The Battle for Leighton & Port – Deja vu all over again

Back to the future at Fremantle Surf Club Wednesday night when eco-warriors from Save Leighton 1999 suited up again for a fresh campaign.

Last time around, people power pushed the Court Government to shelve plans to redevelop the Leighton rail marshalling yards for high-end housing and, for better balance, shrink the footprint of what are now the Leighton apartment complexes.

The 2024 battleground is the wasteland south of Leighton, just inland from Port Beach, where plans are advanced for another major apartment development.

For decades, the land has been home to oil tanks, wool sheds, and the like. They’ve all shifted and the site is now largely levelled, creating one of the most tantalising development sites in Perth. On top of that, Fremantle Ports are now planning for the day the Port’s container division leaves North Quay and reassembles at Kwinana.

The whole area in question to the Port has been earmarked for development for some time. In early 2022, the area was identified as being ripe for replanning as part of the Future of Fremantle project of the State Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and, as Fremantle Shipping News reported at the time, dreamers were wanted.

In March 2023, Fremantle Shipping News further reported on the developer’s plans for a rezoned ‘Port Beach Precinct’.

It began to become clearer then that an old fashioned battle between locals and developers about the urban future of the Leighton/Port Beach precinct was looming.

In December 2023, at a major forum hosted by Fremantle Shipping News, the Future of Fremantle planning challenges were addressed by Jane Bennett, Chair of the Future of Fremantle Committee and a number of speakers including Professor Peter Newman, from Curtin University and a Freo local, and Paul Gamblin, of the old Save Leighton campaign.

Last night, some 200 Fremantle residents turned out again at the surf club to hear from the Save Leighton campaigners about their fears for the area and their alternative proposal for redevelopment.

Unsurprisingly, that alternative involves a chunk of the development site – on the beach side – being reserved as public open space for recreation and as a buffer against coastal erosion.

Plans currently sit with the State Planning Minister John Carey who is deliberating over the future status of the land, with campaigners believing even an “urban deferred” decision would leave the door open for a compromise of some sort.

It appears they’ve got some work ahead of them. Campaign spokesman Paul Gamblin said he was unsure who sat behind the development company, North Fremantle JV Pty Ltd, and indicated the campaigners had not spoken directly to the owners.

State MPs who do get to have a say on planning matters, especially in their own ‘hoods, were not present at the meeting, absences explained variously as due to unavailability (Simone McGurk) or because the invitation didn’t get sent (the exiting David Honey…whose electorate covers the area in question).

Fremantle Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge told the meeting her people were vehemently opposed to over-development at Port Beach and urged campaigners to keep pushing for balance.

Former Mayor Brad Pettit, historically a strong supporter of balanced development at Leighton and an attendee, may be the campaigners’ best bet for some advocacy where it actually matters, sitting as he now does as a Greens member of the State’s Legislative Council.

Major shareholder in the development vehicle is industry super fund HostPlus, which has almost 1.8 million members and whose high profile CEO David Elia sits on the board of North Fremantle JV Pty Ltd.

“Every single day, we have our members’ best financial interests at heart. That means investing your money responsibly with the aim of achieving long-term growth and strong returns. Together we can build a future full of positivity,” says HostPlus on its website.

Minority shareholder Roxy NF Pty Ltd is represented on the board by prominent Singaporean property developer Teo Hong Lim.

Pressures on Leighton and surrounds are already extreme, such is the demand to enjoy the spectacular amenity. Parking on a weekend is impossible, families rocking up for Nippers not long after daybreak in summer. And the catchment area for visitors is enormous.

Striking the right balance with further development – and on an unprecedented scale – will challenge governments, regulators and residents alike.

* By John McGlue

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