Posted on April 20, 2022
A plan to turn an old fuel terminal into a coastal apartment development faces concerns not enough parkland has been set aside to ensure public beach access 100 years into the future as erosion eats into North Fremantle.
Port Beach is a popular spot for ocean lovers in Perth’s southern suburbs but is also one of the two most at-risk beaches for erosion in Western Australia, with winter waves in recent years threatening buildings and carparks located close to the water.
About 200 meters behind the beach is a 23-hectare space including the old Shell fuel terminal, built in 1927, that is mostly zoned industrial. The current landowners want to turn it into a residential area due to the state government’s bid to move the neighbouring port operations to Kwinana.
Viva Energy, formerly Shell, and North Fremantle JV own the land and have come together to apply through the WA Planning Commission to make changes to the Metropolitan Region Scheme – a state plan that determines future land uses – with the proposal coming to the Fremantle council recently for comment.
The two entities are looking to the future with the potential urbanisation of the North Quay of the Fremantle Port in the coming decades. Leighton Beach to the north of the precinct has already seen development in the past 17 years including three apartment blocks by Mirvac as part of a $350 million project.
The new scheme change suggests land vested with the Fremantle Port be turned into four hectares of foreshore reserve although worst-case erosion scenarios, prepared by a consultant for the developers, show the beach could come up to the southern section of the proposal in 100 years without invervention.
Community volunteer activist group Leighton Action Coalition has previously fought for setbacks along the North Fremantle coast.
Coalition representative Paul Gamblin said the industrial land proposed for rezoning provided a significant opportunity to create a sustainable coastal foreshore.
He said the land to the west of Bracks Street, which is about half of the proposed development area, should be turned into coastal reserve because of the erosion risk.
“It’s a major regional beach which is already under considerable pressure, it’s already hard to get a park there,” Gamblin said.
“What we need is more space for the community and a reserve that’s going to withstand erosion.”
The City of Fremantle endorsed pursuing a strategy of managed retreat, a process of moving assets away from danger such as coastal erosion, about two years ago but work is ongoing to work out what this would look like.
The city is buying time to prepare the plan as this winter it dredges 150,000 cubic metres of sand will be from offshore to dump at Port Beach to negate the effects of erosion at a cost of more than $3 million.
Fremantle council officers wrote in a recent planning committee agenda reviewing the new development proposal that they were concerned the need for reserve space for environmental and recreational use may not have been addressed.
“There is a demonstrated need for improved facilities at Port Beach to take the pressure off Leighton Beach and accommodate overall growth in demand for beach use as population increases,” they said.
“With coastal hazard impacts already evident in this area any reserve planning may well need to provide for additional land for dune systems to establish further back, and land behind those dunes for new recreational facilities safe from erosion and/or inundation over the 100-year planning horizon.”
Developers are pushing for immediate urban rezoning but at the Fremantle planning committee meeting this month several councillors said while they were not against future development, they felt there were broader planning outcomes for the area that still needed to be determined.
These included whether Port Beach Road that runs along the coast was removed and the direction of the recently formed Future of Fremantle Planning Committee, a group set-up by the WA government to develop a vision for redevelopment of the inner harbour which includes 264 hectares of land.
Fremantle Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said it would be ridiculous to do anything rather than move in the direction of urban deferred – a zoning category which means more planning hoops must be jumped through before development can start – with the Future of Fremantle process under way.
“Because this is our one shot at resolving some of these really big challenging issues … for North Fremantle,” she said.
“The study area does include this portion of land, it absolutely has to do that work and I think everyone knows that the development of the port land will fail if this work isn’t done properly.
“We can’t say on one hand yes we want to be part of that work and then on the other hand say but we support zoning this urban right now. We just can’t. It makes no sense.”
Fremantle councillor Andrew Sullivan said councillors needed to make sure the beaches were still there for residents in 100 years.
Representatives for the developers said at the same meeting they did not believe urban deferred status was necessary but appreciated the general support to turn land from industrial into urban.
Fremantle’s planning committee has recommended the full council tell the WA Planning Commission the land should be zoned urban deferred.