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Sorry Saga of Royal George

Notes from the President Oct 23

(2015 photo of Royal George Hotel by Steve Doig from Garry Gillard's fremantlestuff.info)

The future of the 1903 East Fremantle landmark, the Royal George Hotel, could be decided today at WAPC (Western Australian Planning Commission) when they deliberate on the fate of the town of East Fremantle's efforts to put height caps in their town planning scheme on the site of the Royal George and the Roofing 2000 site nearby on the corner of Canning and Stirling Highways.

Saracen Properties bought the 1499 square metre hotel site for $627,000, a cost of just over $400 a square metre for prime East Fremantle land, with a fabulous hotel on it. Saracen (until the 17th century the word for "Muslim") is the name of the company behind the highly controversial Quest Apartments in Pakenham Street, Fremantle, a five storey development in the West End area, where only three are allowed (with possibility of a fourth if set back), a development so contentious it caused Dr Linley Lutton to resign from council's design advisory committee as he felt bullied, and felt the development was 'technically possibly illegal'.

How did such a valuable site get sold to a private developer so cheaply without going to public tender? Where was the local member Simone McGurk? She opposed any sale to developers when in opposition.

(quote from Garry Gillard's website):  Fremantle state Labor MP Simone McGurk says anyone who cares about the hotel will "despair" about its potential sale.

"The big worry is that a private owner will have the town and the local community over a barrel when it comes to any development of this site," she told the Herald.

"The George is of huge importance to the people of East Fremantle. As the current owners, the state government has a responsibility to ensure there is a feasible plan to restore it. Instead, they are using assets like this as a cash cow to fix their budget mess."


The Heritage Minister is also running away from this issue, declaring (see front page of this week's Fremantle Herald) that he won't meet East Fremantle planning officers, saying it is a planning issue and not heritage.

The Heritage Minister is wrong. This is a major heritage issue.

The Heritage Council's own documentation, which listed the hotel on the State Register as a building of exceptional significance, states that the building is significant for various reasons, including that it is a 'notable landmark.'

If it is a 'notable landmark', how is building a 21 storey tower of apartments on the same site, protecting its 'landmark' status? The hotel is the landmark building for George Street. A 21 storey block of apartments on the same site, totally undermines that 'landmark' status. Under his own Heritage Act he is obliged to consider the effect of any new development adjacent to a Heritage Council listed property like this hotel.

The developer, who is proposing a huge 21 storey apartment tower on the site, will argue that there are precedents for having high rise buildings next to small scale heritage buildings, but this is not St George's Terrace, and just because the Heritage Council is now heavily under the influence of developers, it does not mean the Heritage Minister should support this obviously overscaled development.

As the Herald noted this week: "Cr Collinson said the National Hotel in Fremantle and the Guildford Hotel had been extensively damaged by fire, yet had been restored without needing to be underpinned by development."

The Heritage Minister signed a heritage agreement with Saracen on 15 June, 2017, giving them 36 months to complete a list of restoration works to the hotel. Almost 17 months have passed, and Saracen are showing no signs of meeting the deadline, instead saying they cannot pay the $4 million for the restoration (plus $2 million to fit the hotel out for their bars and hospitality designs) unless they can build 40 apartments.

The whole handling of the Royal George saga for years has been a disgrace. If Main Roads had had their way, it would have been demolished to make Stirling Highway a nice straight line.The National Trust did not cover themselves with glory when they had control. East Fremantle Council failed to come up with a solution, and next door allowed inappropriate extra height on top of the former Lauder & Howard Brush Factory. Even the Fremantle Society, who had their headquarters in the hotel 2009/2010 were not able to generate a solution. Perhaps a community solution as suggested by Perth City councillor Reece Harley in the Fremantle Society Facebook site last week might have worked:

$600k! That's a steal. Doesn't seem right to me. Another example where we could have a community fund to purchase and restore these beautiful buildings and put them to community use.

Yes, it would be wonderful if the community could solve these problems, raise money, get suitable trades to fix the place, and work with housing groups to generate income from housing at the rear of the property. But, at the end of the day, it is not the community who should have to do the heavy lifting to save something so obviously important, so obviously pivotal to the future of the wonderful George Street Precinct, a precinct that will grow in stature over the years given the character and history and human scale it has (at the moment).

When the Mulcahy brothers built this handsome hotel in 1903 they already had three hotels in Fremantle, and didn't ask the council for any 21 storey bonus. They just built the thing, and people came.

It is not too late for you to pen a comment to the Heritage Minister (minister.templeman@dpc.wa.gov.au) to get him to be involved -  to hurry along Saracen who have wasted almost half their 3 year time limit to finish restoration - and to protect the old hotel from high rise that will ruin the ambiance of not just the listed hotel, but the other 300 listed properties nearby.

Also: the Planning Minister: minister.Saffioti@dpc.wa.gov.au

John Dowson
President
The Fremantle Society
john.dowson@yahoo.com

Please note: Our postal address is now 72 High Street, Fremantle WA 6160

 

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