Debating development, change and gentrification in Freo

A good follow up piece by Nathan Hondros in WA Today on Freo’s future probably wraps up what was an interesting and worthwhile discussion on development, change and gentrification in Freo over the past week.

It all started with Nathan Hondros writing the controversial “Fremantle I love you but you have to change”

Fearing Nathan wasn’t aware that change was underway I posted my blog post Fremantle, we have a problem? Yes and the fix is underway

ABC Radio presenter Gillian O’Shaughnessy then responded to Nathan with a timely piece called

The problem isn’t Freo, it’s you reminding us that what makes Freo special is the non-shiny bits. As she said “Where the Nathans see “run down and worn out”, I see charming and sassy. Even a little louche in parts”

Today, after speaking with locals including Adin Lang and Roel Loopers as well as Matthew McNeilly, Nathan Hondros wrote his response to the debate:

Beyond the cult of Freo: The $1.3b set to change our port city forever

It was a debate worth having and if we learnt nothing else it’s that this town has some wonderfully passionate supporters, all who love it – even if they can’t agree on how it should change.


Fremantle, we have a problem? Yes and the fix is underway

Yesterday Nathan Hondros wrote an opinion piece in WA Today called Fremantle, we have a problem. I love you but you have to change

Here is the response I sent to Nathan:

G’day Nathan

In your article about Fremantle published this morning you asked this key question – ‘The entire city feels like it’s crying out for private investment, so why isn’t it happening?’

The answer is – it is happening.

There is currently more than $1.3 billion worth of public and private development either underway or in the pipeline in Fremantle – more than at any time in Freo’s history.

The $270 million (not $220 million) Kings Square Renewal project is a public/private partnership, with the City of Fremantle contributing $50 million to construct our new administration building and library and Sirona Capital contributing $220 million for the FOMO retail development – which has been shortlisted for an international architecture award – state government office space and the redevelopment of the Queensgate carpark.

This project has been the catalyst for an unprecedented level of private investment in the run-down East End of central Fremantle.

There’s the recently completed Heirloom apartments in the old Dalgety Woolstores, the Liv Apartments on Queen Victoria Street, which are nearing completion, the Little Lane development in the old Westgate Mall, Ancora Apartments on Point Street, M/27 near Fremantle Park, and Established and The Social apartments in the West End.

As a result of all these new apartments we expect Fremantle’s city centre population to grow by 65 per cent over the next ten years, which will in turn mean many more customers for local businesses.

But your suggested solution that ‘Fremantle should be for living and Perth should be for working’ is perhaps the most troubling aspect of your article.

Cities work best when they are places that people can live and work and play in – not just one or the other.

Fremantle has always been Perth’s second city and we are not just increasing residents but also jobs and visitors.

In addition to the 1500 new jobs in the Kings Square office components, the City of Fremantle is also enabling investment in new retail, tourism and hospitality venues.

For example, the City has recently approved the redevelopment of the Old Courthouse and Police Station into a hotel, restaurant and shops, the conversion of a row of the Warders’ Cottages into a boutique hotel and an upgrade of the historic Manning Buildings on the High St Mall, while the developers behind the planned Doubletree by Hilton hotel have recently sought approval to bring the project forward.

In total, all of this investment is delivering more than 1600 new dwellings, 727 new hotel rooms, almost 39,000m2 of retail and hospitality space and 44,000m2 of office space.

And all of this has been made possible because of the decisions of “the loopy, socialist Fremantle council.”

While you might think Fremantle is ‘sad’, it appears the majority of people disagree with you.

Research by Tourism WA last year found that Fremantle was Perth’s most popular entertainment precinct across all age groups. The year before Fremantle was rated as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit by Lonely Planet.

And a final comment on parking. There’s plenty of parking in Fremantle – over 4000 bays. People just need to be prepared walk a short distance to get to where they’re going.

And if many of those bays are full – surely that’s a sign that Fremantle is a popular place that people like to visit.

It’s true that Fremantle – like all cities – has its challenges, and we are working hard to address them.

But those challenges don’t stop Freo from being a great place live and a great place to visit.

Some links FYI:

FOMO architecture award nomination –

Freo Perth’s favourite entertainment precinct –

Liv Apartments –

Little Lane –

Ancora  –

M/27 –

The Social –

Old Courthouse –

Warders Cottages Hotel –

Manning Buildings –


Oxford Street’s High Street Retail Challenges

Given the ongoing debates about retail in Fremantle, I thought the recent report in The West about the challenges that Oxford St in Leederville are having is interesting. I have always thought of Oxford St as a great little centre with a fabulous mix of retail and food and beverage. In fact I have previously written Oxford St is Perth’s standout high street.

But, as reported in The West:“…retail stalwarts Black Plastic, Oxford Street Books and Elroy Clothing, which have been on or around Oxford Street for between 20 and 30 years, are all closing their doors. The owners blame falling foot traffic, growing competition from online and, in some cases, high rents”.

In Fremantle, despite our retail challenges (for some earlier thoughts see here) we are very fortunate to have multiple record stores, great book shops and some great gifts and fashion that sits alongside our impressive range of cafes and restaurants. But keeping and improving on this is going to be a huge challenge. A challenge that will need so collaborative effort by the City of Fremantle, shop owners, landlords and us consumers too. Shopping local is going to be essential and supporting what we got is going to be key.

So with this in mind, today I got a few things from the new Academy Brand store at the end of the High Street Mall. A good addition to Freo’s retail mix.

