Hall & Prior Hit The Panic Button On Woodside Complex

In September last year, we asked What would William Dalgety Moore say if he came back today?

Our question was concerned with the Development Application or DA lodged by Hall & Prior, one of Australia’s largest developers and operators of aged care facilities, for a large aged care complex on the site of Moore’s grand old heritage-listed mansion, Woodside, which is possibly better known to many as a maternity hospital from the 1950s for many years, between Dalgety and Fortescue Streets in East Fremantle.

Supplied Artist’s Impression

As we indicated in our article, local residents were affronted by the sheer height and bulk of the building, and its likely impact on the quiet residential amenity of the locality, amongst other concerns.

The DA has been proceeding, in fits and starts, along a JDAP pathway, by which a joint development assessment panel, of three expert planners/architects appointed by the State Government and two local Town of East Fremantle councillors, was tasked under the Planning & Development Act 2005 (WA) or P&D Act, to determine the DA.

After an Electors Meeting in September last year, at which residents raised many salient questions of their local government about the proposed complex’s details, it remained for the Town to complete its RAR – responsible authority report – before the application went to JDAP for a final hearing and determination.

But recently it seems Hall & Prior got an attack of the slows. Delays in the JDAP process seemed to be occurring. Then the developer’s people approached some local residents directly affected by the proposal as a courtesy to inform them of possible modifications to the proposal, the developer hoping no doubt that by the time of the JDAP hearing all objections would have evaporated and everything would be hunky dory.

And then late last week, a bombshell – a letter arrived, hand-delivered to some of the residents’ letterboxes, signed by Graeme Prior of Hall & Prior and advising that the applicant had withdrawn its JDAP DA and would now, instead apply to the SDAU or State Development assessment unit for approval of the proposal under Part 17 of the P&D Act.

What does this all mean?

First, on the face of things, the aged care complex proposal appears to meet the definition of a ‘significant development’ for the purposes of qualifying as a DA that can be approved under Part 17. This is because it presumably has an estimated cost of $20 million or more.

The developer, by its letter, makes it plain that it believes the Covid planning rules in Part 17 will prove to be more expeditious and developer friendly than the JDAP process. For a start, principles of orderly and proper planning don’t rule the approval process, but only need to be given ‘due regard’.

You can see why the Part 17 process is considered by many to be antithetical to good planning when you realise that under Part 17 of the P&D Act, the WAPC
* in considering and determining a ‘significant development’ application, such as this, is not limited to planning considerations and may have regard to any other matter affecting the ‘public interest’; and
* may grant approval for development even if —
(i) there has been a contravention by any person or body of a relevant legal instrument; or
(ii) there would, apart from this Part of the Act, have been such a contravention.

There is some sort of safeguard for traditional planning values, however, in that the P&D Act also provides that –
* in considering and determining the development application, the Commission must have ‘due regard’ to —
(a) the purpose and intent of any planning scheme that has effect in the locality to which the development application relates; and
(b) the need to ensure the orderly and proper planning, and the preservation of amenity, of that locality; and
(c) the need to facilitate development in response to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; and
(d) any relevant State planning policies and any other relevant policies of the Commission.

Here’s our article on the Covid planning legislation (posted before the emergency period was extended but still generally relevant).

So, Hall & Prior have plainly decided to chance their arm on this last ditched attempt to get up the Woodside Complex as a Covid emergency project.

In short, Hall & Prior appear to have hit the panic button after the very recent momentous JDAP decision refusing a very tall tower development on the old Ford Factory/Matilda Bay tower proposal on Stirling Highway, North Fremantle. In that case, principles of orderly and proper planning were very much in play. Blind Freddy could see that the proposed oversized tower development didn’t accord with principles of orderly and proper planning. Exactly the same consideration applies here to Hall & Prior’s oversized aged care complex in the residential neighbourhood of Dalgety and Fortescue Streets of East Freo.

We canvassed some local affected East Freo residents to see what they made of Mr Prior’s observations in his letter. It’d be fair to say none was impressed –

* Todd Anderson from Dalgety Street, on the south boundary of development site, said Hall & Prior have only met with him and his wife once and only very recently and the developer still hasn’t responded to a follow-up letter they sent. He said
he felt ‘deceived, betrayed and any trust has gone’.

