The Perfect High Street according to Monocle

Monocle is the urban bible for great neighbourhoods and cities. They have put together a short movie that explains that while high streets around the world are increasingly under threat from big box shopping centres and online retailers, there are a few simple fixes that we all should heed to keep our high streets alive. I can see a lot of Freo in this.

Click on t his link:


Guest post – Alan Kelsall on the Art of Heritage Restoration

As the Heritage Festival is about to kick off I thought it a good opportunity to have City of Fremantle Heritage Coordinator Alan Kelsall talk about some of the recent heritage restoration projects the City of Fremantle has been undertaking. Here he looks at the Union Stores (which includes New Edition on the corner) which is one of the many properties owned in Fremantle by the Council and is undergoing a sensitive makeover.

Union Stores 1

Union Stores – Urgent conservation works were recently undertaken to the parapet and gables of the Union Stores building at the corner of High and Henry Streets in the West End. The external walls of the Union Stores building were constructed using what are now described as traditional construction.  As with nearly all 19th and early 20th century buildings in Fremantle, the conservation works in part consisted of doing what was necessary to allow the fabric of the building to perform as originally intended.  In other words, removing the well-intentioned but damaging ‘repairs’ of the past 30 years that had been carried out using modern materials often hoping to reduce the need for regular maintenance.

The mistakes of the recent past stem from not recognising the benefits of allowing the walls of traditionally constructed buildings to breathe, which in turn led to the importance of the contribution made by traditional materials to this process being undervalued.  Traditional materials, such as lime-based mortars and limewash, are permeable whereas modern building materials, such as acrylic paints, sealers and cement render and mortars are not.  Traditional materials allow the walls to breathe and bring about the natural evaporation of any moisture and, importantly, cause the salts carried by the moisture to migrate slowly towards the surface and accumulate there.

The removal of the low permeability acrylic paint and cement render from the parapet has allowed this process to begin at the Union Stores building.  As a result, a large amount of salt has come to the surface in a very short period.  This is a good sign because previously the fine pores of the brickwork could not accommodate the increasing accumulation of salts and were eventually broken apart by the expansive forces of salt crystallisation.  This led to the slow but severe deterioration of the bricks as can be seen in the photograph of the inside face of the parapet. .This deterioration is caused salt attack and it is the principal cause of decay in masonry buildings in Fremantle.

Union Stores 2

Decayed brickwork to back of parapet, Henry Street facade


A further benefit of lime mortars and renders is that they are softer than the original masonry and tend to decay over time rather than the masonry.  Hence the sacrificial decay of lime mortars and renders is a useful way of managing salt damp because it protects significant fabric and in the long term it usually proves to be the most cost effective way of caring for a building because it is cheaper and easier to re-point at regular intervals than it is to replace the brickwork.

Fremantle’s maritime environment means it will not be possible to completely cure the salt damp.  Instead Council’s strategy is to adopt a maintenance approach to manage the problem by ensuring that the salt concentration occurs relatively close to the surface and, as with any maintenance programme, it will require periodic renewal of decayed fabric.  Given the severity of the problems caused by the long-term build up of salts within the walls this is going to take time and further repairs before the walls are effectively desalinated to a point where the cycle of wetting and drying causes little decay of the fabric.


Union Stores 3

Salt crystals forming on the cornice following the removal of acrylic paint and the deterioration of the limewash


The works to the Union Stores building is part of the orderly process for the conservation and care of the City’s portfolio of heritage assets.  The intention is to address building conservation in a manner that considers levels of urgency, economies of scale, correct sequence and good conservation practice.  Many of these items of work, such as those at Union Stores building, will not be conspicuous but are vital to the conservation and long-term sustainability of these important heritage buildings for present and future generations.

Future works are planned to continue the conservation of the building facade once the moisture has evaporated from the walls and the damaging salts have migrated to the surface.

Union Stores 4

Reconstructed decorative stucco-work on the High Street pediment. Behind can be seen the collapsible handrails of the new roof access system.

Fremantle ocean pool petition

How does an ocean pool in Freo sound?

Fremantle local and building designer, Sam Martin proposed the ocean pool to Fremantle Council who enthusiastically supported the concept and endorsed the investigation into its viability and assistance in making it a reality as part of the planning of Bathers Beach.

