19/10/2011 - 10:45

Time to decide if we want high rise or not?

19/10/2011 - 10:45

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High rise is important in Perth but older buildings should be retained in a feasible and sustainable way.

I note, with some amusement, the usual carry on with regard to plans to develop an office tower next to the Old Treasury Building.

Somehow, every time a high-rise development is mooted, it is viewed as a catastrophe. On the coast they will shade the beach and disturb the whales, in the ’burbs they will bring anarchy and in the city they overshadow heritage and play with the minds of office workers.

Yet many of the people complaining about high-rise development are opposed to the sprawl of suburbia and low density, which they see as wasteful.

Which is it to be?

There is only one way these two positions won’t represent a contradiction. That is in a no-growth situation where Perth stands still. That will not be happening, despite conservationists such as the Greens pushing policies which make growth difficult.

Western Australia is growing and that can’t be stopped. More people want to come and live in our beautiful state and take advantage of the opportunities here, more than anywhere else right now.

We need to accommodate them – both with homes and workplaces – that fit into our cities and towns. The answer is, in many cases, to go up, especially in spread-out Perth and even towns like Karratha, which is inhibited by native title issues. 

This is most obvious in the city where, wrongly in my opinion, many of the glorious old buildings were knocked down. To suggest you can’t build a high-rise tower in the CBD today because it dwarfs a dilapidated building that has been left to rot for years is ridiculous. 

I agree with commentators who raise the example of what happened to the Palace Hotel. That was a travesty, but that was not all about the architecture. A grand hotel, a famous meeting place, was turned into a bank. 

If it was still an active pub we might look at it differently.

Similarly, the Treasury building needs to be put to good use. That will require adaptation and upkeep, both of which are expensive. Development dollars and rent from a big modern high rise will help fund that.

Of course, we’d like to see something tasteful, let’s all get over our opposition to high rise in Perth. In many places it makes sense, no-where more so than the CBD.

Shark nets

The rise in shark attacks and deaths has been highlighted by the disappearance of businessman Bryn Martin last week off Cottesloe.

Populations of swimmers and sharks are rising and, if Perth wants to maintain an important lifestyle feature, we ought to look at ways of mitigating risk.

Shark nets have long been suggested as a way of countering this threat. Perth does not have the sweeping bays that adorn Sydney but locations such as Cottesloe and City Beach could easily be netted off if necessary to provide a place where people are safe.

Arguably, of course, few people are taken close inshore where the majority of people swim. Mr Martin’s regular practice was to swim out 300m or so. I am a dedicated beach swimmer but I would baulk at making that journey early in the morning.

Perhaps we need a bit of good old-fashioned West Aussie innovation.

Shark-repelling devices already exist for divers and surfers to attach to themselves to put off attacks.

Why can’t bigger versions of these, maybe powered by waves, solar cells or mainland electrical connections, be anchored in lines off strategic beaches or in channels frequented by distance swimmers.

Of course, there’s a big risk in this for the public beyond the immensely low chance of losing life or limb.

Once we ask for protection, it will ultimately come, at a cost. 

This could be the excuse for charging to use our beaches, something that I am sure many a council has wanted to do for some time.

Sharks nets or electrical buoys are expensive to place and maintain.

And who would pay? Those who take the biggest risk, the few hardy souls who enjoy swimming early in the mornings? That is unlikely to be efficient, so it will be the public – via taxes – the vast majority of whom visit the beaches rarely, on hot days in their thousands when no shark in its right mind would be seen dead near the surf.

Timely pay

Don Argus made me laugh when he said last week that shareholders who don’t like executive pay levels could always sell the shares and invest elsewhere.

I know this will be unpopular but I couldn’t agree more.

Investors, be they private or via institutional funds, have plenty of choices to park their money if they feel the share market and its leading companies are being ripped off by expensive management.

While I tend to agree that too many poor managers are paid handsomely with bonuses that never seem to go down, the shareholders are now fully aware of those arrangements when they buy their equities.

If they think their money could be invested better, then they should do so. An interesting example of this conjecture is the controversy surrounding Wesfarmers chief Richard Goyder’s remuneration. 

Wesfarmers wants to change a key performance measure from a long-established rate – 12.5 per cent over two consecutive years – to one that beats a peer group of companies by a certain margin.

It appears the world has changed and that we are in for a sustained period of reduced growth. Under those circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable to change the benchmarks to better reflect market conditions. In fact, it would be risky not to.

Furthermore, a benchmark which pays an executive for outperforming others would not only seem entirely sensible but ought to be welcomed by those critical of high remuneration.

There may be a case to suggest the previous package was wrong, giving a manager credit for achieving 12.5 per cent when, by comparison to today, that was easy.

Nevertheless, Wesfarmers investors might think themselves lucky. While I am not completely across the remuneration packages of the company in years gone by, the long-term track record of Wesfarmers’ performance – especially before the Coles purchase – was so great that they may have saved money by having such a simple, and yet quite high, target rather than one that benchmarked their CEO more closely to the market.

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au

 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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