Domain.com.au: Is Fremantle on its way back from the brink?
November 7, 2015 3 Comments
Interesting write up in Domain on Fremantle this week. It’s a pretty fair summary although I’d add its been a council team effort over a number of years to get us here…. and there is still a long way to go!
Once recognised as Western Australia’s thriving, cosmopolitan second city, many of Fremantle’s retailers and small business owners have been struggling to stay afloat in recent years. Lines of empty shops, a neglected inner city mall dominated by large chain stores and several distinctly downmarket pockets attracting crime and antisocial behaviour are just a few of the sights greeting local and international visitors alike.
Decades of prohibitive, anti-development policies and the dominance of a few outspoken lobby groups in favour of preserving the city’s unique character at virtually any cost had almost put a halt to any sort of significant development in and around Fremantle for more than 30 years. However, Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt has taken on the anti-development lobby and appears to be winning the battle, earning him a legion of formerly sceptical local and outside supporters.
The city now has an impressive long and short-term list of developments planned over the next five to 10 years which will mark the most significant period of development in the port city’s history since the 1987 America’s Cup. The ambitious new plan includes moves to reconnect the city with the harbour, to revitalise the once neglected East End and to bring in a hybrid light rail system among others.
But is it too little, too late for the struggling port city?
While other local councils piggybacked on the money flowing through the local economy courtesy of the mining boom, Fremantle has only just come to the party as those heady days of excess and affluence are fast becoming a distant memory. The plan, announced by Dr Pettitt in the Freo 2029 Transformational Moves document, is a billion-dollar, multifaceted project that includes the addition of hundreds of new hotel rooms, at least seven different hotel developments, more than 40,000 square metres of office space and at least 500 new apartments.
“The projects are definitely ambitious,” said Dr Pettitt.
“But we feel they are also very achievable with the appropriate level of co-operation and action from the state government, the private sector, and the broader community,” he said.
Hegney Valuers associate director Glenn Cooper, who recently chaired a meeting with some of WA’s key property figures alongside Dr Pettitt, said although it is never too late for the 200-year-old city, the timing of the push admittedly could have been better.
“They are marketing and funding these projects in an environment where commercial rents have plunged and vacancies are at historically high levels,” Mr Cooper said.
“A number of these developments are contingent on securing anchor tenants in order for ground to be broken,” he said.
“Several are a considerable way down the road but it is definitely a harder task in the current economic environment.”
Among the major projects that make up the overall plan is the $220 million dollar redevelopment of Kings Square in the inner city, already approved, and the $350 million Victoria Quay redevelopment, which is still pending approval. Dr Pettitt acknowledged the timing of the announcement is not ideal, given the tightening fiscal conditions as a result of the current economic slowdown.
“The money is definitely harder to come by these days and it may take longer to secure funding for certain projects, but the long-term vision is still a sound one,” he said.
He made it clear the restrictions surrounding heritage precincts like Fremantle’s West End would remain virtually untouched, however he said the emphasis is on transforming neglected, under-utilised areas of the city into vibrant, multi-use inner city hubs.
“Part of the revitalisation of Fremantle is to get more people living and working in the inner city,” he added.
He acknowledged the fight to push development in the historic city had been a “bit of a struggle”.
“A battle would be a polite way of saying it,” he laughed.
“It has taken time, but overwhelmingly the residents of Fremantle have realised that a balance between development and preservation is necessary to breathe new life into the city.”
“We aim to quadruple the number of people living in the city of Fremantle, with developments in formerly under-utilised and unsightly areas of the city.”
Mr Cooper said the signs are positive for Fremantle with governments, councils and the general public realising that the relentless expansion of the urban sprawl north and south of Perth was unsustainable financially and environmentally.
“As a central node, Fremantle and other such nodes should be as high density as possible, giving residents easy access to existing infrastructure, transport, night life and retail precincts.”
The WA president of the Property Council of Australia, Chris Palandri, said Fremantle had worked hard over the past five years to meet the needs of investors.
“You only have to look at the number and scale of development approvals within the city centre to realise that something big is poised to happen in our port city,” Mr Palandri has said.