Plans for a backpackers hostel at world heritage-listed Fremantle prison have divided local councillors despite being backed by the State Government and WA’s Heritage Council.
The proposal by Youth Hostels Australia WA is for a 62-bedroom hostel for up to 214 people at the jail’s former female division.
Two temporary buildings would be built as extensions for accommodation and another would be constructed with kitchen and bathroom facilities.
Conservation work would be done on the existing building and an extension built in 1993 would be demolished.
YHA also wants to build an above-ground swimming pool and decking within the exercise yard by the western boundary wall.
The women’s prison was in use from 1886 to 1970, when it was replaced by Bandyup prison. It was then used as an education centre before the prison was decommissioned in 1991, and is unoccupied after being used by TAFE from 1996 to 2008.
The plans attracted nine public submissions, most of them positive, though concerns were raised about noise, parking and whether a pool was appropriate. The Heritage Council said it supported the proposal subject to eight conditions, including no swimming pool.
Last week, the council’s planning committee voted down the plans 4-3, saying the backpackers would detrimentally impact the “exceptional cultural heritage significance” of the prison.
The matter goes to a full council meeting on Wednesday, when councillors will decide on a recommendation to the WA Planning Commission, which has the final say.
Fremantle councillor John Dowson, a vocal heritage advocate, said the plans were too intensive for such a significant historic site.
“The ink’s fairly dry on a world-heritage listing,” he said. “You cannot get more significant than that.”
The State-owned prison is managed by the Department of Treasury and Finance.
The department has offered YHA a 10-year lease costing $105,000 per year.