Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards - Community Consensus Forum
- General Issues
- Planning & Development
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Total Number of Participants
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Decision Methods
Problems and Purpose
The Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards took up an area of 17 hectares in North Fremantle, WA. The Yards lay between Leighton Beach and the main roads and rail line. By the 1990s, the Yards were no longer in use, and a variety of proposals were put forward for redevelopment of the area. The initial plan put forward under the Liberal government was an extensive residential development of the entire area. This was met considerable opposition in the community. Following consultation, the government approved a reduced residential development, retaining part of the area for public use. However, no funding was allocated for this. When the Labor government came in, they emabrked on a further community consultation to look into the possibility for a solution that would be cost-neutral for the government.
The consultation took place in the form of a community consensus forum. The purpose of the forum was to put the community at the centre of the decision, and to understand the issues relating to the development. The department for Planning and Infrastructure established a number of parameters to the scope of the decision; it had to be cost-neutral, retain 60% of the area for public use and ensure that the remaining rail line was not affected.
When Labor came to power in WA in 2001, one of their key pledges was to enhance community and participatory decision-making. In particular, 'the new Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, was determined to champion community engagement as a way of encouraging joint decision making and democratic renewal' (Gregory 2008). In order to achieve this, the Minister employed Janette Hartz-Karp, a deliberative democracy scholar and practitioner, to undertake the task. Between 2001 and 2005, Hartz-Karp - founder of 21st Century Dialogue - delivered nearly 40 deliberative processes in WA. At the time this was pretty much unique - where a politician had so whole-heartedly embraced deliberative and participatory decision-making.
Since then, Jay Weatherill (South Australian Premier) has done something similar, embracing deliberative democratic methods in South Australia through YourSAy. None the less, WA's range of initiatives remain for now, perhaps the most impressive.
Originating Entities and Funding
The Leighton Yards forum was convened and funded by the department of planning and infrastructure, and organised by 21st Century Dialogue.
115 attended the forum. This included a random sample of 40 local residents, 40 petitioners and 40 invited representatives from stakeholder groups. The Leighton Action Coalition, the main community lobbying group, were skeptical about the process but agreed to participate after meeting with the Minister.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
A one-day consensus forum was held on 16 March 2002. Prior to the forum, all participants were sent briefing information which they were asked to read before attending. On the day itself, participants were seated at tables of 10 people, with a balanced mix of different interests in each group including community, business and government representatives. As with some other 21st Century Dialogue processes, table facilitators included Members of Parliament and senior government officers.
Following an introduction from the Minister, six short presentations were given representing different viewpoints. Presentations were followed by a panel Q&A session. To encourage understanding of the differing viewpoints, empathetic listening was used. However, 21st Century Dialogue notes that the activity was not too successful as the Leighton Action Coalition argued that there was no need to understand the government's sustainability principles because their principles represented sustainability.
The rest of the day was devoted to helping participants develop options for redevelopment alongside criteria by which to judge each option. Participants were given a booklet explaining various costs and could 'go shopping' to create their own bespoke option combining different components for the area including rail or road infrastructure, recreation space and habitat rehabilitation.
As a result of this activity, 40 options were presented. Despite the proviso that the solution had to be cost-neutral, some options did not meet this criteria. A consensus vote was taken to decide which options to bring forward. The option with the strongest support involved just 4 hectares for development, with minimal development of the road area.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The final preferred solution chosen at the forum most reflected the guidelines that the Leighton Action Coalition supported. Their position was to follow the original guidelines proposed under the Liberal government (which had no allocated funding). They opposed further community consultation as they felt it was unnecessary. As 21st Century noted,
"From the commencement of the Forum, their members ensured that any serious deliberation of options other than their own was virtually impossible. Although they were requested not to do so, as participants entered the hall, members gave each person a Leighton Action Coalition position paper and urged them to support it. They changed the mixed seating arrangements at the table, threatened walk-outs, and circulated from table to table with options and priorities. It was hardly surprising that the end result would follow the original Guidelines" (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
Leighton Action Coalition's website states that the community consultation was 'to consider increasing the area for development. Community pressure prevailed, just, and the area proposed for development remained at 4 hectares'. Their site also notes that in 2009 the now-Liberal government zoned the majority of the Yards area as parks and recreation land, save for the 4 hectares destined for development. The proposition was also reported in local media at that time. At the time of writing however (August 2016), there were no recent media reports updating on the situation. The Leighton Action Coalition (as of 2014) complains that the planned development was not as they had hoped for. The WA department of planning and infrastructure indicates that 'It is proposed to establish a parkland area that will include public recreation facilities, picnic and dune rehabilitation areas, improved and safer car parking and a new beach access road.' (DPI 2011). This page was last updated in 2011.
In May 2016 the Fremantle Mayor, Brad Petit, blogged about the opening of new facilities at Leighton Beach. Since the beach is adjacent to the Yards area, it is likely that the beach facilities cover part of the yards area and the blog cites the Leighton Oceanside Parklands masterplan, which appears to be the eventual proposition endorsed for the area.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Leighton Yards redevelopment indicates the difficulty of implementing even local planning policy across different governments. The Liberal-Labor-Liberal changes contributed to the protracted planning process in this case; firstly with the Liberal government putting forward a plan without allocating funding, followed by the Labor government beginning a new community-led process but leaving office without implementation going ahead. However, this is just one of many likely factors that influenced this case.
21st Century Dialogue note the difficulty of achieving open deliberation, given the obstruction by local lobbying groups. In this case, the Leighton Action Coalition clearly had no real intention of deliberating or considering any other options than their own. Furthermore, they then tried to disproportionately influence the consensus forum to get their own way. Of course, trust was low in the community consultation given previous government failures to respond to community concerns - the very first proposed development was 17 hectares of housing. It's likely this first proposal tainted any further government efforts to consult with the community, and helped cement the Leighton Action Coalition's suspicion of further engagement efforts. Either way, their influence points to the importance of trying to give equality of voice to the entire community - not just the loudest.
21st Century Dialogue suggest one possible way of mitigating this effect. Rather than having lobby groups take part as participants, their role could be switched to that of 'local experts':
"In this role, they would inform, clearly stating their position, but would leave the ensuing deliberations and search for common ground to a representative random sample of the community" (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
21st Century Dialogue (2011) Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards Community Consensus Forum, available at: http://www.21stcenturydialogue.com/index.php?package=Initiatives&action=...
Western Australian Planning Commission (2011) Leighton Oceanside Parklands Landscape Masterplan [pdf], available at: http://www.planning.wa.gov.au/publications/917.asp
Leighton Action Coalition (2014) available at: http://saveleighton.org.au/
The following article was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website, where you can find a detailed overview of this case.