High St protest defused

• It wasn’t the high noon many expected as negotiations prevented a protest over the High Street upgrade. Photo by Steve Grant.

THE McGowan government has avoided an embarrassing stoush with environmental activists over the widening of High Street.

Members of Forest Rescue, who not that long ago were standing alongside Labor politicians opposing the Perth Freight Link, had occupied half a dozen Main Roads-owned houses at the intersection of High Street and Stirling Highway. They’d threatened a prolonged tree-top protest against the clearing needed for the road upgrade.

But as the bulldozers moved in to demolish the homes earlier this week, accompanied by a modest police presence and a phalanx of security guards, the place was already empty.

Forest Rescue says the backdown came after a year of negotiations with transport and planning minister Rita Saffioti’s office.

“We didn’t get everything we asked for, but we got most of what was important” FR campaign co-ordinator Simon Peterffy told the Herald.

Mr Peterffy said the site would have been difficult to defend, so many in his group felt the best outcome was to negotiate.

“I’ve been a militant activist in the past, but this time I stayed on the field instead of going off, and we eventually achieved a good outcome” he said.

The activists, in exchange for giving up their well-loved “cultural zone” and allowing the felling of 67 critically endangered tuart trees, say they secured an unprecedented ‘tree offset’, with 10,000 tuart saplings to be planted in Fremantle and nearby councils.

Obliging

Mr Peterffy also takes some credit for convincing Main Roads to create a median strip which will save another group of tuarts; Fremantle council also counts that amongst its wins.

Mr Peterffy said Main Roads were “very obliging in their conversations and negotiations”, and praised their willingness to work with the various protest groups.

Ms Saffioti’s office wouldn’t respond to questions on whether she’d directed Main Roads to negotiate with Forest Rescue in order to avoid a confrontation.

Main Roads denied it was given any directives by the minister but told the Herald it had covered the cost of temporary accommodation for six occupants from the squat.

It also “worked cooperatively with the occupants of the properties to remove their possessions from the site…in some cases we provided relocation costs and/or costs for emergency accommodation for vulnerable people.”

It also denied the tree offset was part of a peace deal, saying it would “proceed regardless of any protest activity.”

The houses had been occupied since 2011, Mr Peterffy saying it was WA’s “longest running blockade” and “a great example of squat culture, a cultural zone for artists, activists and the vulnerable”.

by JUSTIN STAHL

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