12/05/2011 - 00:00

Matilda Bay knock-back stirs debate

12/05/2011 - 00:00


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THE Swan River Trust and the City of Subiaco have effectively skittled a redevelopment proposal for the Matilda Bay Tea Rooms, forcing the proponent to abandon plans for a licensed cafe on the iconic site.

Matilda Bay knock-back stirs debate

THE Swan River Trust and the City of Subiaco have effectively skittled a redevelopment proposal for the Matilda Bay Tea Rooms, forcing the proponent to abandon plans for a licensed cafe on the iconic site.

The Swan River Trust’s rejection of the $1.5 million makeover for the aging kiosk has reignited passions over development on the river foreshore.

Subiaco Council’s hostility towards the project, even after a significant redesign, made it unlikely to win approval from the influential Swan River Trust.

Trust chairman Jim Freemantle conceded the trust would have needed to mount a very strong case to “fly in the face of the elected council responsible for the ratepayers”.

The proposal was for demolition of the existing kiosk to make way for a contemporary building with glass and aluminum bi-fold doors to provide protection from the weather and an alfresco area.

The take-away service was to be scaled back and alcohol added to the menu.

The Swan River Trust concluded that the environmental impact of the project was minimal, and despite asserting it did not make any judgments based on aesthetics, the trust’s key concerns were the “scale and bulk” of the new building as well as its impact on the “visual amenity and viewscapes of the reserve.”

“Our view of it was that we weren’t opposed to them cleaning it up and modernising it, doing all the things for something that has been there for a long time and is getting pretty tired,” Mr Freemantle said.

“But we subscribe to the view ... it is a kiosk for the amenity of people with dirty, sandy feet to plod all over it and get ice-creams and drinks and sandwiches.

“To change its character to a licensed restaurant is probably not in the spirit of what a kiosk by the river in the summer is.”

The City of Subiaco made no secret of its opposition to the redevelopment of the tearooms site after strong opposition from its ratepayers.

Ultimately, Environment Minister Bill Marmion will decide the project’s fate.

The dispute will have a familiar ring to some Western Australians.

Whether it’s a riverside kiosk or ideas for the city foreshore, development concepts along the river have a patchy track record. And it’s an issue that polarises the community.

On one side of the ledger are people who want to shake Perth’s ‘Dullesville’ label and see the foreshore ‘activated’ with an expansion of amenities.

On the opposing side, arguments based on a mix of social and environmental factors are mounted to stare down development proposals and maintain the grassy status quo.

Matilda Bay Tea Rooms operator Warwick Lavis, who is also Matilda Bay Restaurant managing director, has spent almost five years working on plans for the kiosk.

The Swan River Trust does not take financial viability into account when assessing development plans, but Mr Lavis was not critical of its work.

“The trust is fantastic, I don’t have a problem with the trust but it ultimately goes to the board and because Subiaco Council had a seat on the board they were influential,” Mr Lavis said.

“Matilda Bay Restaurant has been here since 1984 and four years ago we spent $2.3 million to bring it up to current trends, I believe we are proven, long-term operators.”

There were a lot of misconceptions about the redevelopment proposal, which he said did not expand the footprint of the kiosk.

“We will go back and negotiate, we have already changed the plans once but all we are left with now is that we will refurbish what is there,” Mr Lavis told WA Business News.

“It’s another typical case of WA, they don’t like development, they don’t want change.”

Royal Australian Institute of Architects WA chapter president, David Karotkin, took a philosophical view of the debate.

“I think the (Swan River Trust) authority reflects the sentiment of much of the community, which is quite conservative and afraid of the consequences of developing on the edge of our major, natural assets,” Mr Karotkin said.

“Riverside and seaside development is hard and I suspect it has got its issues everywhere.

“Perhaps there is just a greater degree of confidence needed about our ability to do something well.’’



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