Biggest blueprint for 150 years
* LANGLEY PARK OVERHAUL * BARCELONA OF THE WEST * SOUTHBANK ON SWAN
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.