Response to WAPC “Capital City Planning Framework”

Making the City of Perth a Capital City for all West Australians

Comment on Capital City Planning Framework 2011

An all party submission to the Premier and Cabinet, and the Parliament of the State of Western Australia
23 September 2011


Outline of CityVision’s Position

Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is a city of growing wealth and sophistication. Not only is it at the centre of an expanding Metropolitan region, it is pivotal to a State of expanding national and regional importance, and in the aspirations of citizens across the State.

It must aim to be a true State Capital, its image resonant in the hearts and minds of all Western Australians.

Its planning and development demand creative self-awareness. Until now, there has been no understanding of what a “capital city” really means – in terms of vision, design, or governance. Neither this present report nor its predecessors show an understanding of the difference between the city  as the focus of a large metropolitan region, or as simply the locus of major State institutions, or of the notion of a true “Capital City“ and what this means in both planning and administrative terms.

Illustrative of this lack has been an ongoing pattern within Perth’s central area of major development projects (government and others) on an uncoordinated basis, under the auspices of different Government agencies, and with great opportunities lost.

While the WAPC report has value as a source document, it has a view seemingly limited to what might constitute “capital city places.” The recent PCC “Urban Design Framework” also deals with the central area, and while both contain ideas worth pursuing, neither addresses the broader notion of a “capital city” nor gives it a guiding role in these concepts.

What constitutes a “Capital City” and what would a vision for it comprise? How should it operate and how does the current situation fail to achieve this?

Perth’s success as a true State Capital should primarily be a matter for State Government itself, at a level above that of agencies such as the WAPC, directly responsible to Parliament through the Premier and Cabinet.

There should be new legislation to establish a State Capital Development Commission or similar body whose task is to establish a vision and policies for the Capital and to direct other agencies in their capital works as well as local government in its development control within a set boundary.

There are many examples of how this should and could be approached.



Part 1

The City of Perth: a Capital City in name only – p4

Knowing what a capital city needs to be a Capital City

The Council of Australian Government’s Capital City strategic planning systems

Part 2

Critique and commentary on the Capital City Planning Framework 2011- p8

Beginnings: Network city and Directions 2031

The failures of the Capital City Planning Framework report

Part 3

The problem stated – p10

Part 4

Making the City of Perth a Capital City is the responsibility
of the State Government – p11

The need for special Capital City legislation

Capital City financing

Part 5

Planning and Design Issues with the Present System – p12

Piecemeal development in the lack of a coherent Capital City Plan

Part 6

A Vision for the Capital City – p14

Perth, a City Beautiful -– essential characteristics as design elements

Applying these principles: Perth 2012-2031


Part 7 – p15

Specific Projects within a “Masterplan” approach

Relevant Precedents


Part 1

The City of Perth: a Capital City in name only

From its foundation in 1829 as a crown colony, Perth has always been the seat of the government of Western Australia. Nevertheless, although often referred to as a capital city, the municipality of the City of Perth (created in 1858) has neither been formally recognised by legislation as capital city, nor given special powers in recognition of its capital city role. Instead, as the seat of government, the City of Perth has housed a scattering of government buildings, each designed to accommodate one or other of the state government’s legislative and executive functions. Only Parliament House, standing proud looking down St George’s Terrace, might seem to betoken Perth’s role the state capital. But even this is deceptive as Parliament House was originally built to face Parliament Square; and not as it does now, look down on the city along St George’s Terrace.

Thought by some to have been inspired by the eighteenth century capital city layout of Edinburgh, the colonial government’s first offices were originally located in what was intended to a large central government precinct between William and Barrack Streets, south of Wellington Street. Vestiges of this proposal remain in the locations of the old Treasury and Land Department Buildings, the Law Courts, the old Perth Town Hall, the Anglican Cathedral, and Government House as a cluster of buildings at the southern end of the precinct. Stirling Street, still one of Perth’s widest streets, was intended provide a triumphal entry to the precinct from the north.

The nearest Perth ever got to the fundamentally civic character of capital city planning and design was Assistant Government Architect William Hardwick’s, 1911 proposal to remove the railways yards, underground the Fremantle-Midland line as far west as Subiaco, and convert the land above to the west of the Perth Station into a grassy Mall, graced by public buildings, terminating at its western end in a circus or a “Parisian etoile” on which nine streets were to converge.