* Tom Chaney of Dalgety Street said he was concerned that, after failing to gain approval through a JDAP, the developer is now trying to push the plans through the SDAU. He remained concerned that the likelihood of increased traffic on a family street has not been addressed in any way.

* Robert Cox also in Dalgety Street said for Mr Prior to now say there has been ‘extensive community consultation with the local community over three years’ is absurd. He added this is further cemented by the fact Hall & Prior at the September 2022 Electors Meeting agreed further consultation was necessary. The developer undertook, he said, to draft terms of reference for a working group as a starting point with participants to be appointed thereafter. To date there has been no progress in this regard and it would seem given this latest letter from Hall & Prior, that this process is off the table.

* Travis Leahy in Fortescue St said he was disappointed with the proposed changes which completely ignored the concerns raised at the Electors Meeting by residents. He added the ‘scale of the project and towering heights of the buildings (equivalent to a seven storey apartment building)’ have not been changed. An extra level has been added to the basement car park which will mean ‘more cars on site and more traffic in our beautiful heritage streets’.

Mr Leahy further commented that Hall & Prior, knowing full well that adding a full scale ‘wellness centre’ to an already congested site failed to accord with the Local Planning Scheme, the developers have now sought to bypass council and the JDAP process and instead appeal directly to the WAPC to push its complex through for approval.

Like a number of residents, he thinks ‘it is such a shame that a project that had huge community support for the sympathetic construction and restoration of the Woodside site has turned into a profit driven exercise of how many buildings and residents can possibly be squeezed into one small site.

He hopes that the WAPC can recognise that the project in its current form is too large to be built in the middle of two small, beautifully preserved heritage streets. There are many other sites where the developers can build large scale aged care facilities to meet the needs of residents in East Fremantle.

* Meagan Cox from Dalgety Street raised these same objections about bulk, scale, height but said she also objects to a large-scale development on the basis the findings of the royal commission into aged care. She drew attention to what the Royal Commission’s finding that: ‘In broad terms, the evidence before us is that good design in residential aged care, particularly for people with dementia, usually involves smaller, lower density, congregate living arrangements rather than larger, more institutional settings. We consider that in general residential aged care settings should transition progressively away from large institutional design settings.

* Joanne Taggart of Dalgety Street, when asked if the withdrawal of the DA was a surprise, said:

Surprised… no. Local residents have been saying since 2020 the development application could not be approved under the current planning framework. The site is just not suitable for the proposed development. We were surprised in 2022 they chose the JDAP Pathway for the application. Even the TOEF Council which is pro- the development couldn’t get it across the line.

‘Disappointed..yes. The SDAU and the WAPC are permitted by the COVID emergency legislation to throw out the planning and development rule book which is exactly what Hall and Prior need to get this development through. R80 into an R15/R12.5 heritage precinct does not go.

‘All the good work in improving the residential codes and elevating them to subsidiary legislation has been a waste of time. It means nothing if the WAPC can ignore it to the extent that would be required to approve the Hall and Prior development.

‘Community concerns about bulk, scale, height and intensive commercial activity have not been addressed at all…it’s still 249.5 metres long, equivalent in height to a 7-storey apartment block and includes loads of ’NOT-permitted’ land uses. Not to mention extensive removal of mature tree canopy and destruction of 60% of the State-listed heritage buildings. Buildings that hold the cultural and social heritage of around 50,000 Western Australian women.

‘Claims of extensive consultation and high level community support are laughable. A concept was presented to a handful of local residents in 2020 with immediate feedback about concerns. Silence from the developer and the Council. It took a petition of well over 100 ratepayers for a special electors meeting be held in 2022 to force the Council and Hall & Prior to listen to our concerns. Mr Prior promised a working/reference group which never eventuated. The recent last minute meetings with three immediate residents was an ultimatum not consultation.

It seems to us that Hall & Prior’s hitting of the panic button has just elevated its conflict with residents. Whether or not the WA Planning Commission, properly advised, will actually see this development proposal as falling within the category of a Covid emergency development, remains to be seen.

We will watch the new DA with great interest.

* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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