EPRA looks to bright future as vision becomes reality

NEARLY 15 years ago a small team began a project that would ultimately transform a disused and decaying industrial area to the east of the CBD into an award-winning urban area.

The East Perth Redevelopment Authority officially began in 1991 when its act was struck in WA Parliament. However its first CEO, Michael Ratcliffe, had already spent four years preparing viable planning options for the area.

The original EPRA area covered 140 hectares and was bounded by the Swan River to the west, Lord Street to the east, from the corner of Lord and Bulwer streets to the Swan River at the north and Gloucester Park and the Perth Cemetery to the south. Over the past 10 years EPRA has spent $90 million on infrastructure and $30 million on land acquisition. It has handed over $67 million in public infrastructure assets such as parks and roads.

EPRA has recorded $108 million in sales revenue to date.

There are an estimated 1,500 residents in the EPRA area and a further 1,000 are expected to join them in the near future. A business association, the East Perth Success Club, has formed.

Earlier this year around 75 per cent of the EPRA area was handed back to the Perth City Council.

The remainder of the project, including the old East Perth power station and parts of what was to be a media village near the East Central TAFE campus, still await development.

Mr Ratcliffe said he took a three-part approach to the project.

“There were some areas that were very much the sick patient and required major surgery,” he said.

“There were other areas that just needed some TLC and a bit of nurturing and guidance, and then there were areas in between that just needed some medicine, such as a bit of infrastructure.

“These were the redevelopments such as the Boans Warehouse, where we felt it was better to renovate the buildings rather than bulldoze them.”

Mr Ratcliffe said the public perception that EPRA was an all-powerful redevelopment body was not strictly true.

He admitted it had considerable powers to cut through a lot of planning red tape, but said it also had to contend with some of the uses already in place in East Perth.

EPRA also had to contend with what was to become the Graham Farmer Freeway project. Indeed, Mr Ratcliffe chaired that project for a time. The authority also had to work within parameters set by major transport routes such as roads and rail lines.

Former Water Authority chief Wally Cox steered the project into the implementation stage.

He joined EPRA in 1995 and left in 2000 to oversee the break-up of the Department of Conservation and Land Management.

“By the time I came along we were planning the sub divisions and starting to operationalise those sub divisions,” Professor Cox said.

“During my time we saw extensive housing developments such as Haig Park and Belvidere start to come to fruition.”

Professor Cox also had to oversee some major land rehabilitation works, particularly where the old East Perth Gasworks once stood.

It was also during his time that the EPRA boundaries expanded to include the eastern gateway area and the authority took over the planning works for the Northbridge Urban Renewal Area on behalf of the WA Planning Commission.

This move caused some concern from the City of Perth council. Several councillors claimed the authority was “empire building”.

However, Mr Ratcliffe said EPRA had always considered redevelopment options for the eastern gateway and the Northbridge area.

“The gateway project had been considered in the first plans for the authority but we decided to take a walk before you run approach,” he said.

Professor Cox said one of his memories from the project was the strength of WA’s consulting industry, a sentiment echoed by his pre-decessor.

“We had a staff of about 10 people so a lot of the work had to be done through consultants. This project is a real tribute to them,” he said.

EPRA CEO Tony Morgan now has the responsibility for creating plans for Perth’s eastern gateway and redeveloping Northbridge land over the Graham Farmer Freeway tunnel.

“The next step for EPRA is already in place. We’re in the construction phase at Northbridge and sales are already occurring and the eastern gateway project is in the planning phase,” he said.

“For an organisation that was working towards closing its doors in 2001 we have quite a bit of work on. We’re now back bigger than ever.”

With the eastern gateway project EPRA is guaranteed a further 10 years, however Mr Morgan said it would consider requests to conduct other projects.

And where are the former drivers of EPRA now? Mr Ratcliffe works for engineering firm GHD in Melbourne and Professor Cox is pro vice-chancellor of Edith Cowan University.

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