Inspired by the American City Beautiful Movement and the 1901 McMillan Commission’s proposals for a great mall in Washington DC, this brief and only formal effort at capital city making was associated with an attempt by Perth City Council, under the influence of the British Greater City Movement, to create a Greater Perth. This would have required not only taking over all Perth’s existing suburban local governments, but also all the land into which future urban growth would occur. Had it succeeded, the current metropolitan region would have been governed by a single Greater City of Perth Council closely resembling the Greater City of Brisbane established in 1923.

Having failed in the attempt, Perth City Council found itself in an enlarged council of 27 members dominated by the priorities and interests of 18 suburban councillors who were in virtual control of a rate-based income, almost 70 per cent of which, to their detriment, came from the city proper’s commercial rate payers. Consequently, little was done post World War II to enhance the interests of the city proper.

The 1955 Hepburn-Stephenson Plan did little to help as, in recommending zoning  most of the city’s inner residential areas into commercial, business and industrial uses, it paid little regard either to the city’s role as a capital city, or to its importance as essentially a civic place. By failing to make a clear distinction between Perth as a city and Perth as a region, the Stephenson plan used (capitalised) Central Area of Perth and alternatively Perth Central Area to describe what is properly speaking the territory under the jurisdiction of the City of Perth: Stephenson’s terms are still in use by the Western Australian Planning Authority.[1]

Apart from introducing land use and development controls, the Stephenson Plan did almost nothing by way of civic development and city making in the public realm: the lack of which, especially when compared with the wholesale private redevelopment of the core along St George’s Terrace, was much to the detriment of the city’s appearance. The passage of the East Perth Redevelopment Act in 1991 with the immediate aim of redeveloping a rundown area along the then sewer-like Claise Brook marked a new beginning.

Elsewhere, opportunities for a truly civic response worthy of a capital city along the lines laid down by William Hardwick 100 years ago were lost in a number of places. As examples, we may cite the current proposals for the redevelopment of the 12 hectares of centrally located derelict railway land and the failure to appreciate the civic importance of the land between Newcastle and Aberdeen all of which was in public ownership almost as a single lot. These are two of examples of a failure to grasp the fact that capital city making is, above all, a civic enterprise with design imperatives and aspirations reflecting the affairs of state, and not of municipalities. And, in democracies, this means that capital cities are created out of a desire to express in civic form the high ideals of the people to whom their capital city belongs. For example, in describing Ottawa as the nation’s capital, the Canadian National Capital Commission says:

A capital is more than a city; it is an expression of the country in general and a gathering place for its citizens. Canada’s Capital Region belongs to all Canadians. Even more importantly, as the seat of government; it represents a place of national symbols; Canada’s face to the world; a cultural showcase ….. [and] a source of pride for Canadians.

The Canadian National Capital Commission also works in alliance with Canada’s provincial capitals extending its own ideals such that “Canadian capital cities represent all residents within the province or territory, and reflect the culture, pride and symbolism of their distinct regions.” Similarly, the Australian National Capital Development Commission (1957-89) described it work as “shaping the environment in which people live, work and experience Australia’s national capital. It thus had the effect of shaping civil society through its setting, rather than through its laws.”

In its May 2003 Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, now named as the National Capital Authority, it had this to say:

The Australian experience of Canberra as the National Capital is similar to that of the capital cities of other democratic nations, notably Washington DC in the United States of America and Ottawa in Canada. All three nations have sought to establish their capitals as special places for their citizens and have taken a consistent and profound interest in their planning, development and cultural significance.

All have a history of statutory federal agencies responsible for the capital on behalf of their federal government. Each also has a defined relationship with ‘city’ government jurisdictions. In Washington DC the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), established in 1952, continues to be responsible for planning, federal capital improvements and reviewing significant development projects. The predecessor of the NCPC, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, was created in 1926. In Ottawa, the National Capital Commission (NCC) established in 1959, continues to be responsible for planning, development approval and enhancement works, and for fostering Canadian awareness of the capital. The predecessor of the NCC, the Ottawa Improvement Commission, was created in 1899. (Emphasis added)

It is interesting to note that in both Ottawa and Canberra, what were formerly planning and constructional authorities are the stewards of the cities they created: leaving much of the day to running to their respective popularly elected municipal governments.

Although originally created to redevelop derelict lands in East Perth, the East Perth Development Authority (EPRA) has increasingly become the state government’s de facto City of Perth development authority exercising the super planning powers expected of a capital development authority as it spreads its control beyond its original boundary into central Perth. But without the requisite drives of a capital city making authority.

