21/05/2008 - 22:00

A disaster on the Perth foreshore

21/05/2008 - 22:00

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Talk about trying to overfill an already overflowing ten-gallon bucket.

Talk about trying to overfill an already overflowing ten-gallon bucket.

That's the best way of viewing what Premier Alan Carpenter and his strident infrastructure minister, Alannah MacTiernan, are up to with their $360 million Perth CBD foreshore congestion plan dubbed the 'Swan Make-Over'.

In the past, Australians knew elections were coming because governments began announcing plans to build more dams.

Today, Western Australians know state elections are approaching whenever another proposal for the already overcrowded CBD is unveiled.

When the bizarre Carpenter- MacTiernan plan was released on February 13, State Scene first thought it was inspired by Florida's Disney World with a bit of the 1960s Gold Coast thrown in for good measure.

Quite frankly, more digging and refashioning of the shoreline is unnecessary.

Politicians; please listen - leave the river's foreshore alone.

Spend taxpayers' money on something far more worthwhile and necessary, even if less spectacular and pie-in-the-sky.

Upgrade WA's deteriorating road network.

Air-condition all state schools so children don't have to endure hot summers.

Build 100 or so bridges across the metropolitan area to help reduce the wanton waste of petrol from idling engines at our big road and railway intersections.

Anything, but no more tampering with Perth's foreshore; don't touch it, any more.

The motivation for this latest onslaught on the Swan is, pure and simple, so Mr Carpenter can go into the election with a whiz-bang big spending promise.

This proves again that his hightaxing government has too much GST and housing and stamp duty cash in kitty and is looking for ways to spend it.

Treasury's boffins don't know what to do with all the extra cash that's been flowing in for the past five years.

WA in general, and Perth in particular, need a CBD foreshore development like another hole in the head.

Even less than we needed, in 2000- 01, a convention centre and that Bell Tower that the Richard Court-Colin Barnett government foisted upon us without an ounce of aesthetic improvement.

Apart from the re-election motivation - political selfpreservation, in other words - there's another, far more serious, reason underlying the proclivity of state politicians constantly dabbling with and further disfiguring Perth's foreshore.

And it's never disclosed to the taxpayers either by politicians or their planners and urban advisory boffins.

If one takes a cold-blooded look at Perth CBD the most obvious thing that's noticeable is that it extends from the Mitchell Freeway below Parliament House, in the west, to the northern tip of the Causeway, in the east.

Perth's north-south perimeter, however, extends from Wellington Street to the Esplanade - a distance roughly one 25th of the lengthy west-east stretch.

Perth CBD, therefore, resembles a ribbon rather than a square or rectangle.

Now, although cities don't have standard shapes, the ribbon development that's been imposed upon Perth by several generations of planners and politicians is rather strange, to say the least.

One can walk north to south - from the Esplanade to Wellington Street - in about 10 or so minutes, whereas it would take a good three-quarters of a spritely walking hour for the westeast stretch.

You'd think there was a shortage of land, which there isn't.

The reason for the ribbon is easy to find, although it's never highlighted.

The culprit is that ugly railway yard that extends from the Horseshoe Bridge to the Mitchell Freeway- a 19th century hangover that's stunting Perth's growth northwards.

Perth is hemmed in by the river (a natural, and attractive, barrier, if no longer tampered with) and an ugly man-made barrier, the old railway yards that no politician has the gumption to do away with so the CBD can spread northwards.

The logical or obvious solution - but don't expect logic from politicians - has always been to sink the railway.

That's shouldn't be a difficult task, considering London has had its Tube, New York its Subway, and Paris its Metro, for yonks.

Moreover, this was first proposed for Perth in 1911 by then WA government architect, William Hardwick.

Hardwick's now forgotten proposal was not to only sink the railway but to use all the railway land westwards up towards Parliament House for a huge open mall so as to ensure WA's capital was opened up, not hemmed in between the river and railway.

Because that has never happened we find the area between Wellington Street and the river increasingly packed with structures; and now Ms MacTiernan wants to have her way with high-rise to the river foreshore.

Rather than having northward expansion of the CBD, she's targeted the river.

The last time sinking the railway to liberate Perth's CBD from this stricture was promoted was by former deputy lord mayor Bert Tudori, who chaired a Perth Council committee that included Professor Martyn Webb, town planner Max Hipkins, and architect Ralph Stanton.

Their proposal was for the railway - from the Horseshoe Bridge to the Mitchell Freeway - to be sunk and all the land above transformed into public open space and civic and private development.

In other words, a large version of what has happened in once depressed and dilapidated Subiaco.

Had Ms MacTiernan and the less-than-farsighted premier of the time, Geoff Gallop, adopted that proposal, Perth could now be growing northwards, towards Newcastle Street.

Unfortunately, Ms MacTiernan and her short-sighted boffins - who were fixated on bringing the Mandurah- Joondalup line over the Narrows Bridge and under William Street - would not, for reasons best known to them, agree at long last to sink the Perth-to-Fremantle line between the bridges.

The desire to tunnel below William Street wasn't opposed by the Tudori committee as long as Ms MacTiernan and her boffins sank the William Street line so as to permit the sinking of the Perth-to-Fremantle line at the same time.

She refused.

Then, on the eve of the 2004 election, we suddenly heard about something her spin doctors dubbed the Northbridge Link, which four years later has still to be seen.

And that still-to-be-built link is a miniscule imitation of the farsighted Tudori committee's visionary proposal.

Now, on the eve of the 2009 election, out comes another whiz-bang proposal, even before the Northbridge Link is seen.

And it's back to tampering with the river foreshore.

The Swan Make-over proposes construction of two 50-storey towers facing each other on the western and eastern sides of the parkland between William and Beaufort streets, and The Esplanade and Riverside Drive.

Yes, on that grassed reserve.

And to compound this idea, it's also proposed to dig a phoney Disney Land-style cove into that open parkland.

And around this phoney manmade cove there'll be more high-rises, including one that looks like a gherkin.

It's Disney Land-Gold Coast congestion on the CBD's doorstep gone mad.

In other words, Perth is to get yet more high-rise office towers rather than being left open as it presently still is up to the river foreshore.

It's claimed this will cost $360 million.

But people in-the-know already suspect that all that will happen is The Esplanade's grassed reserve will be sold off for a series of huge towers and some of the money used to excavate the phoney cove.

In other words, the bizarre Carpenter-MacTiernan plan is set to further congest the CBD and further disfigure the Swan.

And they call that progress and being visionary.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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