Photo courtesy of Roel Looper’s Freoview


$23 million committed to the adaptive re-use of heritage buildings in Fremantle

A good article in today’s West Australian articulating Freo’s commitment to the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings.

Courthouse hotel plans recommended for approval

The proposal to convert Fremantle’s state heritage-listed Police and Courthouse complex into a hotel and restaurant precinct has been recommended for conditional approval by the City of Fremantle’s planning committee.

The development plan includes a 62-room hotel on the police station site, adapting the courthouse into a bar and restaurant and adapting the lock-up and police quarters into shops and commercial units.

The original concept included a six-storey hotel but, following advice from the City’s planning and heritage officers, that was scaled down to five storeys which is consistent with the maximum discretionary height permitted under Fremantle’s local planning scheme.

The City’s recommendation will now be considered by the South West Joint Development Assessment Panel (JDAP), which has the final say on the proposal.

Should JDAP approve the development, it will be the third major development involving adaptive re-use of important heritage buildings to be approved in the past three months.

In December we saw the approval of a boutique hotel in the Warders Cottages, and in January the redevelopment of the Manning Buildings was approved. If the Courthouse proposal gets the green light from JDAP that will mean more than $23 million has been committed to the conservation and re-use of some of the most important heritage buildings in Fremantle.

Projects like this are an excellent way to attract the significant investment that is required to preserve these important buildings, while also adding the vibrancy of the city and giving people even more reasons to visit Fremantle.

The original Courthouse and Police Station on Henderson Street was built between 1899 and 1903, with further extensions and additions in 1957 and 1978. The complex has been vacant since Fremantle Police relocated to High Street in 2013.

Some of the conditions the planning committee recommended included measures to limit the impact of neighbouring noise on the hotel, the retention of original verandahs and ballustrades and a requirement to submit further details of all conservation works for approval before building work starts.


The Good and the Not-so-Good of Freo’s Economy

You might have seen that over the weekend the Fremantle Markets has had a record 12 months with more than 2.64 million people streaming through its historic gates last year.

This is a well-deserved acknowledgement of a wonderful part of Fremantle that has continually reinvented itself and got a lot better and more interesting over the past few years.

The Fremantle Markets are not alone in going from strength to strength: South Fremantle, North Fremantle, Wray Ave, the West End, Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and Bathers Beach are now more vibrant now than anytime in last 20 years (see green areas below).

While some thrive, other parts of Fremantle have clearly been going in the wrong direction. The areas around King Square, Westgate Mall, Coles Woolstores and Point Street have all lost their appeal over the last decade or two (see red areas below).

Then there are other areas that have generally maintained their vibrancy and slowly evolved but largely held their own. I would put the Cappuccino Strip and the High Street Mall in this category (see orange areas below).

Putting the green, red and orange together it is clear there is both good, bad and the in between happening in Fremantle’s economy. This is important to acknowledge – especially we hear people complain that Fremantle’s economy is dying. It is not. It’s just depends on where you look.

And of course, most of those areas in red are all undergoing or about to undergo major transformation and renewal. From Kings Square to the Coles Woolstores development to Little Lane and the Point St Hotel.

If we can turn the reds into green then Fremantle really will be humming.

Coles Woolstores Redevelopment Heading in the Right Direction

Last night the City of Fremantle Planning Committee considered what is probably one of the most important development applications in Fremantle in several decades.

The redevelopment of the Coles Woolstores with new retail, office, student accommodation, hotel, retirement living and public car parking uses has the potential to be transformative for what, most will agree, is a rather tired part of the Fremantle CBD.

City of Fremantle planning staff recommended that the overall form of the proposed development is capable of satisfying the development requirements of exceptional design quality subject to a range of design modifications being incorporated into revised development application plans.

In other words, we were not asked to provide a final approval last night but to advise on whether we thought this development was progressing in the right direction.

Not unexpectedly there was some opposition to this development and not unexpectedly this was largely around height. Parts of the development are tall at around 10 floors.

Respected architect and urban planner Ken Adams made a submission that made some worthwhile points but his key argument that: “The appropriate benchmark for the height of the development is the level set by the adjacent Goldsborough Mort Woolstores building, and that level should best be maintained consistently over the whole site. No protrusions above this level, other than minor necessary protrusions, should be accepted” is one that was not relevant to the decision before us. The allowed heights for the site were well debated and clearly defined via the Amendment 49 process several years ago.

City of Fremantle’s Planning Scheme 4 allows for heights well above 21 metres he advocates on portions of this site and allows for an extra floors if the quality of the development is deemed to be of exceptional design quality.

While the development proposal has not met this threshold yet we were advised by the expert Design Advisory Committee Chair Geoffrey London that it was heading in the right direction and with further modifications could be approvable.

Changes we have asked for include:

  • east and west facades of the proposed Hotel addition being developed with the primary use of Corten (or an alternative material with similar appearance) with the inclusion of port hole openings, that have depth to their design and are constructed within the building façade for windows to the hotel room and corridors on each floor.
  • the submission of further details of the proposed fins, including specific details of the proposed cladding material to demonstrate how the proposed curve and roof and soffit wrap can be achieved.
  • modifications relating to ground floor level of the Hotel building to Queen Street including the south facing ground floor elevation of the proposed Hotel building and entrance at the intersection of Queen Street and Elder Place being redesigned to present as a highly activated and attractive street frontage.

So the final design won’t be exactly as pictured but it will but will improve on this and then come back to Fremantle Council and the DAP for final approval.