Last night, members of the Fremantle community, at an appropriate social-distance, packed a Fremantle Town Hall Meeting to hear presentations from the the Better Bridge Campaign.
The Meeting concluded with a resolution, passed by an overwhelming show of hands, calling upon the Premier, Mark McGowan, to pause the current Main Roads WA’s ‘Swan River Crossings’ project and engage in true dialogue with the community.
Presentations to the Meeting from Professor Peter Newman, Andrew Sullivan, Rebecca Clarkson, Ingrid Maher and Mayor Brad Pettitt variously highlighted options apart from that being pursued by Main Roads WA in its current proposal. Concerns about the adequacy and vision of the Main Roads WA project were strongly voiced.
The presenters in turn fully accepted that a new bridge to replace the old bridge is necessary, but considered the option presented by Main Roads and supported by Transport Minister Rita Saffioti was not the only available option. Moreover they considered it not to be the option most likely to best serve regional and Fremantle interests over the next 100 years plus – the expected life of a new bridge.
Concerns for the future development of North Fremantle, it’s Town Centre, and the connection of North Fremantle to Fremantle across the Swan River/Derbarl Yerrigan were explained. As was the clear desire to retain the Old Traffic Bridge, in part, modifying it with a new central span, and creating a major public space across the river along the lines of New York City’s famous Highline park, an urban wilderness built over an old, disused raised railway line near central Manhattan.
Fremantle Shipping News has been a strong supporter of the Better Bridge Campaign, and its Editor, Michael Barker, moderated last night’s Town Hall Meeting.
Regrettably, none of the responsible Minister or local politicians, or any representative of Main Roads WA, all of whom were invited to attend the Meeting, were able to do so.
Transport Minister Saffioti, Fremantle MLA Simone McGurk, Bicton MLA Lisa O’Malley, and Josh Wilson, MHR for Fremantle in Canberra all sent their apologies.
Ms Saffioti, Ms McGurk and Ms O’Malley each explained they had prior commitments that prevented their attendance.
Ms O’Malley was represented at the meeting, however, by an Electorate Officer. The other two weren’t.
Mr Wilson was unable to attend by reason of being in a limited Covid quarantine following his recent return to WA after attending Parliamentary business in Canberra, and was also represented by a staff member. Mr Wilson provided a statement to the Better Bridge Campaign, which will be found on the Campaign website.
Main Roads WA explained they were attending a Fremantle precinct meeting and so were unable to attend. While five MRWA people attended the precinct meeting, none could manage to attend this major Town Hall Meeting.
In a letter to the Campaign expressing her inability to attend the Meeting, and her views about the MRWA proposal, Ms Saffioti also ventured the view that ‘I am becoming concerned the current debate around the Swan River Crossings Project is becoming more of a political campaign.’
This is a most regrettable statement, implying as it does that the community Better Bridge Campaign is nothing but a partisan political exercise. Leaving to one side the observation that ‘Life is political’, as the Minister would fully appreciate, nothing could be further from the truth. The Better Bridge Campaign represents a groundswell of opinion of civil society in and around Fremantle concerning the limited vision demonstrated by Main Roads WA, and supported by the Minister, in the current project proposal.
It’s time, as the Meeting resolved last night, for the Premier to intervene before it’s too late, hit the pause button on the current project, allow calmer heads to prevail, and for all parties, including the people of Fremantle, to return to the drawing board to design a project that fully respects the present day and longer term urban planning needs of the region and Fremantle.
Errors made today, and opportunities foregone today, will live on for another century and more to haunt future generations – long after today’s decision makers have parted this mortal coil. A pandemic and a looming State general election cannot be excuses for error and opportunities lost.