We now need your support to show the state government that the people of Fremantle and Western Australia want an ocean pool so we can take this from being a concept to a reality.

Where can I find out more information on the ocean pool?

Visit Sam Martin’s website for more information on the proposal and its benefits.

I love it! How do I sign the petition?

Step 1: Download and print off the petition (PDF).

Step 2: Sign the petition and circulate among your friends and family for their signatures. If you run out of space for signatures you can always print off another copy.

Step 3. Return the completed petition(s) to the Office of Mayor Brad Pettitt, PO Box 807, Fremantle WA 6959 OR drop it off at the customer service centre (8 William Street, Fremantle).

Ocean pool_transformfreo version

Atwell Arcade to get its biggest makeover in a century

Last night the Freo Council held a special meeting of council and granted planning approval  for the redevelopment of buildings in and around Atwell Arcade which run from the High Street Mall to Cantonment Street in Fremantle.

This is a major redevelopment and is not surprisingly attracting some controversy so i thought it would be worth explaining our decision in some detail.

First I want to say decisions like this are hard but in an 11-1 vote i think Council made the right call in overwhelmingly approving this for a couple of key reasons.

First – is it is a good heritage outcome. While the Atwell Arcade itself will be largely demolished and rebuilt we are in reality not losing much authentic heritage stock. While the arcade might look old to the untrained eye most of it is relatively new as in 1979 Atwell’s arcade was renovated and substantially altered.

The proposed development includes major conservation of the buildings at 120 High Street and 3 Cantonment Street. The size and prominent locations of these buildings means that the works have the potential, if undertaken correctly, not only to ensure the survival of these buildings but also to improve their settings in High Street and Cantonment Street It is proposed that Atwell Buildings (112-122 High Street) be retained and its interior and exterior conserved. Works will include the restoration and reconstruction of the external facades of the building. This will involve stripping all paints and cement renders from the walls to reinstate the original finishes, all in accordance with good conservation practice. It is also proposed that the upper floor be adapted, in part to retain existing uses but also for the introduction of a new use as tearooms. Similarly it is proposed that the commercial building at 3 Cantonment Street be retained and its interior and exterior conserved.

As the independent Fremantle Design Advisory Committee (DAC) stated:  “The committee is satisfied that with conditions applied to the approval. The City will achieve a high quality outcome in the conservation and restoration of the arcade and the two highly valued heritage buildings bounding the site. The overall development should breathe much needed new life into a key destination of the city and stimulate further investment in the city core”

This brings us to the second reason – it is a great economic outcome for  central Freo.  The construction of the four storey (with basement) multiple-use development will include office and quality retail components in what will be a much-needed boost to Fremantle’s High Street Mall precinct. The development has the potential to bring significant activity to the area in the form of up to 300 office workers and high-quality retail offerings. That is more workers than are in the City of Freo building in the Freo CBD. The development clearly aligns well with the City’s broader revitalisation strategy.

Freo’s future will be best served when heritage and economics come to together as the was so well put in the heritage report for this development:

The West End is an area of heritage significance and its heritage values are embodied in the distinctive qualities of its inherited urban form and built fabric. The West End should be conserved for present and future generations in ways that will best sustain its heritage values, while recognising opportunities to reveal or reinforce those values. This will not be achieved if Fremantle does not have sustainable economic growth. To achieve this Fremantle must compensate for the losses caused by the decline of its port related industries by developing new ways of persuading people to come back to the centre of the City to live, work and socialize. It is not the aim of conservation for the West End to become solely a memorial of the past, nor would it be desirable, instead it is to re-establish its historic character as a lively, successful, multi-layered urban centre. This is likely to require new forms of urban expression for the new types of trade, commerce and socializing to conserve and at the same time enrich the historic character of the area.

Or to put it simply – the best way to sustain the heritage values of a place is to keep it in active and economically viable use.

Mr Henry Atwell (1831 – 1908) arrived in WA as a convict on board the Merchantman’s first journey in 1863 after being sentenced to life. He made good and built the original Atwell Arcade as a proudly modern building. I like to think he’d approve of this latest evolution.

atwell arcade l

Lost Freo Special on Today Tonight

Earlier this week Today Tonight on Channel 7 ran a great story on  Freo, history and development called Lost Freo.

