General

Fremantle heritage wars

SU-SAN SIT

November 7, 2013

Plans to erect high rise buildings to reinvigorate Fremantle’s jaded east end have pitted sustainability experts against heritage lobbyists over the very meaning of sustainability.

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt has been pushing for tall buildings to replace the under-tenanted 1960s-era structures that dominate the East End – which runs roughly northward from Kings Square to St Patrick’s Basilica.

But Dr Pettitt’s plans have faced stiff opposition from Fremantle’s powerful heritage lobby.

Dr Pettitt, who in 2002 completed his sustainability PhD under the supervision of world-renowned sustainability expert Professor Peter Newman at Murdoch University, said that increasing density through high-rise buildings would be the best way to rejuvenate the ailing area.

“I understand the [heritage lobbyists’] concern,” said Dr Pettitt who was convincingly re-elected recently as Fremantle mayor.

He said “nobody” was talking about demolishing heritage buildings, but that there needed to be incentives for high-rise buildings to encourage new investment.

“It’s a whole circle,” Dr Pettitt said.

“When you have more people, you have more money and then the council will have more money to spend on restoring heritage buildings.”

Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute project manager Vanessa Rauland, who is undertaking a PhD under Professor Newman’s supervision, said making the East End a more attractive place to live, through the construction of modern, high-rise buildings, would make the area more sustainable.

“At the moment the East End of Fremantle is in really bad shape and there is a lot of potential and scope to develop that area,” Ms Rauland said.

“We need to make this a CBD with lots of people living here and high-rise buildings would create that.

“The only way to move forward and to ensure economic prosperity in the future is to prioritise new buildings.”

However, former Fremantle Deputy Mayor, and current spokesman for the pro-heritage Fremantle Inner City Residents Association, John Dowson, said Dr Pettitt’s plans were not the answer.

“The priority here should be restoring the assets we already have and not destroying the very thing that you are trying to enhance,” he said.

“Fremantle is small-scale and the answer is not building 1960s big boxes just because developers like to build big buildings.

“Sustainability is about much more than just economics and development.

“It’s about the social aspects as well and that is what these [sustainability] experts ignore.”

Ms Rauland hit back, saying Mr Dowson’s criticism over the social impacts of development was a narrow-minded view of sustainability.

She said the heritage lobby led by Mr Dowson was holding revitalisation of the East End back.

“Sustainability is about having a bustling, highly populated city, not a museum,” she said.

“The heritage lobby as I see it want to replace the 1960s ‘big boxes’ with small properties but that won’t help the area in the long run and they just don’t see that.

“The heritage lobby blocking and not allowing these developments will see the east end stagnate and rot instead of being renewed.”

But Mr Dowson said with the current Fremantle mayor and sustainability experts backing big development, the heritage lobby was the only voice that could hold the two to account.

“This heritage lobby that has ‘held things back’ has saved Fremantle from destruction when developers wanted to raise it to the ground in the 1970s and 80s,” he said.

“As soon as you want to raise the bar and have higher standards you get accused of standing in the way and denying Fremantle its future.

“Without the heritage lobby standing up and asking questions, developers would be free to do whatever they want without scrutiny.”

Fremantle council has approved plans for a $220million redevelopment of Kings Square next year and $1 billion of investment projects including a new hotel.

Professor Newman was unavailable for comment.

Photos: Su-San Sit

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