Blackburne Property Group's Paul Blackburne and his father John Blackburne. Pictured at Subiaco Square. 27 March 2019 Picture: Danella Bevis The West Australian

Subiaco’s renewal echoes down the decades

Source: The West Australian

Twenty-two years ago John Blackburne was one of the joint venture partners in the $120 million Subiaco Square, then the biggest urban renewal project not just in WA but in the country.

By this time next year his youngest son Paul, founder of Blackburne Property Group, hopes to have started building work on his $235 million Subiaco Pavilion Markets redevelopment, which has won overwhelming public support inside and outside Subiaco.

In the mid-1990s, John Blackburne of Blackburne Real Estate and joint venture partners Stockland and Rockingham Park (later Summit Homes), may not have been the highest bidders for the land but they had the best design concept and were regarded as financially secure.

“The Subiaco Redevelopment Authority did a good job of setting up the framework, making the rules very clear,” John Blackburne said, adding that there had been extensive community consultation before the developers were even selected.

“From a developer point of view it worked very well.”

Areas like Station Square, essentially reclaimed industrial land, acted as catalyst for other projects nearby in much the same way contemporary business owners in Subiaco hope the redeveloped derelict market site will reignite the foot traffic essential for local business to thrive and to generate the energy to reactivate the Subiaco town centre.

John Blackburne said once work started on Subiaco Square, owner-occupiers started buying nearby housing lots, triggering a huge flow on investment in housing and other nearby development. There was a bit of scepticism about whether 200 apartments near a railway station would sell.

“But people do want to live near vibrant centres and transport — and they did in the late 90s,” he said, adding Subiaco Square was also Perth’s first transport- oriented development.

Now, two decades later, Blackburne managing director Paul Blackburne is confident Perth residents will open their wallets to back his claims that there is substantial unmet demand for a diverse range of housing options, particularly the signature Blackburne big, high-end apartments in good locations.

“There’s a massive shortage,” Paul Blackburne said, adding he was confident of meeting a $100 million in Subiaco Pavilion Markets apartment sales target within six months. He predicts 60 per cent of buyers will be local owner-occupiers and downsizers, with the remaining 40 per cent from outside the western suburbs.

“If we can keep it about quality density in the right locations, it can really be the guiding principle for all planning,” he said, adding that discretion on building height should be used as a negotiating tool to ensure developments deliver public benefit.

Paul Blackburne started Blackburne Property Group in 2003.

Speaking about the What We Thought Would Kill Us study, Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker said it was clear the level of angst about some projects previously seen as contentious was, with hindsight, unnecessary.

“What’s always surprised me is that during the height of the boom we were knocking down one and a half football fields a day of bush … and there was not a murmur (despite a common view that) natural beauty and the landscape is so important to everybody who lives in Perth,” she said.

“Yet a very modest apartment block can see us in hysteria. There is a disconnect.”

Ms Fulker said WA’s planning and development frameworks were in an “embryonic state” and the case for density had yet to be made. However, she said density in appropriate locations near public transport needed to be sold and State and local governments needed to work together to do this.

Former Barnett government planning minister John Day was instrumental in an early push to introduce bipartisan density targets.