Click on this URL as I couldn’t get blog to insert video –

today tonight

Some further thoughts on J-Shed, Arthurs Head and the last 184 years of heritage

I have been thinking some more about the debate on J-Shed, Arthurs Head and heritage and thought that some of the claims made in this area needed a response to ensure the facts were on the public record in this regard.

One of the key issues of debate regarding the current Sunset Events proposal for J-Shed at Arthur’s Head was its potential heritage impact given the significance of the area in terms of WA’s history and heritage.  However I believe a lack of understanding about the complex multi-layered history of this area has led to a number of incorrect assumptions being made and has blurred the nature of the real issues associated with the project.

The history of the Arthurs Head area is evident in the extent to which the landscape has been altered to suit the changing requirements of port and Town.  When first surveyed in 1829 Arthurs Head was a prominent headland that stretched from the mouth of the Swan River to Anglesea Point (near the far side of Bathers Bay).  Significant excavations and quarrying undertaken from the 1890s up to the late 1960s removed much of this landscape feature and with it many of the historical references to, and evidence of, its early uses and associations.

While I unreservedly acknowledge the heritage significance of the intact part of Arthurs Head that contains the Round House and Pilots’ Cottages, I believe it is misleading to suggest that the area around J-Shed shares the same heritage values.

The area around J-Shed dates from the 1960s when a large portion of the western part of Arthur’s Head was excavated and levelled off about 1.5m above sea level to create a large open area for port activities.  As part of these works J-Shed, which was originally part of a goods shed that stood on Victoria Quay, was relocated to stand in this new area next to the cliff / remnant of Arthur’s Head.  As a result J-Shed sits about six metres below the ground level of the Round House and is quite separate from it.  The original location of the Arthur’s Head cliff is interpreted by a low limestone wall, which also marks the southern boundary of the J-Shed area.

The important archaeological sites referred to in this debate are the remains of 19th century buildings constructed on Bathers Bay beside the Arthur’s Head cliff face (now levelled for J-Shed area).  These sites are located to the south of the J-Shed area and are buried approximately 1.5 metres below the new ground level. These sites could be interpreted In the future but until then they are afforded a level of protection from disturbance by being buried.  The J-Shed proposal will not prevent these archaeological sites being interpreted and they are not part of the proposed Sunset lease area.

It should also be noted that the area around Arthur Head was not always the quiet backwater that it has become today.  It was a busy, noisy and smelly port.  Even though the area may look like a natural environment the reality is that much of it is a 1980s reconstruction that sought to remove the industrial past in order to create a pleasant recreational space.

There have been some strong claims in the press and on blogs about the potential for the proposed new use at J-Shed to damage the heritage values of the Arthur Head area but, as someone who cares deeply for our heritage, I must state that this is not backed up by the evidence.  Below are several photographs that demonstrate this well.

The first is my favourite bronze plaque in Fremantle, set in the pavement outside the Town Hall, which shows the first town plan in bas-relief.  The plaque indicates the original extent of the Arthur’s Head landform in 1829 and the small area that remains intact today.  Three quarters of Arthur’s Head has been removed including the area that contains J-Shed.  The other two photographs of the Arthur’s Head area are from the mid-1980s when J-Shed was considerably longer and the area was a port dump and car park with little beach at all.

There are a lot of stories connected to this area.  To simplify this history in order to make a case for saying the J-Shed proposal is going to undermine the heritage of the area is misleading and it does heritage no favours.  In the mind of the general public this continual misuse of heritage means it is being seen simply as a way of opposing any change.  This puts Fremantle’s real heritage at risk.

It is time that the debate about the conservation and future development of Fremantle became more sophisticated and acknowledged the social and economic benefits of heritage conservation, as well as recognising that successfully combining economic growth and conservation is a way of generating greater appreciation of the quality and worth of Fremantle’s heritage buildings.

arthurs head arthur-head_1986-aerial_ Bathers Beach 1980s

Some thoughts on the Sunset J-Shed Proposal

Over the next few weeks you will probably hear a fair bit of public debate about the Sunset Events proposal for J-Shed as it will come to Council this month for decision.

I thought it is worth exploring some of the main issues and providing a bit of background on some of the more controversial bits. I hope you find it helpful or at least thought-provoking.