Knowing what a capital city needs to be a Capital City

In 1993, after a considerable amount of lobbying by then Perth Chamber of Commerce together with the Property Council of Western Australia parliament passed the City of Perth Restructuring Act replacing the old Perth City Council with a new City of Perth Council and, by separating the city from its suburban wards, returned Perth to approximately its original 1858 boundaries. By removing approximately 60,000 residential inhabitants and placing them in three newly created local governments, the new city council was given a clearer idea as to what its priorities were. Unfortunately, the government of the day lacked the courage to adopt an additional recommendation, made to its predecessor by a consortium of bodies, that it also create a joint city-state capital city planning authority to:

Undertake the planning and development control roles presently divided between the City of Perth, the State Planning commission, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Department of Planning and Urban Development, the Swan River Trust, the Minister’s Liaison Committee and the Central Areas Technical Advisory Committee. [2]

The AIUS submission proposed that the authority should have its own staff operating under the authority of a joint equi-member city and state authority binding on both parties. The authority was to work with a Capital City Municipality “with a sufficient capital base to create a capital city for all Western Australia.”

The government’s failure to include in the 1993 Restructuring Act the recommendation that it also create statutory capital city authority, was compounded two years later when a Local Government Act failed differentiate between the powers and responsibilities of the City of Perth as the presumed Capital City, and the smallest of Western Australia’s bush local authority, did much to frustrate the work of the new council: at least from the point of view it working jointly with the state government as a single planning authority.

The 1992 AIUS report also drew attention to the fact that in a long history of inquiries into how the City of Perth should be planned and governed, none took up the capital city role as a first priority. In its defence, the state government may argue that the City of Perth was the state’s most-favoured city among many: but to accept this argument is to make the City of Perth little more than a “Bigger Bunbury.”[3]

This is not to deny the importance of such state government contributions to the city in what are essentially capital city functions such as the State’ Library, Museum, Art Gallery and, most recently, the State Theatre Centre opened in 2011. But, one has only to compare Adelaide’s Festival Theatre complex, opened in 1973, with the former Perth City Council’s Concert Hall opened in the same year and the long delayed state government backed Theatre Centre to see the difference between the two cities and their state governments.

The City of Perth is both a capital and a primate city. The distinction lies in the fact that whereas state and national capitals relate to expressions of the intangibles of identity and pride of a nation or state strong enough to guide its planning and development, in public architecture and in major works and public improvements; a primate city as the state’s most important social, economic, cultural, and administrative centre is a place of business and private interests and concern and best managed and developed by a municipal system of government. This means that the two functions may not, and indeed, should not have exactly the same aspiration because of their different priorities. However, when put together and done well, capital and primate cities can create unexpected synergies and benefits for both parties. It is in this that Perth has failed.

The problem arises largely because there seems to be no awareness or understanding of what a “Capital City” could and should be like: or how it should function and what are its critical elements. There is no vision of large-scale urban design structures, movement patterns, focal-points, splendid streets or civic spaces, squares or urban parks; all elements vital to the identification of a city as a capital place.

Perth as the capital of and for all Western Australia should aspire now to acquire an urbane civic character: a civic presence in its major streets and spaces; beauty in its public works and civic construction. There should be the “feel” of a capital city reflected in a free flow of people, traffic, and activity; a generosity in its places and thoroughfares; there should be spaces to accommodate civic activities, parades and gatherings, monuments and vistas.

This is not a reflection upon anyone; the lack exists because no one appears to have fully grasped the idea of what a capital city is and should be.

The Council of Australian Government’s Capital city strategic planning systems

The genesis of the Western Australian Planning Commission’s Capital City Planning Framework Council (2011) lies in the Council of Australian Governments’ 7 December 2009 meeting at which it was agreed that the states would present at the Council’s February 2012 meeting their responses to a “tick a box” list of nine-criteria for future strategic planning of capital cities. As none of the nine points actually refers to the very special character of a capital city: or even refers to them as seats of government, the list does nothing to advance the idea of a capital city as such. Nor are there really any references to cities as urban design challenges. In short, COAG task force is about Australia’s metropolitan regions and their relations to each other and their respective state urban networks. By doing so, it directs attention away from the capital city role of capital cities.

