Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards

The Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards were located between the beach and the railway line, north of the Fremantle Port. The site was long and narrow, approximately 17 hectares in area. The natural landform had been completely modified, having been leveled to accommodate buildings and railway infrastructure. There was very little remaining vegetation.

The Issue

The Site
The Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards were located between the beach and the railway line, north of the Fremantle Port. The site was long and narrow, approximately 17 hectares in area. The natural landform had been completely modified, having been leveled to accommodate buildings and railway infrastructure. There was very little remaining vegetation.

The Background
In the late 1990s, a series of strategies and plans were released outlining ways to connect transport, land use and Port planning, connect parklands through the area, provide safer access to the beach, and build a direct rail loop from the Port of Fremantle that would enable redevelopment of the Leighton Rail Marshalling Yards site for alternative uses.

In the 1990s, under the Liberal Government, the government railways entered into a joint venture for the development of the Marshalling Yards. When the resulting Leighton Shores concept plan was released for public consultation, it generated widespread and intense community opposition. This concept plan proposed extensive residential development (17 hectares) at Leighton. The net return expected from the site was $30 million. Petitions were submitted to Parliament with thousands of signatures. Issues raised included opposition about the extent of urban development, access to the coast and environmental impacts.

The Liberal Government responded by requesting the preparation of Regional Planning Guidelines to establish key parameters for development of the site. Both the local governments and community groups had input. The draft Guidelines proposed only a 4 hectare development. When they were released for public comment, over 1800 submissions were received.

In December 2000, the Liberal Government supported the reduction in development area from the original Leighton Shores proposal to the area proposed in the Guidelines. Funding had not been allocated for implementation.

In order to fund this initiative, the incoming Labor Government determined to engage the community to see if there was a “win-win” solution that would enable the Leighton peninsula to be improved in a manner that would be cost neutral to Government.

The Parameters
The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure established clear parameters:

  • Any redevelopment would need to be cost neutral;
  • Any redevelopment involving the removal of the rail line to Fremantle Port would need to include the replacement of a Rail Loop so the Port’s freight operations would not be jeopardised;
  • The beach and adjacent coastal environment would be preserved and accessible to the public;
  • At least 60% of the 17 hectare site would be retained for public open space.

The Methodology

Consensus Forum
The Consensus Forum is a method of engaging all key stakeholders in the development of policy and input to the decision making process. The key issues are explored using ‘open book’ information. Opportunities are given to understand different viewpoints and to deliberate in small groups. The focus is on the search for common ground. The findings become integral to the decision making process.

The Process

Pre forum negotiations
The community action lobby group, the Leighton Action Coalition, was highly concerned about the proposed community engagement. In their view, Government needed to action the Guidelines without alteration. After meeting with the Minister, they reluctantly agreed to participate.

Consensus Forum


  • To understand the relevant issues (including planning, social, economic and environmental),
  • To determine a preferred implementation option for the redevelopment of the site, putting the community at the heart of the decision-making process.

Approximately 115 people participated at the Forum including:

  • Random Sample of residents, most from the area surrounding Leighton Beach, others from the broad metropolitan area (40 participants);
  • Petitioners (40 participants);
  • Invited Stakeholders (45) including representatives from all the major stakeholder groups.

Briefing Information
Background information was sent to all participants to read before the Forum. This included a summary of the “Leighton Regional Planning Guidelines” document from December 2000, together with an aerial photo/map of the study area. Participants were asked to familiarize themselves with the site before the Forum.

Facilitated Tables
At small tables of 10 participants, there was a mix of community, business interests, state and local government representatives. Each table was facilitated. All facilitators participated in a training session to understand the agenda, the techniques to be used and their role. Facilitators included Members of Parliament, CEOs of government agencies, senior government officers and expert consultants.

The Day of the Forum

At the commencement of the Forum, the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Hon. Alannah MacTiernan, welcomed participants, outlined the background, and reiterated the parameters for the Forum decision-making processes.

