Port Hedland Enquiry by Design

Town planning in Port Hedland has reached a critical stage due to the demands of the dramatically growing resource industry.

The Issue

Town planning in Port Hedland has reached at a critical stage due to the demands of the dramatically growing resource industry. Decisions need to be made concerning how and where the community should grow and develop. Port Hedland faces both challenges and opportunities if it is to balance economic growth and an expanding population with improved liveability. While the growing resource industry and port activity are in some ways constraints, in other ways they are opportunities – providing the impetus to re-examine and re-design the town to improve its liveability.

It was decided to involve the community together with planning experts to determine how and where the townsite should grow and develop, exploring the possibilities for the renewal and expansion of the town, to make it more liveable.

To deal holistically with these issues, a comprehensive community engagement process was developed that included a community survey of 350 respondents; an Enquiry by Design that enabled about 30 technical experts to work together with about 150 community members over 3 days to develop plans for the future growth of the town; and that employed innovative technology, a “21st Century Town Meeting”, to ensure participant’s ideas were captured and common ground was sought, providing immediate feedback.

The Methodology

  • Community Survey
  • Enquiry-by-Design
  • 21st Century Town Meeting

Community Survey

To understand the community’s values, issues and priorities on growth and liveability in Hedland.

Enquiry by Design

To provide an interactive process over several days that seeks win-win solutions, using urban renewal best practice principles and design. A multi disciplinary team of technical experts work with community members to create an urban design that meets the needs of the community. This is achieved by incorporating the values and feedback of the community stakeholders into evolving plans created by the technical team. Although its findings are usually non binding, in this instance, the State, regional and local governments agreed to seriously consider the findings and action them where feasible.

21st Century Town Meeting

Similar to Dialogue with the City, the Hedland process drew on the methodology of the 21st Century Town Meeting – a large scale meeting, with small group, facilitated, interactive discussion to encourage deliberation; networked computers to record individual and group ideas and prioritise issues; and a theme team to discern the common themes of the room, virtually in ‘real time’.

Community Survey

An independent research company carried out a community telephone survey which focussed on Port Hedland.

There were 350 respondents, all residents of Hedland, 54% from Port Hedland and 46% from other Hedland areas

Key findings

  • 96% rated the port and its industry as important to the prosperity of the town
  • Industry’s negative impacts were recognised, with 76% stating that air quality was serious or very serious, primarily affecting Port Hedland, and declining with distance from the port.
  • Port Hedland and South Hedland were both seen to be residential, commercial and administrative centres (although South Hedland residents thought South was more appropriate for these uses). Both agreed Port Hedland was more suited to tourism
  • Wedgefield was seen primarily as suited to industry, although almost a third of people felt that some residential activity was appropriate in Wedgefield.
  • 56% of people felt that the town centre should remain in Wedge Street, however, there was little support for residential or industrial activities in this area.
  • It was felt that police stations, banks and post offices should be duplicated in both Port and South Hedland.
  • 88% of people felt that population growth would be good for Hedland.
  • Port Hedland residents felt that both Port and South were equally suited to being expanded. Non-Port Hedland residents felt that South Hedland was considerably more suited to expansion.

The Process

Prior to the Forums

Steering Team
A small Steering Team consisting of representatives from the Town of Port Hedland and the Pilbara Development Commission determined that the following issues needed to be addressed by the Enquiry-by-Design forums:

  • Futures for the West End of Port Hedland
  • Housing shortage and housing choice
  • Wedgefield
  • Industrial land
  • South/North. Rationalization of services. Infrastructure, both hard and community.

Data Collection
A technical group gathered together the recent research (Social Impacts Study, Dust Study, Collective Impacts Study and Community Survey).

Participant Briefing Pack
Summaries of this recent research were developed, agreed to by the Steering Team, and then distributed to the participants of the community engagement prior to the Enquiry-by-Design forums.

Enquiry-by Design Forums

To ensure participation was representative of the population – over � were from the random sample, � were from stakeholder invitations and � from respondents to newspaper advertisements. Due to a large bush meeting as well as Ramadan, there were fewer indigenous and ethnic participants than expected.