Part 2

Critique and commentary on the Capital City Planning Framework 2011

The main thrust of the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) report Capital City Planning Framework: a vision for Central Perth is directed toward an arbitrarily defined rectilinear 144 hectare area comprising; at its approximate centre, what it calls the “central area,” plus what it calls a “frame” of local authority suburban areas. Apart from being roughly co-terminus with the old 1950s public transport tramway and trolley-bus system, it includes what the report calls a “knowledge triangle” based on Edith Cowan University to the North, the University of Western Australia and its accompanying QE II Hospital complex to the Southwest, and, to complete the triangle, with Curtin University and Bentley Technology Park in the Southwest corner.

Beginnings: Network city and Directions 2031

Sub-titled a “vision for Central Perth” the Capital City Planning Framework (CCPF) report, is the latest in a series of reports expanding on the policy directions laid down in WAPC’s earlier report, Directions 2031: Draft Spatial Framework for Perth and Peel (2009). This report articulates the earlier “network city” concept introduced during the course of a carefully orchestrated one-day community mass meeting involving more than 1,000 participants held on 13 September 2003. In the following year, after further meetings with selected groups, the WAPC published an elaborated version entitled Network city: a community planning strategy for Perth and Peel as a policy document.

Directions 2031 structured the Perth and Peel Region (better called Greater Perth) into six-subregions and, further developing the network city concept, identified a seven-level hierarchy of “activity spaces”:

Perth central area
(The City of Perth)
Primary centres
(e.g. Rockingham)
Strategic centres
(divided into cities, special centres and industrial centres)
Regional centres
District centres
(divided into town and industrial centres)
Neighbourhood centres
Local centres

Of these seven levels, the overwhelming majority are to be found in the Central sub-region, clustered around what it calls the “Perth central area” which presumably means the City of Perth.

In this light, the notable absence of any direct reference to the City of Perth in either the CCPF or the Directions 2031 reports seems, to say the least, decidedly odd when the entire Perth – Peel metropolitan region (Greater Perth) revolves and is structured around the City of Perth. Why this should be so is not explained, but neither of the above two reports, despite a diligent search, contain or use the words “City of Perth.”

The failures of the Capital City Planning Framework report

Although the Capital City Framework report contains much useful information and many good ideas, it fails to advance its central proposition, implicit in its title, that what it consistently refers to as “Central Perth” is the capital city. Indeed, in reading this report one begins to wonder whether the report has in mind the amalgamation of all the local authorities within the boundaries of the 144 hectare “frame.” A similar “frame” is also depicted in the City of Perth’s planning report a vision for Perth: an urban design framework. Published in 2010, the year before the WAPC capital city report, the city’s vision makes 25 references Perth as the capital city most importantly in the following words:

As the capital city of Western Australia and its centre of commerce and government, the City of Perth Council will have: • Effective working relationships with neighbouring local governments, State and Federal governments • Expanded to include neighbouring precincts to make the City of Perth more effective (p. 21 Emphasis added)

The emphasised words in this quotation seem to confirm the impression that amalgamation with a view to recreating a thoroughly discredited system of city government is a possibility.

Since it is central to our commentary that the City of Perth’s boundaries as established in 1993 are co-terminus what CityVision believes should regarded as the State Capital City of Western Australia, and defined by a prospective special act of parliament, then both reports fail to understand that capital cities are in fact creatures unto themselves. As this fundamental point will be taken up later in this commentary, it suffices to say here that the Directions 2031 seven rank central space hierarchy needs to be capped by an eighth level: the Capital City.[4] In this regard, one need only compare and contrast Canada with the United States of America. In Canada, with the exception of Quebec, provincial (state) capitals are all in the largest cities; whereas in the United States, only 17 of 50 states have their capital cities in the most populous city. The data also reveals, especially for those capitals which are not the state’s largest populated areas, how important government is as a driving force in population growth: only seven state capitals still without a surrounding metropolitan region.

This leads one to question the validity of both the CCPF and the City of Perth’s idea of   a capital city operating within a wider “frame.” If it does, then the only meaningful frame is that provided by Directions 2031 more natural Central sub-region where the roles played by the City of Perth in its functions as capital and primate city and head of a seven level central place hierarchy, have their greatest impact.

Part 3

The problem stated

CityVision has always argued in support of a single joint state and city government planning and development agency. However, the idea first saw the light of day in the deliberations of the old Perth Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Affairs Committee and was subsequently debated at various seminars and conferences: most of which were organised under the auspices of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies (AIUS).

After years of fruitless debate, in June 1992 the AIUS made a submission to the then Premier, the Hon. Carmen Lawrence MLA on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and CityVision, “inviting the government of Western Australia to establish a new administrative structure for Perth to meet the objectives of the Capital City of Western Australia.” The submission was titled Capital City Planning for the Capital of Western Australia. It was edited by the then National Chairman of the AIUS, Max Hipkins.

