It’s hard to believe that 14 February 2014 marked 15 years
since 400 people rallied opposite the Matilda Bay Brewery in North
Fremantle. We weren’t picketing boutique beer makers, we were
flabbergasted by Westrail’s plans to turn the Leighton marshalling
yards and dunes into a housing development.
We wanted a coastal reserve to protect natural processes and
recreational space, and a guarantee of unfettered beach access.
Maintaining those enticing coastal views from Stirling Highway was also
high on the list for many.
1999 was a frenetic year, when the Leighton-saving community was
galvanised. After that first impromptu rally, the campaign soon
gathered pace and became all-consuming. You may remember the wall of
hessian along Stirling Highway that read: “Now you see it, now you
don’t.” It was ripped down every few days, but we got it back, and up
it went, time and time again.
Westrail selected the ‘Leighton Shores’ consortium from six tenderers
and many were shocked to see what amounted to wall-to-wall housing,
with much-reduced public space and limited beach access.
In the meantime, people flocked to a community workshop where an
alternative vision took shape. Interest from the media increased, and
people came in droves to working meetings and manned our road-show. We
discovered that people from over 60 suburbs used Leighton. Opposition
parties began to make helpful noises.
The people who lent a hand came from every walk of life and political
leaning but all agreed that this coast deserved better, no matter what.
Unlikely friendships formed and many are still tight, to this day.
The campaign also became a watershed for coastal planning, and along
with other coastal ‘hotspots’ (like Ningaloo and Smiths Beach)
eventually led to a government review of how coastal planning was done,
and of the inadequate and often-ignored coastal planning policy in WA.
A better coastal policy was drafted, although this too is due for
review now, and it still needs sharper teeth.
The community-inspired, policy-reforming vision for Leighton proposed a
coastal reserve wide enough to give nature, coastal processes and
people room to move. We talked climate change, sea level rise and storm
surge; a tough sell back then. What a difference a decade made on that.
The plan relocated the main road against the railway line to liberate
space for a traffic-calmed coastal road, bike and walk paths, grassed
parklands and natural landscapes.
Many will remember the blitz of advertising in local newspapers to
spruik these ideas, drawing counterattacks from the developers.
We needed money to pay for all the ads and the bumper stickers. and so
there was a whirlwind of events, including a big art show at the
Moore’s Building, gigs at Mojo’s, film nights, car washes, merchandise
sales and more.
Then on 7 November 1999, up to 10,000 rallied on Leighton Beach on a
still, sun-bleached day. The mood was jubilant, but determined,
culminating in the people’s “Leighton Wave,” and a warning to
politicians to “ride the Leighton wave, or be dumped”.
The Leighton Shores consortium released their revised concept, but only
5% of public submissions supported their plan. The campaign, with
growing community support, continued relentlessly to pressure ministers
of the Coalition government and they responded by announcing that new
planning guidelines would be developed for the marshalling yards. This
was the turning point.
LAC and others participated in formulating the planning guidelines and
in late 2000, the Court Government endorsed the Leighton Regional
Planning Guidelines (see WAPC website on Leighton Regional Planning Guidelines)
to set aside three-quarters of the 17 hectare site as a coastal
reserve, and with up to 150m setbacks. We’d won and couldn’t quite
The remaining 4 hectares was
made available for urban development and 25% of that area was to be
used for public links from the beach to the train station and North
Fremantle. This was also closely aligned with the community vision.
In 2001, when Labor came in, the new Minister for Planning and
Infrastructure began another series of community deliberations to
consider increasing the area for development. Community pressure
prevailed, just, and the area proposed for development remained at 4
Consistent with this, in 2004, Government finally released the draft Metropolitan Region Scheme Amendment (see WAPC website)
for public comment to rezone the 13 hectares for the future coastal
park from Urban to a Parks and Recreation reserve. Disappointingly, the
Labor Government had still not finalised the rezoning process when it
lost the election in 2008, leaving the coastal foreshore precariously
still zoned for urban development.
good news is that the new Liberal Government responded to our
encouragement and progressed the rezoning and on 14 May 2009 the
Leighton Beach MRS Amendment came into effect. This means that the
marshalling yards (except for the 4 hectare development at the southern
end) are now zoned Parks and Recreation, a very significant step.
So what has actually been achieved then? While the original proposal to
build a suburb across this special coastline did not materialise, the
Government still has much to do to honour its promises and the
After all this time, where is the coastal parkland that was the
community’s desire (it is our land after all), and the coastal road,
free of heavy traffic, with more generous parking? For how many more
summers will people have to run the gauntlet across what is more like
Leighton Highway than the beach track various plans have described?
The development near the station will be higher than many hoped, being
3 storeys, with elements of 5. However, on the positive side, there is
a wide public walkway linking North Fremantle and the railway station
to the beach, with plans for cafes and shops, and an improved surf
club. The Government also made a packet from selling off our land and
it would cost but a small fraction of the windfall to fix the place
once and for all.
A landscape masterplan to create this people’s park was prepared by the
WA Planning Commission, with considerable community input, largely
reflecting the community’s plan of 2000. Disappointingly, the
community’s first priority of relocating the regional traffic to a new
road (Curtin Avenue) alongside the railway line for the full length of
the marshalling yards was not reflected in masterplan (see WAPC website
Leighton Oceanside Parklands Landscape Masterplan). Who knows what happened there.
The landscape masterplan is still be to be endorsed and released,
although the doglegged road behind the 4 hectare development was built
regardless. The critical next steps are for the landscape masterplan to
be released and for Government to to build Curtin Avenue, freeing up
the rest of the site for staged rehabilitation.
In June 2000
LAC submitted a discussion paper which details our position on
Transport Planning for Leighton (to the then Department of Transport)
(click here). Our position on Coastal
Planning for Leighton (to the then Ministry for Planning) (click here
to read it) influenced the Leighton Regional Planning Guidelines.
here to read more about the history of the Leighton Beach