Nippers out in parking debate

Fremantle councillor Hannah Fitzhardinge and surf club executive Marcin Gabriel on the rough-and-ready car park at Leighton Beach, with council staff assessing what’s needed for a quick bit of roadbase at the back. Photo by Steve Grant.

FREMANTLE’S council and port authority have been left pointing fingers at each other after a decision to close a makeshift car park created chaos for parents trying to get their Nippers to surf club training.

For the last couple of years parents have been able to use a vacant block of land across Port Beach Road from the Fremantle Surf Life Saving Club, but Fremantle Ports views the informal arrangement as too dangerous and locked the gates to the site just before the Nippers’ season started.

“People, including young families, were walking across Port Beach Road right on the northern bend adjacent to the surf club, in the most dangerous location,” the Ports community relations manager Neil Stanbury told the Herald.

Safety

But Fremantle councillor Hannah Fitzhardinge, who uses the club’s gym during the week, says their timing was lousy and they created a bigger safety problem.

Two weeks ago as the temperatures went up, hundreds of families were left parked on the side of busy Port Beach Road, trying to wrestle kids and boogie boards safely along the verge to the club. 

Neighbouring streets were also clogged.

“During 2020 stakeholders were under the impression that Fremantle Ports were going to open the gates in the newly installed fence around Lot 500 to allow parking,” Cr Fitzhardinge said.

“Minutes to this effect were circulated to the Port-Leighton Planning Group in February and July 2020.”

To try and resolve the issue, the council is planning to formalise parking on nearby Bracks Street and create a cross-over at Walter Place, while early next year a rough-and-ready carpark just north of Coast restaurant will be temporarily expanded.

“A formal improvement to this carpark will be progressed for budget consideration, with a view to construction during the 2020/21 off-season to minimise disruption,” Cr Fitzhardinge told the Herald.

Mr Stanbury wryly notes that’s what Ports suggested the council do during earlier negotiations; they view beach parking as the council’s responsibility.

He said they informed the surf club on October 9 the gates would remain closed.

“Even earlier, on September 8, we offered the city a lease over the land in question, on a rent-free basis, to allow them to develop it for parking for beachgoers, but to date the city has not responded to us on that offer.”

Dustbowl

Mr Stanbury said informal parking was turning the site into a dustbowl, which generated complaints from the neighbouring Leighton apartments, while cyclists complained that sand building up in the bike lane forced them out into the traffic.

“We’re actually a strong supporter and sponsor of the surf club and only this week offered them free use of a 70-bay parking area on the corner of Barker and Bracks Streets,” Mr Stanbury said.

“It may not be so close, but Fremantle Ports is doing all it can to mitigate a problem that’s not of our causing.”

Cr Fitzhardinge said the offer to lease the land came with overbearing conditions, such as soil and groundwater assessments and approval by the Port’s board and the WA Planning Commission. She reckons that’d kill off any chance of making it happen this season.

Despite the finger-pointing, when the Herald suggested the failure of successive state governments to come good on a promise to turn the nearby Leighton marshalling yards into parkland had robbed the area of public facilities like car parks, both were in agreement.

by Steve Grant

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