The report, a compilation of seven documents covering the period 1897-1991,  drew attention to the fact that the idea of joint city-state planning of what was then first referred to as the Perth CBD to distinguish it from the remaining suburban localities, (since separated) had been around for a long time: informally since the early 1970s. It had been first put forward formally to the state government in an AIUS submission in connection with the Draft Planning bill in 1987. This was in part inspired by the City of Adelaide Development Control Act (1976). The 1992 AIUS submission to the Premier and government was based substantially on the two reports. First, as was previously mentioned, the Chamber of Commerce Report plus another from CityVision.

In addition to providing a summary of its main points in its text, the AIUS submission also included complete versions of most of the supporting papers, including a full version of the report prepared by Emeritus Professor Martyn Webb for the Chamber of Chamber and Industry and adopted by the Chamber as policy.

In the following year, the Property Council commissioned the later Dr David Carr and former Planning Commissioner to follow up AIUS submission’s request for the separation of the ring of suburbs from the then Perth City Council’s jurisdiction. Working closely with the then Premier, the Hon Richard Court, Dr Carr’s lobbying led to the passage of the previously mentioned City of Perth Restructuring Act (1993). Unfortunate the Premier, the first Western Australian premier ever to show a real interest in the planning of the city of Perth, refused to consider setting up a joint city-state planning authority on the grounds that “it was undemocratic.”


Part 4

Making the City of Perth a Capital City is the responsibility
of the State Government

Modern capital city making is largely the product of the emergence of European nation states during late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Some capitals cities were built from scratch, as with St Petersburg. Others, by adapting existing cities, Paris is a very good example, took capital city making as an opportunity to modernise an existing city. In either case, they were designed to be the very epitome of a nation or a state, uniting peoples and their governments as organic wholes. In the United States of America, capital cities were created to house the legislative and executive branches of governments as symbols of democracy; whereas European capital cities were more expressions of nationhood and state as personified by their autocratic rulers. Nevertheless, both types were intended to make statements about their national origins: often through great processional avenues, prominent public buildings, street layouts and street alignments, as well as public spaces, including squares, parks gardens and parklands. In brief, capital cities were and remain essentially messages to be read and understood by its citizens and admired by visitors. However, no matter how large the city, the capital city function always confined to a precinct covering a small area relatively small area. This applies just as much to London as a capital city as it does to Washington DC, or even more modern Brasilia. For Western Australia, the City of Perth provides such a precinct.

The need for special Capital City legislation

Had the 1993 Restructuring Act gone through as its advocates had intended the reconstituted close-in City of Perth would have been declared the State Capital. But it was not. The first task, therefore, would be to introduce a parliamentary bill formally declaring the City of Perth to be the State Capital of Western Australia. The State Capital bill should be a charter or constitution setting out the means by which the city capital council would operate jointly with the state government as a municipality.

The second task would be, as a companion to the Capital City Act, to draft a State Capital Development Commission Bill having the following characteristics:

·         Directly responsible to Parliament;

·         Be directed a commissioned comprising persons representing;

The City of Perth Council,

The Parliament of the State of Western Australia,

The Government of the State of Western Australia,

·         Persons appointed by the Governor of Western Australia to represent;

The people of country and remote Western Australia

The Aboriginal people;

·         Chaired by a Commissioner with a proven record in comprehensive urban planning and design.

The Commissioner should:

·         Be appointed by and report at least once a year to Parliament;

·         Have an independent budget and deal directly with the Treasury;

·         Have control over an independent staff;

The Commission should:

·         As its first priority, select a consultant group or persons competitively selected by an international competition or tender to draw up a draft master plan capable of being developed within 25 years for submission to the parliament:

·         Have transferred to it all the powers of the East Perth Redevelopment Authority which will then cease to exist, together such other powers as may be required together as such additional staff as also may be required;

·         Have seconded to it for as long as is required the staff of the City of Perth Planning department to work collaboratively with the commission with special regard to the granting of approvals and making recommendations to the City of Perth council on municipal planning matters having regard to the Commission’s Capital City Plans, policies and development controls.

Capital City financing

The financing of such a hall mark project as making the City of Perth a true capital city requires rethinking how civic projects are financed. Overseas experience has shown various methods including the raising of money through the issue of bonds.

