Grand plan to overhaul Freo

Fremantlites: Emily Gibson, Kate Hulett, Dawn Clarke and Matt Bale. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Fremantle's Queen Victoria Street bridge could become a car-free public space in the tradition of New York's High Line as one plank in the port's biggest overhaul since the America's Cup.

The City of Fremantle will tonight outline its vision for Fremantle up to 2029, with mayor Brad Pettitt conceding step change, not a "business as usual" approach, was needed to arrest the city's economic decline.

The ambitious plan involves reconnecting the city with the harbour, in part to tap into the lucrative, growing cruise liner market.

That includes an extra 9500sqm of retail and 30,000sqm of offices at Victoria Quay, expanding the Fishing Boat Harbour to create a tourism node and better facilities around Bathers Beach.

It also envisages overhauling the Fremantle Oval precinct, and possibly using the Stan Reilly site for affordable housing.

The plan relies heavily on projects either yet to be approved or to some extent out of the city's control, including light rail into the city centre and the $270 million Kings Square development.

Kings Square would have an extra 20,000sqm of retail space, 1500 new homes and 70,000sqm of offices in the city centre.

Dr Pettitt said the 2029 plan was intended to be realistic but "transformational".

"I'll be the first to admit I think Fremantle in the last 15 years . . . it really has struggled, so this is about putting forward a way that we can really bring the vibrancy back to our commercial centre," he said. "A lot of that is bringing thousands more people to live and work in Fremantle but also drawing on our strengths."

He said the current northern entrance to Fremantle "couldn't be much worse" and the Queen Victoria Street bridge could be transformed rather than torn down and replaced.

That proposal is modelled on New York's High Line, a former freight rail line turned into a popular public park suspended over Manhattan's streets.

The bridge could form part of a bigger picture for the northern gateway, which is earmarked for high-density housing for 3000 residents. Building work on Sirona Capital's $120 million Heirloom Apartments is expected to start next month or April.

"That bridge is probably already at the end of its life and there are major concerns around its safety," Dr Pettitt said.

"There's a debate with Government. We're pushing very hard for, rather than just a minor upgrade of the bridge, they should seek replacement."

He believed it would be fantastic to modify the bridge to turn it into something that built on its heritage and created a unique public space with parkland over the water and cafes and things to attract people.

Fremantle Chamber of Commerce chief executive Olwyn Williams said investment in the city's infrastructure should be "much higher" on the State Government's agenda.

She asks: "Is there a State Government plan or commitment to replacing the aged Fremantle traffic bridge?

"Light rail policy deliberations have focused on northern and central suburbs to date, what about the southern suburbs?"

Fremantle retailers are mostly optimistic about what they see as efforts to restore the city to its former glory.

Kate Hulett and partner Matt Bale run the Kate & Abel homewares shop and cafe and manage the MANY 6160 retail project inside the former Myer building.

She said Fremantle was "right on the edge of booming and becoming this amazing place again".

"There's certainly a movement," she said. "I love it that at the end of the night you can hear music and people chattering.

"Freo's got something: the port city, the grit, the history and the beautiful buildings."

But Ms Hulett said the city needed more workers, which should happen under plans for the city centre.

Dawn Clarke runs vintage clothing stores BiBi and The Gossamer Project. She said it was "early days" but efforts to get Fremantle back on track were starting to have an effect.

"It may take maybe two or three years, but I think it will get better, I really do, and that's why I want to be in Fremantle," she said. "It's got a nice vibe."

  • *