By Nicolletta De Gennaro
Local businesses in Fremantle are struggling to stay alive, blaming council restrictions on expansion and extortionate rent prices.
Fremantle has a reputation for its groovy cafes and small businesses.
Many rely on the flow of locals to keep their businesses afloat while they cope with high rental prices.
Mark LaHogue is the owner of The Record Finder. He’s run record stores around Fremantle for over 30 years and has seen the rise and fall of many businesses due to what he believes is the city’s lack of progression – and that’s affected the number of people who shop there.
LaHogue talks about both the difficulties and joys that running a business entails and how the lack of people living in Fremantle, rent prices and the issue of expansion has been a problematic factor in businesses shutting down.
“The council need to be more understanding that for people to invest in Freo, it needs to be financially viable for them and with room for expansion,” he said.
Fremantle City Council has imposed height restrictions on buildings and that’s caused many developments to be knocked back. Locals claim that’s stopped developers interested in building apartments and more businesses.
Fremantle Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer, Olwyn Williams, says the issue of rent comes down to the need for landlords to understand this new economic environment.
She says the issues around development in Fremantle have been a problem for 30 years that’s driven developers to do business elsewhere.
The west side of Fremantle has a two to three storey limit, while the east side can go up to six storeys. For projects with a particular “design excellence” the limit can go as high as eight.
“However, there are issues with expression on what is considered to be ‘design excellence’,” said Williams.
She claims that’s allowed Fremantle council to appear open to development schemes that exceed height restrictions, but there’s no clear outline of what would be considered “design excellence”.
Paul Dunlop, the Manager of Communications and Media at the City of Fremantle, says the city encourage future development and believes that by being open to higher developments, it’s fulfilling that goal.
The City of Fremantle’s approved $313 million worth of commercial and residential developments that will begin construction during the 2017/18 financial year.
“From 2009-2012 this council made some tough and at times controversial decisions on relaxing building heights in non-heritage parts of the Fremantle city centre,” said Mayor Brad Pettit.
“It’s pleasing to see these hard decisions are having their desired effect, with Fremantle now well and truly back on a sustainable path and cementing its status as Perth’s second city,” he said.
Despite that, local business owners believe Fremantle is suffering from a lack of expansion and that has a negative impact on business and consumer flow.