Funding for these major works may come from a variety of sources, including the present Metropolitan Improvement Fund (and perhaps a specific central-area extension of it,) returns from the sale and development of government land, the issue of municipal bonds and not excluding Perth City Council’s own substantial resources. All participants need to have a real sense of ownership, of commitment and of inclusion in what should be an evolving, long-term development programme.

The matter is raised here to indicate that the financing of such an important project has to be considered if a sustained development is to occur independently of the day to day vicissitudes and vagaries of state financial planning.

Part 5

Planning and Design Issues with the Present System –

Perth is a potentially great Regional Capital – Australia’s gateway to the Indian Ocean and to ever-growing South-east Asian economies. At the same time, it is a pivot-point for the vast mining activities allied to this, and for consequent commercial prosperity. As a result of accompanying natural and immigrant population growth, the Perth central area is itself at the hub of a continually-expanding metropolitan region, and of mounting inner-city residential, office employment and prime retailing activity.

Since WWII, it has become the headquarters of a great northern mining boom. The opportunities offered by this new wealth are enormous, and now Perth is beginning to see itself anew – as the capital city of a vast Western State, encompassing all these activities and much more – in terms of cultural, civic, educational, tourism and a wide range of other activities concomitant with a major centre in this context. Importantly, it is – and should aspire to grow as – the centre of focus in the minds and hearts of all Western Australians.

However, it has yet to find an appropriate image for itself, a grander vision by which to guide its planning and development decisions, new major works or public improvements. It has a beautiful waterside setting and peripheral parklands, but has relatively narrow streets and no internal structure of spaces and places worthy of a great “capital city”. There is no awareness of what a “Capital City” could be like – how it may function and what elements are crucial to establish. There is no vision of larger-scale movement patterns or focal-points to cope with inner-city growth – few central places, splendid streets or civic spaces, squares or urban parks vital to Capital City liveability, image, and function.

Perth should aspire now to acquire an urbane civic character: a civic presence in its major streets and spaces; beauty in its public works and civic construction. There should be the “feel” of a capital city reflected in a free flow of people, traffic, and activity; a generosity in its places and thoroughfares; there should be spaces to accommodate civic activities, parades and gatherings, monuments and vistas.

Piecemeal development in the lack of a coherent Capital City Plan


There have been major planning decisions in the past and currently which, given an overall plan for the structure and vision of a capital city would surely have been made differently. These have generally been in terms of the location of major public development and infrastructure on what may have seemed logical case-by- case, but were really ad- hoc.


For example, the location of a (second) major bus station on prime land at the foot of the central business area; the placement of the PCEC in a visually unattractive location nearby; the new indoor stadium with its constricted access; the Northbridge Police Station supplanting a planned (and necessary) Fitzgerald Street bridge; the new State Theatre on a cramped and unremarkable site; all these would well have been better located in a co-ordinated scheme.

In terms of traffic flow through and around the city, similar decisions have been made: for example the deletion of the Fitzgerald-Milligan Street bridge removes a much-needed northern access route; the narrowing of major east-west routes at Newcastle and Wellington Streets and St Georges Terrace; the proposed cutting of a major east-west by-pass/access route in Riverside Drive by the Perth Waterfront scheme; all these will substantially restrict movement and access (in a city which aspires  to greater user-friendliness).

These decisions have no doubt been made in the best interests of a particular development, but the existence of an overall scheme, vision and plan would surely have found better, more co-ordinated solutions. Taken individually as they have been, they lack the visual linkages, vistas and end-views, for example, in the placement and interaction of major civic elements.

They also lack the understanding that the introduction of increased development densities together with new street-based public transport systems will both demand and create the opportunity for wider “boulevards” and “avenues” which will allow space for different transport modes and will greatly enhance street “useability” as well as beauty.

More specifically, the present WAPC report treats the “capital city” as the focus point of a range of major state functions, noting as a “key concept” (5.1.2) Perth as “a city of capital city places.” Its three main “precincts” are in reality cobbled-together groupings of existing features. While valid as far as it goes, it is a limited “town planning” approach; in the end, it remains piecemeal and is blind to the image and potential of a true capital city.

The document is also too detailed, covering issues best dealt with at a different scale, and it is far too wide in area – 144 square kilometres –taking in three tertiary institutions etcetera, which have no real connection with the capital, functionally or otherwise.

For administrative clarity and practicality, the area of the capital city should be limited to the municipal boundaries of the City of Perth.