Size of the venue, alfresco and concert area

This is without a doubt the most controversial part of the plan for many. It would be fair to say that when the Fremantle Council first went out with an EOI on this that we weren’t anticipating something this big.  That said, the Sunset proposal was clearly the best option presented but in the interests of openness and transparency the Fremantle Council thought it important to readvertise this bigger proposal through the business planning process that we are now about to vote on.

Originally the Sunset proposal was for a more than1000 person venue over 2018m2. After some modifications it was advertised in the business plan as around 850 people over 1508m2. There is also a plan for 10 -15 ticketed concerts a year that would expand to the bigger footprint

While I personally have no problem with the concert numbers (for example the Fremantle Arts Centre South Lawn does about 12 concerts a year of over 3000 people very well and these would only be half that size at 1500 people), it would be no surprise to say that the Council and I have been looking at ways the numbers for the other 350 days a year could be further reduced – both in terms of the venue footprint and maximum patron numbers.

There is no magic number but it is about trying to get the right balance between community amenity, activation and commercial viability. This will be fully debated over coming weeks in and outside of the Fremantle Council chamber as we try to get this balance right but my sense is that something around the size of the Norfolk or around half the size of Little Creatures (400-500 people) feels right to me but I am keeping an open mind.

J shed proposal

Length of lease

The lease is for 21 years which I appreciate is a long time. But the reason for this is that currently the J-shed is only fit for storage and requires significant and expensive upgrades to water power and other services to make it useable for anything else.

There are two options at this point. Either the City of Fremantle pays for the upgrades or we get a new tenant to pay for them and they are able to recoup the costs as part of this proposal through a longer lease. Given the range of demands on the City of Fremantle budget at the moment the officers have recommended the latter.


A key issue is that this is obviously in an area that is one of the most significant areas in terms WA’s history and heritage.

It would be fair to say that most the lease area is where a large cliff once stood before it was chopped up to make Fremantle Port. So in summary that any white history in the proposed lease area is either long gone or buried well under the ground and what is visible is mostly just rough interpretations that could be done a whole lot better. So the advice I have is that there are not any significant white heritage issues. Like many Councillors I’d like a clearer sense from local Noongar elders and their views of the area’s heritage and its significance from an indigenous perspective.

Arts focused venue

For me it is vitally important that the venue is focussed on multi-arts activities – it can’t just be another pub. We have enough of those already!

So one of the challenges over the next two weeks will be locking down an agreement to ensure this is an arts and music venue that is both an attractor to the Arthurs Head Arts Hub and also provides a new venue for visual arts, as an incubator for emerging artists, local musicians (no cover bands!), performance as well as a gallery and sculpture exhibition space.

Done well this could be a great addition to the arts mix in Fremantle.

Clear pedestrian route to Victoria Quay.

Care needs to be taken to ensure that any westward part of the new leasehold area doesn’t limit the opportunity to develop a clear pedestrian route from Bathers Beach to the TAFE link through the Slip Street precinct. Consideration also needs to be given to whether the final location of such a pathway is capable of provide clear and unobstructed access to the existing front doors of the other J- Shed tenancies.

Once again done well there is a great opportunity to improve the linkages from Bathers Beach to Victoria Quay. Done badly it will further constrain these.

Alcohol policy

There have been some claims on the blogs that the Sunset proposal is in contradiction to the City of Fremantle policy on licensed venues which we passed last year. For those that haven’t seen it the new policy states:

“A general presumption in favour of development of small bars …[and]… A general presumption against large or high risk licensed premises in the City centre trading past 1am”

This is a good new policy and the Fremantle Council will continue to strongly advocate for more small bars so we get a better, safer, more mature drinking environment in Fremantle. But to be clear we never said we would not agree to a new larger venue. For us to it needs to close earlier and attract the right kind of clientele and be in the right location. I think this is in the right location and as the Director of Liquor Licensing said in a recent approval of a small bar application for Fremantle’s west end:

“The Commissioner of Police contends that the existing licensed premises in Fremantle already cater for the demand for licensed premises. I do not consider this statement to be correct in relation to the West End precinct of Fremantle. I accept the applicant’s submission that the West End has lost licensed premises and is in need of revitalising”.

It is the revitalising of this part of Fremantle that is at the heart of this proposal but for it to be supported we need to be sure it will be done well and get the overall balance right. There is probably plenty of changes and debate to go and I’d be happy to hear your feedback to make sure we get it right if we choose to proceed.