Brian Mitchell, Fremantle Herald, 2 February 2015
THE iconic signal station on Cantonment Hill is likely to be the new home for Australia's busiest sea rescue group.
The Fremantle volunteer sea rescue group (FVSR) is currently housed at the Challenger Harbour end of Mews Road, but is looking for new digs.
On Wednesday night Fremantle council voted to support the drafting of lease documents for the Cantonment Hill site.
'It's a fantastic opportunity,' deputy mayor Josh Wilson told colleagues.
'They're not going to have parties, they're going to be there 24/7, they assist in 700 sea rescues annually, it's 100 per cent in keeping with the social heritage of that building.'
Practically hopping with enthusiasm, he said FVSR would be a 'fantastic long-term tenant: if you were designing a tenant, you couldn't design one better'.
But the urgency of the item caught residents unawares and they were unhappy a decision was before the council without community consultation.
'We're the only neighbours and no-one came to us,' said David Ratcliffe of Tuckfield Street. He'd come across the late item by chance while looking for something else.
'I ask that you defer or reject it. It is not clear to me what is being asked for but you are potentially locking it up for 20 years.'
His concerns were echoed by Patrick Howard, a member of the Cantonment Hill working group, which has been meeting for four years to prepare a long-term vision for the hill: 'The master plan makes it clear—there is to be no use of the signal station that restricts access to and enjoyment of the signal station,' he said.
He believed FVSR was, 'not an appropriate occupant of this building'.
'A proposal of such importance, you should gauge community sentiment,' he said.
'After all the flowing promises to the community the council should not dump the implementation of the master plan.'
Cr Wilson, the council's representative on the working group, apologised to both men for not giving them a ring.
'In local government you're damned if you do and damned if you don't,' he mused. 'You move too quickly or you move too slowly.
'Sea Rescue needs to secure a new home. If they were to call next week and say they've got somewhere else that would be a disaster for us.
'You would spend a million and have a staff member and a faux museum or we could have an actual sea rescue operation.'
Cr Wilson said public access to the bottom and top floors would be guaranteed, and there was a possibility that FVSR could conduct tours of its operations.
Cr Rob Fittock strongly supported the motion, saying no other viable possibilities had been presented for the site. 'It's a wonderful fit,' he said.
Cr Jon Strachan described Cr Wilson's impassioned delivery as 'very compelling' but 'I can't support it'. 'There is something in there that is confidential that I can't mention,' he said, mysteriously.
Mayor Brad Pettitt stressed the council was not deciding on a lease: '[We're] not committing to anything now,' he said. 'We're going through a process and this is a first stage.'
The motion was passed with Cr Strachan and Cr Doug Thompson opposed.
Garry Gillard | New: 2 February, 2015 | Now: 2 April, 2016