Part 6

A Vision for the Capital City – Perth, a City Beautiful

Essential characteristics as design elements

Increasing inner-city residential population has begun to express a new urban lifestyle, while it is clear that movement across the city – as the central hub in a fast-expanding metropolitan region – is no longer measured exclusively in “journey-to-work “ terms, but has become an issue to be dealt with throughout the day.

In terms of planning design, capital city concepts to be pursued would include ideas of public spaces “imageable” in the minds of citizens; major streets, for example, expanded for their own sake as places to live and recreate as a kind of stage for the expanding populace, as connecting corridors between key points of the city, and as thoroughfares for both old and new modes of transport.

In preparing any plan for the capital, it is essential to take a holistic approach. Public (and significant private) development projects should be assessed not only on their own merits, but in relation to overall parameters. These could include, for example,

  • In terms of the translation of city-centre-specific needs for projects and infrastructure, there is an important differentiation to be made between a “Capital City” approach and any other location – either in the State or the Metropolitan area.
  • This should reflect the role that Perth City holds in the imagination of all Western Australians (and of visitors) as the main centre for all community functions; and more than that, as an excellent and beautiful city in which to live and work.
  • There need be less emphasis on individual developments – as community projects – having to pay for themselves. Net loss projects can be developed in conjunction with projects that offer an economic return by ‘shifting value’.
  • This would also apply to heritage sites in relation to bonuses etc. (including setting up a bank for transferable development bonuses/credits).
  • Recognition that there may be cases where substantial public expenditure is required to achieve a greater ‘capital city’ outcome, such as in the creation of new public spaces, and roads wide enough to accommodate new public transport.
  • The city itself has a beautiful setting but few internal parks; we have large open spaces on the fringes but not in the centre. There should be greater focus inward on public spaces and places.
  • Movement into, out of and around the city – by public as well as private transport – should be as smooth, as open  and as flowing as possible, without un-necessary constrictions;
  • In response to this thrust, streets and other public spaces should be arranged and designed with broad vistas flowing into beautiful places, celebrating the Capital City idea. We should consider wider “boulevards” and “avenues” as routes not just for motor vehicles and public transport, but as settings for major public and private buildings.
  • The emphasis should be on visual amenity; in streets, parks, public monuments, and buildings. Perth’s streetscapes and public places should have a degree of dignity and beauty befitting a capital city.
  • As a general Capital City theme for the future layout of Perth city centre, we should be thinking in terms of bringing traffic and public (road) transport in and along major “streams” – both in a visual and functional sense – such as from the west and east along Wellington Street and St Georges Terrace, and around the city along Riverside Drive, from the north (apart from the Mitchell Freeway) along Fitzgerald, William, Beaufort and Lord Streets etc, and from the south (apart from the Kwinana Freeway) along Mounts Bay Road into The Esplanade. These are the routes that require “design attention” as integral components of the Capital City structure.
  • Certainly there should be better connectivity at all scales – pedestrian, cycle and public transport connectivity as well as vehicular traffic. This points, for example, to an urgent re-assessment of plans to cut Riverside Drive at the proposed Perth Waterfront project.


Funding for these major works may come from a variety of sources, including the present Metropolitan Improvement Fund (and perhaps a specific central-area extension of it,) returns from the sale and development of government land, the issue of municipal bonds and not excluding Perth City Council’s own substantial resources. All participants need to have a real sense of ownership, of commitment and of inclusion in what should be an evolving, long-term

Part 7

Applying these principles: Perth 2012-2031

Specific Projects within a “Masterplan” approach

While many of the ideas canvassed in the WAPC and PCC reports may be worthwhile in themselves, their relevance to enhancing the “capital city” vision would be re-examined within this context. A Masterplan or structure plan for the Capital City area would be developed as a continuing community exercise to examine and determine “capital city elements.”

This may (and should) entail planning for new or widened roads capable of accommodating public transport as well as greater volumes of traffic; major public works and even a new underground railway; implementation of new major public spaces; the Perth Foreshore development – all such projects should be undertaken in a co-ordinated fashion within the context of an overall plan and programme – with an overarching aim of endowing Perth with a memorable image  and fabric commensurate with its newly understood Capital City status..

