Big­gest blue­print for 150 years

The Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - JOSH ZIM­MER­MAN


A “TRANS­FOR­MA­TIONAL” river­front mas­ter­plan will lay out a blue­print for the big­gest over­haul of the Perth CBD since it emerged from the banks of the Swan River more than 150 years ago.

By the time the paint dries on the last El­iz­a­beth Quay sky­scraper the vast tracts of open space to its east could be adorned with a se­lec­tion of restau­rants and bars, home to a se­cond land­mark at­trac­tion and strung to­gether by a net­work of bat­tery­pow­ered track­less trams.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties are end­less, and City of Perth com­mis­sioner Eric Lums­den wants all of them con­sid­ered as he seeks to in­ject the CBD river­front with the kind of vi­brancy that would al­low the State’s cap­i­tal to truly stake its claim as an in­ter­na­tional tourism hotspot.

From his new of­fice on the 11th floor of Coun­cil House — where he is act­ing in place of the sus­pended Lord Mayor and City of Perth coun­cil — the long-time boss of the WA Plan­ning Com­mis­sion en­joys sweep­ing views over Supreme Court Gar­dens and Lan­g­ley Park.

What he sees most: wasted op­por­tu­nity.

“I do think the space be­tween Mata­garup Bridge and El­iz­a­beth

Quay is un­der­utilised,” he said. “What peo­ple have to un­der­stand is that the de­mo­graph­ics of Perth are chang­ing and how the city re­sponds to that change is crit­i­cally im­por­tant.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, go­ing back just a cou­ple of decades, I think the city had a pol­icy that it didn’t want any res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment, only of­fice. Now clearly that has changed and the city doesn’t just func­tion as an of­fice precinct or a sim­ple res­i­den­tial precinct, it also has an im­por­tant eco­nomic com­po­nent as a tourism des­ti­na­tion.

“We talk about de­vel­op­ing Perth Air­port — which is im­por­tant — but there’s no point hav­ing a great air­port if when they get off the plane there is noth­ing to do.”

To that end, the City of Perth this week called for ten­ders to lead con­sul­tancy on a new river­front mas­ter­plan stretch­ing from El­iz­a­beth Quay to Mata­garup Bridge.

Over the next 12 months, the suc­cess­ful firm will con­sult the com­mu­nity and stake­hold­ers from across Perth to draft a mas­ter­plan for a space that in­cludes Supreme Court Gar­dens, Lan­g­ley Park, Point Fraser, Water­bank, Trin­ity Col­lege, Glouces­ter Park and Vic­to­ria Gar­dens.

Devel­op­ment at the Metropoli­tan Re­de­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity-con­trolled Water­bank, part of a River­side precinct which in­cludes Trin­ity Col­lege and the WA Po­lice com­plex, is al­ready well un­der way and will in­clude a man-made beach and river­front prom­e­nade sur­rounded by high-rise apart­ments, shops, cafes and bars.

The brief for the re­main­der of the project area is to cre­ate a plan that “en­sures the river­front of Perth tran­si­tions from a 19th cen­tury land­scape into a con­tem­po­rary space that re­con­nects the city with the river for ev­ery­one to en­joy”.

While quick to stress he does not en­vis­age whole­sale re­de­vel­op­ment of the en­tire river­front — Lan­g­ley Park is not go­ing to be con­creted over — Mr Lums­den said there was room for a bet­ter mix of key ac­tiv­ity nodes and pas­sive recre­ation spa­ces.

“When I say it is a trans­for­ma­tional project, it is not just dump­ing things here and there — it is very con­sid­ered and all works to­gether,” he said. “When you look at the fore­shore it is a very nice im­age with the trees and open space but I think there is room both for more rest­ful spots, for peo­ple to sit and re­lax rather than hav­ing to walk or cy­cle long dis­tances, as well as ac­tiv­i­ties like cafes, restau­rants and bars.

“I don’t see ma­jor of­fice devel­op­ment or any­thing like that, although that is my per­sonal view and other peo­ple might have dif­fer­ent ideas.

