. This is a pragmatic and sensible response and when copper isn’t such a sought after commodity we can then put these back in place.

old boys school 1911 with tin roof

JOHN DOWSON:  Sadly, the West End of Fremantle, an internationally famous jewel, revered as one of the most intact 19th century port towns in the world, is now in grave danger from overly large and mediocre developments approved by the council at sites like Atwell Arcade and 8 Pakenham Street — and now 7 Henry Street is at risk of the same treatment. Precedent is everything in planning and the scene is unfortunately set for increased heights and more characterless new buildings in the West End.

RESPONSE: The heritage planning policy for the West End is still in place and offers strong protection for development in this important area. I actually think new developments in this area have largely been sensitive and appropriate. Take for examples Notre Dame’s recent developments by the late but award winning Marcus Collins, Bread in Common, the Rialto Apartments on High Street and the new MSC headquarters almost finished on Cliff Street. These are all excellent. I think the Quest Hotel and Atwell Arcade redevelopment will be far better outcomes that John fears and will see the heritage fabric of these buildings restored.

JOHN DOWSON: A few years back Fremantle council and the community fought hard against the overscale ING proposals for Victoria Quay and demanded the masterplan be implemented. There was leadership from politicians like state member Jim McGinty and federal member Carmen Lawrence against “a disproportionate box stuck on the quay” (Jim McGinty, April 2006). But, here we are in 2015 with the current council and local politicians supporting a larger commercial development on Victoria Quay than ING, one which will probably house the 1000 government workers the council has designed its King’s Square plan around.

RESPONSE: The 2006 ING proposal rightly deserved to be opposed by the community and the Fremantle Council. I personally opposed it. The more recent plans are far better than the inward looking ING proposal. It potentially offers good connectivity between the port and the Fremantle CBD and retains all of the heritage buildings. This is why it had broad community support.

JOHN DOWSON:  The council’s business plan for King’s Square states, “the project derives a positive net present value to the city (enhancing community wealth)…”.However, independent assessments claim $30 million of community wealth is actually being destroyed.

RESPONSE: The debate over the Kings Square revitalisation project has been well covered and our independent advice is that this is a good investment for Fremantle even using the conservative financial assumptions of the business case. I encourage you to read this for yourself:



I hope this helps clarifies some of the assertions in the public realm. If you have further questions please let me know. Thanks, Brad

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

4 Responses to A fuller response to John Dowson’s Thinking Allowed

  1. John Longley says:

    Thank you for this Brad. I hope it is read widely. My personal opinion is that the Ciuncil is doing an excellent job. I think back to the acrimonious period between 2004 and 2008 when John was a central player. The State was booming and Council just fought with itself which meant Fremantle completely missed the boat in attracting development that was do urgently needed.

  2. Andrew says:

    I have seen first hand your council’s lack lustre approach to heritage. You only have to look at the approval given to demolish a heritage listed house on Edmund Street Beaconsfield (Ice Cream House) and very little to stop the deterioration over many years even though the community made numerous attempts to bring this to the attention of council. You have done nothing but set in stone the destruction of heritage value along Mardie Street by allowing low cost shanty town development approvals along the back of Edmund Street Flying in the face of the an older council policy to protect against such developments (Policy – D.G.B4). Quoting from this policy “However, because of the historic ‘back’ street character on the western side of Mardie Street, Council will consider variations to its normal streetscape policies requiring new dwellings to address the street in a traditional and interactive manner, provided that these variations result in a development which better reflects the street’s historical pattern and form.” Allowing for demountable mine site dongas for low cost housing is one such approval that does not fit this definition!
    We see a lot of focus around central Fremantle whilst the majority rate base residential areas suffer amenity. It is evident that our increased rates are only to fund your vision for low cost housing. You only want to make it affordable for your unemployed sustainability mates or snob academic colleagues (To create a knowledge economy as Professor Newman puts it) whilst in the process destroying the value and wealth built up by hard working owners. You and some of your cronies on council are hell bent on destroying jobs and property values in Fremantle in order to make your sustainable low cost village dream a reality!

    • Andrew
      I think the whole community and council share your frustration over the former “icecream” house on Edmund Street. But in fairness to our heritage advice (which was provided by an independent consultant at the time) it was a complex situation in which the house which looked like it was art deco was in fact a federation house. The owner had planned to restore this part of the house to its 1900 state but sadly this did not occur in a timely manner and frustratingly council’s in WA have very few powers to do anything about it. In fact Freo has been a pioneer of “demolition by neglect” legislation.
      On your latter point, I don’t shy away from trying to get a diversity of housing type in Freo for people on a diversity of incomes. Diversity makes for good community in my view.
      cheers, BRad

  3. kel says:

    In reply to John Longleys` comment above.

    Yes the “State” was booming even from the the year 2000 and for the next 10 years.

    Fremantle City continued to die.

    Yes it was an acrimonious period when the pendulum swung a little too far John Dowsons way.

    However please don`t blame John Dowson for lack of Development in Fremantle City during that 10 year period.

    Please take your share of responsibility for this because during that 10 year period you was the CEO of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce which is supposed to be the flag ship (pardon the pun) for the Commercial and Business Development of our City.

    Heritage was not to blame. Fremantle Chamber of Commerce must take some responsibility.

    Thank you

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