Individual Expectations
Participant expectations at the commencement of the Forum included the following:

  • Certainty and clear planning to move forward with implementation;
  • Achieving a balanced development;
  • Using the Guidelines as a basis for planning;
  • Leaving sufficient open space for recreation and coastal protection;
  • Meeting the community’s needs;
  • Cleaning up the site and providing better facilities;
  • Ensuring appropriate public access;
  • Ensuring transport efficiency, retaining rail access to Port;
  • Taking pressure off other beaches;
  • Taking a long term view.

To ensure deliberation was informed, six short presentations were made on the following topics:

  • Leighton Regional Planning Guidelines – History and Process
  • Community Perspective – Leighton Action Coalition
  • Sustainability Principles
  • Integrated Transport Issues
  • Options and Costings
  • Local Council Perspectives:
    • Mosman Park
    • Fremantle

Presentations were followed by a panel discussion, with presenters answering questions posed by participants

Understanding Viewpoints
An empathetic listening session was carried out to encourage participants to understand the differing viewpoints of the Leighton Action Coalition and Sustainability Principles as promoted by Government. This activity had minimal success as according to the Leighton Action Coalition, their views represented sustainability principles, and hence there were not two voices to be heard.

The sessions that followed were designed to enable participants to develop additional options, understand the opportunities and constraints of each option, determine the criteria for decision making – social, economic and environmental, and prioritise the options according to the agreed criteria.

The Options
Each participant was given a booklet and a worksheet that explained comprehensively the infrastructure cost components, as well as the pros and cons of the different options. Using the parameters already established, individuals were asked to “go shopping” and create their own options for the redevelopment of the site with combinations of the following components:

  • Rail Infrastructure
  • Rehabilitation
  • Recreation
  • Roads
  • Leighton Station
  • Development


  • Construction of a Direct Rail Loop to North Quay costs $9M
  • Each hectare of development creates $3M of revenue (e.g. 4ha = $12M)
  • Not constructing Curtin Ave reduces the revenue from development by $1M (e.g. 4 ha = $11M).

Approximately 40 options were presented and recorded, ranging from no development on the site to full development (i.e. 6.8 hectares). Although participants were informed that, overall, the costs needed to be equal to the income from development, many options did not meet this criterion. Given the difficulty of managing this issue, the forum took a consensus vote on which of the development scenarios to proceed with.

Individuals ranked their preferred options, giving 5 votes to their most preferred option, 4 to their second most preferred option (etc), down to 1 vote to their least preferred option.

The option with the strongest support at the Forum was for 4 hectares of development, no change to the current road structure/function, rehabilitation of both the northern and southern portions of the site, allowing for minimal stabilisation of the north eastern portion of the marshalling yards, including seeding and some planting. Without the construction of Curtin Avenue, the revenue from the development would be $11M.

Next Steps

  • In terms of planning, the Metropolitan Region Scheme (MRS) needed to be amended to provide for the rail loop to the port and to provide for a parks and a recreation reserve, the City of Fremantle Town Planning Scheme needed to be amended to implement the urban zoning required;
  • In terms of construction, planning for the rail loop needed to commence;
  • In terms of land development, including rehabilitation, plans needed to be created, approved and implemented.


The issue was emotional. As a result of the earlier ambitious redevelopment plans for the whole site, the public was very wary of government intentions, even though this was a new Government. The Leighton Action Coalition expressed great concern about holding a community engagement initiative at all. In their view, it was unnecessary.

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. Whether or not this was the most appropriate outcome is not relevant to this particular discussion. What is relevant is how open deliberation can be encouraged when the issue is emotive, trust is low, and local lobby groups have only one option and no real intention to deliberate.

This Forum brought to the fore the need to trial different engagement methodologies if the whole community is to be represented and given an equal opportunity to be heard. One way of achieving this is for the role of the single issue, local action group to change 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. Methods that achieve this include Citizens’ Juries, Consensus Conferences and Deliberative Surveys.