Yesterday morning our Mayor and I attended a CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia) breakfast at the Burswood, now Crown Function Centre. Charles Johnson (now sporting a beard) introduced 3 speakers, Andrew Low (Hassell), Marcus Westbury (Renew Australia) and keynote speaker Martin Mileham (City of Perth). I have to say from the onset that I was there to hear Marcus Westbury talk about the work he did with Renew Newcastle, because I hoped there would be some important lessons for Fremantle and I was not wrong.
While each presentation was very different I did pick up a consistent theme, which I will describe as the balance between creating certainties while allowing for flexibility. Andrew Low presented on the new BHP headquarters, Brookfield Place. By it’s very nature his presentation was a promotion of the work Hassell had done on the site, but he also congratulated the owners for their insistence on a broad mix of tenants. Apparently the building offers certainty with good design, while embracing flexibility and contrast. Andrew told us visitors can experience a contrast of high quality heritage buildings integrated into ultra modern design, can decide to eat a $400 or a $10 lunch and can enjoy high quality public spaces on the lower levels (it even has a water feature) and very private office accommodation above. I will have to visit to see this distinctive building, not least because a friend on mine built and installed the large artwork centrepiece.
Marcus Westbury stood out on the panel and in the room, no grey suit and no tie! If Fremantle has a problem with shop closures and tenant turnover Newcastle had the same problem on speed. Single industry cities have always been vulnerable to their industries operations, as a port city Fremantle has suffered from the changes to mercantile and passenger trades, but over a relatively long timeframe. Significant reductions in the ports workforce, rationalisation of brokers and shipping agents and centralisation of engineering support services have occurred over a few decades, for Newcastle it was far more acute. BHP steel mill operated one day and closed down the next. People left town and those who stayed had little money to spend. The devastation to the retail sector appeared to be terminal; whole rows of closed and boarded up shops, empty streets and no hope. The scary part was the similarity to Fremantle in scale and architecture; it was a nightmare too close to home. The council cleaned up the streets, put in new street furniture and even replaced the pavers, to no avail. As Marcus pointed out, this was not an infrastructure problem, it was not even a funding problem, the problem was there were no people and nothing to attract them back. Renew Newcastle set about getting people back into the shops, getting them open. The place filled with pop-up shops selling homewards, cloths, photographs and artworks; things people had been working on and selling from home. He showed photographs of many interesting and quirky fit-outs done on a shoestring. One shop was fitted out entirely from things collected from the verge; even the paint was a blend of several half full tins. The influx of creative people and artists generated renewed interest in the area. Some new shops opened and some of the pop-up shops became permanent, securing an income for the owners. Like here in Fremantle his biggest problem was finding property owners and getting them to make a decision on utilising their shops. Fremantle has several pop-up shops, but I think all are in Council owned buildings; it is now time for owners of empty shops to become involved. I am heading to Newcastle in a couple of weeks so will check out the progress.
Martin Mileham is the Director of Planning and Development at the City of Perth. He went through the planning regimes drawn up for Perth in the past and advised we needed to plan for an incrementally increasing population, while keeping sufficient flexibility for future demands and trends. He went on to showcase the major development work being undertaken in Perth, including Elizabeth Quay, City Link and Riverside.
While at the breakfast I met the new CEO of Landcorp, Nicholas Wolff, it is interesting to know when he arrived in WA he chose to live in North Fremantle, obviously we are getting some things right.