We only get one chance

The green buffer the Leighton Action Coalition is recommending.

But the slither that’s on offer.

PAUL GAMBLIN is from the Leighton Action Coalition (www.SaveLeighton.org) and explains why we should be worried about plans for housing across the road from Port Beach.

EACH year as dunes at Port Beach crumble into the sea, we’re put on notice again that this coast is on the move. 

Many of you would have participated in the original Save Leighton campaign more than 20 years ago that secured the beach and foreshore from the Leighton surf club and Orange Box area north to the dog beach. 

It’s hard to believe now but much of that area was to be turned into residential development that would’ve smothered dunes crucial for the coast to adapt to storms and rising seas, and shrunk public access to it.

We learned a lot from that campaign, perhaps most of all that we can’t take our beaches and foreshore for granted. 

We have to stand up for them or risk losing the immeasurable benefits to physical, mental and community health that come from this urban coastline, one of the most beautiful and egalitarian anywhere. 

Many of us will feel a keen obligation to pass this on to the next generations. 

Now, nearly a quarter of a century on, we’re being called on once again, this time to defend the Port Beach foreshore because developers have their eyes on it.

Shell, among other companies, enjoyed the privilege of storing fuel adjacent to Port Beach for nearly a century but moved elsewhere. Viva Energy (which took over Shell’s interests) and other entities now see an opportunity to derive even more value from this coastal land. 

They are seeking to persuade the state government to rezone this area from ‘industrial’ to ‘urban’, presumably looking to a sharp boost in profits.

Fortunately, rezoning requires Fortunately, rezoning requires an amendment to the Metropolitan Region Scheme through the WA Planning Commission, which means the developers need to seek input from the likes of the City of Fremantle, which in turn means we in the community can catch a glimpse of what the developers are planning. 

And it’s quite the concerning picture, with the proposed sliver of foreshore reserve not nearly wide enough to provide much-needed space in the decades ahead as the coast erodes and our population grows. 

Concerningly, a government-commissioned analysis found Port Beach to be the equal most at-risk coastline in the whole state.

Rather than being guided by enlightened considerations for the public good and the best climate change-informed science to determine how much of that area should be set aside, this rezoning approach could shackle us to a much earlier time when this land was first developed by the petroleum companies.

At least it appears we have Fremantle council on our side, after it unanimously passed a motion last week indicating that while it isn’t opposed to urban zoning to part of the land behind Port Beach, it believes that much more of this land needs to be set recreation”, saying in its press release: “The key to this is that there needs to be much more rigorous consideration of how much land should be set aside as a long-term buffer against coastal erosion, while also maintaining sufficient public open space and room for facilities such as surf clubs, car parks, and change rooms as sea levels rise. There needs to be enough land included in the Parks and Recreation reserve to allow this to happen and ensure future generations still have access to a nice sandy beach, but the council considers the current proposal falls well short.” 

We applaud the mayor and councillors for this response, and we count on them to take this up with the state government with gusto. 

Bygone era

In our public comments at the council meeting, we said that endorsing the current proposal would be tantamount to perpetuating the zoning from a century ago when much of this area was used to store fuel; a bygone era when the seas weren’t rising like they are now; when this place wasn’t overcrowded with beach-going families; when Perth was a quiet country town, not a major, growing city (with tens of thousands of new residents likely to live in the area immediately south of Tydeman Road in future when the port moves).

We’ve been making the case for a sustainable foreshore reserve adjacent to Port Beach for some years now, with space for quality development east of the current Bracks Street; a compromise most see as reasonable. We campaigned on this at the last council elections and were pleased with the positive responses from mayoral candidates and many others. 

If the WAPC proceeds to advertise the current proposal, despite the abundant concerns, the community will know that its pleas for greater access to this precious area have been forsaken and that our generation, and those to come, will be squeezed into a patch of ever-narrowing, eroding foreshore reserve. 

There will not be enough space for the dunes and vegetation that provide the best and cheapest defence against erosion. We’ll be asked to fund and tolerate seawalls and groynes forever.

We must convince the WAPC to resist pressure to advertise this flawed MRS amendment and instead demonstrate what planning for this coast should deliver in 2022 – not 1922 – with a clear focus on the century ahead. 

Defining the future of this coastal land from Port Beach (and through the old marshalling yards and around the McCall Centre) represents one of the most important planning decisions – and opportunities for real vision – of the current era for the city and the state.

We only get one shot at this. 

It’s time to make our voices heard, again.

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