As an indication, there may be an examination of the following elements, for example:

  • Establish a broader vision of the centre in which streets, for example offer themselves as having true “capital city” character – for instance Wellington Street, a potential east-west boulevard running across the north of the city from West Perth and extending east across the Swan to Burswood – not with a two-lane restricted flow, but as a wider street with breadth reflecting its potential as a determinant of the Capital City character, and allowing a range of transport modes as well as the setting for grander buildings, offering a new entrance point for the city.
  • Establish a Building Procurement and Approval Process that delivers truly great buildings. Initiatives such as ‘SEP 65’ and ‘Design for Excellence’ initiatives, as applied in Sydney, might go some way to  achieving this but it will require a tri-partied approach involving  government, developers and the design professions.
  • Central Railway / Northbridge City Link project – this should include  a major public open space focus, rather than its present prime real-estate development character, and to increase the presently-restricted  northern entrance to the city, find means to . Introduce a new “Horseshoe Bridge” connecting Fitzgerald with Milligan Street (to replace the bridge allowed for in the Metropolitan Region Scheme.)
  • Perth Foreshore – achieve a more balanced approach to development on the foreshore, with lower buildings and, again to ensure proper flow, to reverse the decision to cut Riverside Drive and introduce an elegant road bridge (replacing the presently-planned and inappropriate island).
  • Bridging the Mitchell Freeway – to better connect and integrate Perth and West Perth, and importantly, to provide a focus for the St Georges Terrace western vista, and a public-space setting or forecourt for Parliament House and a symbolic major undertaking for the city – a role which should take precedence over its undoubted cost.
  • Gateway / Riverside Project – a potential example of ‘shifting value’ development – the need to examine further what is offered back to the City in return for granting development rights on the foreshore.
  • Inner City Transport – light rail (or new hybrid trolley-buses) connected to adjacent suburbs, with CAT buses as a first stage – different CAT or other systems need better integration, and acceptance of the reality that with new public transport links as well as increased inner-city densities there may well be need for wider roads to accommodate new demand.
  • Review and rationalise CBD traffic pattern / flow – not with the aim necessarily of increasing numbers but to allow more efficient movement, reducing trip lengths and improving the pedestrian experience while enhancing the “capital city” vision.

  • Cathedral Square development, as part of an expanded inner-city public-space system.
  • Cultural Centre redevelopment.
  • Stirling Street Precinct – ripe for development.
  • Murray Street/Milligan Street / Wellington Street Precinct needs further detailed consideration in context of new Wellington Street underground railway station.

Relevant Precedents

Perth is often hailed for its local self-sufficiency, individuality, creativity, and resilience – the negative aspects of which can result in narrow parochial outcomes. In addition, there are myriad government agencies with diverse – frequently competing – responsibilities impinging on planning and development control; even if a coherent vision were to emerge, no over-riding mechanism exists for co-ordination and implementation.

There are issues for all relevant agencies and local government to aspire to. But these administrations may have different briefs, aims and goals, leaving the present system uncoordinated, incapable of achieving the capital city envisaged. We need not simply an over-riding bureaucracy or super-department, but a functioning body, responsible to Parliament, whose  purpose is to plan, design and build the capital city’s elements; for example  to acquire and dispose of land; to  widen roads; to create civic spaces.

There are many instances in recent history of Capital Cities either begun anew or substantially redeveloped. Of the former there are for example Washington, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Brasilia and of course Canberra.  Most famous of the latter is Paris, notable not only for its resultant beauty, but for its modus operandi in the financing and funding of comprehensive redevelopment over a period of 18 years.

This is the scope of vision that Perth needs and should aspire to. It should be grand in the scale of its aspiration and not be constrained by seeming obstacles. Perth does not require comprehensive reconstruction on the scale of Paris for example, but should examine the need for funding mechanisms suitable to its aims. Again, it should not resile from the type of comprehensive redevelopment of a “city beautiful” nature (say on the scale of its recent Southern Railway, Northbridge City Link or Waterfront projects) as and if they entail road widening, the creation of real boulevards and/or the introduction of major public squares and open space.

Ralph Stanton
Martyn Webb

[1] Since CityVision has always regarded the City of Perth to be synonymous with the Capital City of Western Australia, it will follow this more accurate description of it as the capital city. Likewise, this commentary will refer to the entire Perth urban agglomeration either as Metropolitan Perth, or the Perth Metropolitan Region: and the Perth-Peel Region, as Greater Perth.


[2] Australian Institute of Urban Studies, Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Western Australia and CityVision Capital City Planning for Perth: The Capital City of Western Australia AIUS, Perth, 1992, pp. 115.

[3] As of course it is under the Local Government (1995) – just another local authority enjoying the same powers.

[4] It is not generally appreciated that the topmost level of any hierarchy must include within its boundaries all the other elements: i.e. all but the lowest level of inherently multilevel systems.

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