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Poor decisions on the missing link

FOR much of past century planners and civic-minded people urged the linking of Perth’s hemmed-in CBD to Northbridge by sinking the Perth-Fremantle railway line.

Instead, Perth has a quaint horseshoe-shaped bridge that identifies the area north the CBD.

The reason? Three generations of Labor and non-Labor governments have procrastinated on this issue.

The unsightly 13-hectare railway yard located near Wellington and Roe streets, and Perth station and the freeway network (Fitzgerald Street) is an ugly industrial-era urban scar.

Unfortunately the long-known remedy of sinking the entire Perth-Fremantle line complex remains as distant today as it was early last century.

At a recent meeting convened by concerned Perth councillor Bert Tudori, planning expert, Emeritus Professor Martyn Webb, reminded those present of the perennial WA governmental foot dragging.

He said that, in 1911, then assistant government architect William Hardwick proposed that this centrally situated tract be developed “as a great people’s park surrounded by civic and government buildings and including a processional way to be known as the Mall”.

The Hardwick plan envisaged a compact version of Washington DC’s exquisite broad mall by removal of an ugly steam era scar across Perth’s midriff.

Yet, 91-years on, still nothing.

It’s a disgrace; something WA politicians should be reminded of, regularly and often.

“Most importantly, Hardwick’s plan clearly demonstrated that the sinking of the Fremantle line was subordinate to an overall City Plan encompassing not only the reinstatement of the north-south road system, but also a design for the very large area of reclaimed land above the surrounding and underground railway,” Professor Webb said.

When Planning Minister Alannah McTiernan announced her version of the Mandurah-Perth line some thought she’d confront this century-old problem in a stateswoman-like manner.

Unfortunately, her go-ahead and two subsequent reviews fail to bite the bullet on redeveloping the ugly 13ha that bisects Perth’s CBD.

The situation as it now stands is as follows.

Last year Ms McTiernan announced her Mandurah-Perth plan, which meant scrapping the Court-Cowan Government’s option of trains reaching Perth via Kenwick.

Instead she wanted the Mt Henry-Narrows Bridge-freeway route, up a William Street trench and linking the Joondalup line at Perth station near the intersection of Lake and Roe streets.

After a public outcry Ms McTiernan dropped the disruptive trench proposal in favour of a drilled tunnel beneath William Street. And the line would now be sunk from the northern slope of the Narrows Bridge – instead of at the Esplanade – to avoid spoiling Perth’s foreshore, unlike all Canning and Swan River foreshores between Mt Henry and Mt Eliza, which she plans spoiling.

At no stage before those reviews was there reference to any of the 13ha station land being sunk to finally enhance the CBD.

Yet, on June 10, a carefully worded joint media statement by Premier Gallop and Ms McTiernan – issued straight after the second review’s release – referred to the Perth-Mandurah line plan as “the best decision for the future of our city”.

“It has the potential to achieve two of the great planning outcomes that have eluded modern governments – linking the city to the river and Northbridge to the city,” the release continued.

“This is truly a far-sighted decision and future generations will recognise the importance of this decision to link public transport outcomes with proper city planning.” Sounds like Hardwick’s farsighted 1911 plan. But is it?

Where suddenly did these new nice-sounding additions come from, for when the McTiernan Perth-Mandurah line plan was announced there wasn’t a whisper of linking Northbridge to the CBD, of removing the century-old unsightly 13ha railway yard by entirely sinking it.

Clearly the reviewer came under pressure from civic-minded quarters that perhaps reminded him of the century of lobbying to link the CBD and Northbridge by sinking the 13ha Perth railway yard complex.

Unfortunately, however, as at mid-August 2002 this sorry story is without a happy finale.

Anyone not familiar with both reviews could easily assume the Gallop-McTiernan reference to linking the CBD and Northbridge means sinking the line all the way to the freeway network (Fitzgerald Street), so the entire ugly 13ha, which William Hardwick lobbied for in 1911.

However, a close reading of those reviews shows they only refer to “partial sinking”; at best only to Milligan Street but more likely only to Lake Street, where the planned Perth-Mandurah line links Joondalup’s line.

Because the sinking of the Perth-Fremantle line to either Milligan Street, but probably the cheaper Lake Street option, is now a possibility, we’re being told this needs to be financed by deals and “private-sector funding”.

In other words it was always a frenzied rush for a costly Perth-Mandurah line along the freeway and forget about the ugly 19th century 13ha railway yard at the heart of Perth.

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