16/06/2011 - 00:00

No end in sight for costly foreshore folly

16/06/2011 - 00:00

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The Perth Waterfront project is going ahead, but nailing down a completion date is hard work.

No end in sight for costly foreshore folly

THE Perth CBD road network never seems to reach finality – meaning it’s constantly being altered.

Firstly roads are widened, and soon after the same roads are narrowed; traffic flows one way, then it’s both ways, and after that it’s in the opposite direction.

Major thoroughfares are being constantly reshaped.

It’s little wonder cab and bus drivers, especially, and regular CBD commuters complain.

Quite frankly, commuting around Perth’s CBD is something of a nightmare, and has been for years.

If you’re one who has been watching this strange proclivity and feel the end is nigh, forget it.

The opposite is set to happen because the Barnett government is out of the starting blocks with more changes.

In February, Mr Barnett and Planning Minister John Day disclosed that what they’re calling the Perth Waterfront Project had the all clear, with $270 million earmarked for excavation of a 2.7-hectare river foreshore cove between William and Barrack streets back to The Esplanade.

Yes, The Esplanade’s waterfront green common is a goner.

That means Riverside Drive, between those streets, is to be bulldozed into oblivion to create the mouth of that cove.

They said detailed design plans were completed, with earthworks – meaning digging that cove that truncates Riverside Drive – to begin early next year.

“Preparation of the site will begin immediately after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October this year, which will pave the way for major earthworks for the exciting redevelopment of Perth Waterfront in early 2012,” Mr Barnett said.

“This is a significant milestone for the project and a tangible step towards its delivery.

“The new waterfront will ensure Perth remains a contemporary, liveable and globally competitive city.”

Basically what this desire to allegedly propel Perth’s CBD into becoming “globally competitive” envisages is nine high-rise towers plus two extra complexes surrounding a man-made cove – a miniscule Dubai.

To make construction of those high-rise towers and two other private developments palatable, the government has announced there’s also to be a 1.5ha ‘Waterfront Promenade’, a man-made island, ferry landing, 30-boat jetty, cable car to Kings Park, and Indigenous Cultural Centre.

That’s fine if one doesn’t mind having Riverside Drive’s through-traffic curtailed forever and outlaying more than $250 million to excavate a cove.

But it was Mr Day’s next remark that was particularly telling.

“Once completed, Perth Waterfront will be an exciting new city destination with direct and uninterrupted connection to the Swan River,” he said.

Note how the completion date was not specified, by which I mean when will the entire project – cove, island, cultural centre, Kings Park cable car, promenade, and the nine high-rise towers plus two other complexes – be finished?

State Scene recently spoke to an MP who’s been closely watching the Barnett-Day dream to transform the Swan River foreshore.

I listened attentively to an outlining of what’s envisaged, and then asked: “When will all this be finished?”

The response – silence; followed by a wry smile.

To which I responded: “Surely not 10 or more years away?”

Still no response.

I suspect completion will be somewhere near 2021, when Messrs Barnett and Day are comfortably ensconced in parliamentary pension land.

Why suspect this? The answer is found on the Planning Department’s website, which reveals departmental boffins are guiding this nearly $750 million project through six stages, with one and two completed.

The first was: ‘Concept master-planning and preliminary business case July 2009 March 2010.’

The second: ‘Preliminary design, technical site investigations and Feasibility Analysis March 2010 February 2011.’

We’re presently mid-way in stage three: ‘Design documentation, statutory approvals, public works procurement, and marketing and sales of development sites. February 2011 April 2012.’

Like one and two, four, five and six are easy, once the “marketing and sales of development sites” has been successfully concluded.

That’s another way of saying all will be ship-shape when you’ve got all the cash in hand, which Messrs Barnett and Day don’t.

Last month, Mr Day told a Parliamentary Estimates Committee: “The point is that the project is going ahead. I think most people in WA actually want this project to go ahead. My understanding was that the opposition supported the project as well.

“There will be some recouping of the cost through land sales before the conclusion of the whole project, which will reduce the final cost.

“The final cost, therefore, once land has been sold would be less than $737 million.

“I am right in saying I do not have the final cost after land sales, but the expected cost of all the public works as a gross amount is $737 million, subject to land being sold to reduce that amount.”

That means digging that cove and dumping mud and sand in it to save cartage by creating a hill to become an island is set to cost $270 million.

And after that, at 2011-12 prices, fitting out of the cove’s environs (not sure if this includes the cultural centre and the cable car) will add a further $467 million.

That’s markedly more than the $313 million Graham Farmer Tunnel cost when finished in 2000, which greatly enhanced Perth’s traffic flow.

But back to those crucial six words: “marketing and sales of development sites” between now and April 2012, just 10 months off.

The project’s guess-timators say they’re counting on reaping $170 million from private developers for the cove’s 11 shoreline sites, or roughly $15 million per site.

But finding buyers for those sites is just the beginning of their task.

Earmarked for those nine towers is 150,000 square metres of office space, or more than double BHP-Billiton’s skyscraper that’s now rising above 125 St Georges Terrace.

Let’s hope developers are promptly found for that much extra office space, since some claim Perth has adequate office space into the foreseeable future.

Also keep fingers crossed that China’s housing bubble doesn’t burst before about 2021. And hope the decision to include 1,700 apartments, with an undisclosed number not having car-parking bays, doesn’t hinder intentions.

If those 11 sites don’t promptly sell, the $270 million cove could remain a lonely fenced-off traffic-blocking worksite for far longer than intended.

Also debatable is Mr Day’s claim that “most people in WA” want the project.

He and Mr Barnett certainly do.

If all this suggests they could have begun navigating down the 1980s WA Inc. treadmill, where construction dreams meandered then stalled, you’re getting the drift of things.

I’ve forgotten how long the City Square site on St Georges Terrace remained a 20-metre deep hole after changing hands with the hapless WA Development Corporation’s involvement.

But 25 years doesn’t seem too far off the mark, since work only began in 2008 on the BHP-Billiton building.

As yet there’s little word on the coming unpleasant impact upon Perth’s morning and evening traffic flows of the decision to bulldoze away a segment of Riverside Drive.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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