“I want to em­pha­sise that the City recog­nises the river and the fore­shore as a clear as­set. And it is a crit­i­cal as­set that has to be dealt with sen­si­tively but also has sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial to add vi­tal­ity and in­creased amenity to the

The space be­tween Mata­garup Bridge and El­iz­a­beth Quay is un­der­utilised.

pop­u­la­tion at large, which in­cludes tourism.”

Mr Lums­den be­lieves there is room for one more ma­jor at­trac­tion along the river­front and points to Bris­bane’s South Bank — an­chored by a 2000sqm man-made la­goon sur­rounded by restau­rants, cafes and a 60m tall Fer­ris wheel — among his per­sonal in­spi­ra­tions.

Barcelona is an­other of Mr Lumd­sen’s favourite water­front des­ti­na­tions and he wants Perth to cap­i­talise on its sim­i­lar Mediter­ranean cli­mate to cre­ate spa­ces that are used year-round — and around the clock.

“The wa­ter­fronts in Barcelona have been de­vel­oped sen­si­bly and re­main a thor­ough­fare for peo­ple to walk and bike but you also feel an in­ten­sity around there and a buzz,” he said.

A firm ad­vo­cate for pub­lic trans­port — Mr Lums­den has caught the train to work from his Man­durah home for the past 15 years — the com­mis­sioner also be­lieves there needs to be bet­ter con­nec­tions both along and across the river­front.

While float­ing Op­tus Sta­dium, Fraser Point and a se­cond South Perth lo­ca­tion as pos­si­ble fu­ture ferry em­barka­tion sites, Mr Lums­den also stressed the need to con­sider emerg­ing trans­port tech­nol­ogy.

“Light rail is cer­tainly an op­tion and Syd­ney for in­stance is putting a lot of ef­fort into it, but the con­struc­tion has had a huge im­pact on busi­ness in the CBD,” he said. “If you can avoid that im­pact but still get the same level of ser­vice and ef­fec­tive­ness through some­thing like track­less trams, that is cer­tainly worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing. Track­less trams can be run on bat­ter­ies and they are also more flex­i­ble in that you can ad­just the routes de­pend­ing on pop­u­la­tion growth and de­mand.”

Premier Mark McGowan said any pro­posal would have to be han­dled prop­erly but the State Gov­ern­ment was open to op­por­tu­ni­ties to at­tract more peo­ple into Perth and gen­er­ate more in­ter­est in the Swan River fore­shore.

“Res­i­dents of Perth have a strong and on­go­ing con­nec­tion to the Swan River so it’s vi­tal that we work with them to pro­tect this as­set,” he said.

Change — es­pe­cially in a fledg­ling city such as Perth — is bound to at­tract re­sis­tance and for­mer premier Colin Bar­nett is among the de­trac­tors. The ar­chi­tect be­hind Op­tus Sta­dium and El­iz­a­beth Quay, which will book­end the even­tual mas­ter­plan, said he was op­posed to any­thing be­yond beau­ti­fi­ca­tion works for the ex­ist­ing green ex­panses in be­tween.

“One of the great at­trac­tions of Perth is the open water­front along our beaches and rivers,” Mr Bar­nett said. “No other city has that and I think one of our great at­trac­tions is the broad es­planade area that used to be the old airstrip. Per­son­ally I would hate to see it de­vel­oped. To me, it would look like a street cir­cus and I think we have the ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance there at the mo­ment.”

Neil Irvine, owner of the strug­gling On The Point precinct, is more en­thu­si­as­tic about the process but re­mains wary about its de­liv­ery af­ter a long-run­ning bat­tle with the City of Perth over park­ing fees and sig­nage is­sues.

Mr Irvine bought out co-owner Steve Palmer af­ter the shock col­lapse of Ku De Ta ear­lier this year and said much of the City of Perth’s strug­gle to at­tract vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially to the east end, was self-in­flicted.

Way ahead: The City of Perth has called for ten­ders to lead con­sul­tancy on a El­iz­a­beth Quay to Mata­garup Bridge mas­ter­plan.

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