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Background & News

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 believe it.

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 hectares.

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.

Recent 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 community’s vision.

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.

Click here to read more about the history of the Leighton Beach development proposal.


Click here to go to our Events page, with photographs from some of our successful events in the past.

The Save Leighton Beach Rally, November 1999

Our Vision

The vision embraced by LAC and our many supporters is of a natural and rehabilitated dune system backed by parkland on the present Leighton marshalling yards. Easy and continuous beach access would be ensured through the retention of a traffic-calmed beach access road. The coastal reserve needs to be wide enough to accommodate the environmental and recreational needs of the Leighton coastal zone. Views from Stirling Highway and the railway would remain. Click here to see the community's concept plan.

The beach immediately below Leighton Marshalling Yards

Links to other coastal action groups 

Leighton is not the only place in WA where planning decisions are being made which may seriously impact on the public amenity of the coastal zone. There are many coastal campaigns including Smiths Beach in the southwest, which is at risk. 

Smiths Beach Action Group

Leighton Action Coalition Inc.
C/- 34A Holland Street
Fremantle WA 6160
Tel: 9335 5182
Email: info@saveleighton.org.au (Sue Harrington, LAC spokesperson)