1st Forum
The first community forum, on 30 October, determined the key issues and how they should be prioritised. One hundred and forty participants determined their hopes for the future as well as the priority issues affecting Port Hedland, including better integration of Port and South, and more liveable housing areas. At the conclusion of the forum all participants received a copy of the forum outcomes.

The team of thirty technical experts then spent the next day working from the community’s priorities as well as the current planning and environmental research, to develop plans for Hedland and documenting options on maps

2nd Forum
The second community forum, on 31 October, examined the options developed by the technical expert group and suggested what changes were needed. One hundred and twenty participants examined the options and indicated what they supported, what they did not, and potential alternatives. All participants received a copy of the workshop outcomes.

Over the following day, the technical team further developed the plans, responding to the community suggestions where feasible.

3rd Forum
The community review of the plans then followed on 1 November. The plans and maps documenting the strategic framework were presented to eighty community participants. The community asked questions and made suggestions. All participants received a copy of the review outcomes.

Participant Feedback

Following Workshop 1

  • 98% of participants who responded thought the workshop was great or okay.
  • 96% said they would come to another workshop like it.
  • Most found the experience a positive one, which confirmed the community’s commitment to change with better outcomes for all eg. “we have more in common than not, most people want change regardless of living in Port or South Hedland”.
  • Many expressed hope that this workshop would be a springboard for action.
  • Some expressed cynicism at the role of BHP and the commitment of the State Government to resource the outcomes.
  • Some commented that the workshop assisted them to understand the complexity of the problems which exist.

Following Workshop 2

  • 95 % of participants who responded thought the workshop was great or okay
  • Many thought that workshop 2 was harder, given some contentious issues and the difficulty of resolving them, particularly Wedgefield – eg.. “why is it OK to leave residents in the West End, but imperative to move Wedgefield residents?
  • Response to the technical team input was varied from “technical team listened and came up with good plans through to “decisions were influenced by experts”
  • Concerns about BHP’s role continued to be voiced eg. “need to put people before dirt” and “the future of Port Hedland is still uncertain, BHP should legally be made to clean up”
  • Many appreciated the process, eg “Enquiry by Design should become the standard for planning. It’s more challenging for the community but more credible and understandable”

The Outcomes

The following principles and proposals were broadly supported. Several issues remained contentious with a minority of participants including the residential component of Wedgefield, and the down zoning of West End.


General Principles

  • Protection of the floodplain
  • Confronting the social divide

‘Armature Principles’

  • Direct Connections
  • Reinforcing – Land Use, Movement
  • Sequence of Experience


  • Wedgefield is a general industrial area
  • The residential component of Wedgefield is not sustainable in the long term.
  • Need to develop strategies to facilitate the relocation of Wedgefield residents
  • The timing of relocations depends on the risks

South Hedland

  • Better & more accessible services & facilities (ie. Health education, transport)
  • Revitalise Town Centre (entertainment & commercial uses)
  • Create a clean, safe, sustainable & vibrant town.
  • Centralise recreational & cultural facilities
  • Build environmentally friendly Pilbara style housing with a mix of lot densities

Cooke Point / Pretty Pool

  • Acknowledge the need for revitalisation of South Hedland as the major housing focus
  • Cooke Point and Pretty Pool areas are the residential focus for Port Hedland
  • Short-medium term expansion of 200 lots identified in Pretty Pool
  • Very long term future potential sites identified for evaluation.

West End

The following principles are based on the assumptions that there are no significant health issues associated with dust.

  • The Port and Industry facilities will remain.
  • There will be ongoing pressure for industrial development centred on the port.
  • Relocation of residents is not warranted.
  • There is a need for clear rules for coexistence

Rules for Coexistence


  • Continuous improvement framework for dust management
  • Performance standards established for all industry players (legally binding).
  • Industry should make a contribution to improving the West End.


  • No increase in residents; residents will not be forced to relocate.
  • The focus on the existing assets in the Port Hedland (heritage, waterfront).
  • Community to participate in decision making.

Outcomes Summary

  • A better understanding of the issues and less uncertainty for all.
  • A strategic framework which integrates all the ‘bits of the puzzle’
  • Active community input in developing the framework.
  • Clear directions on the critical issues.

Following the Forums

Open Public Comment
A draft report was produced within two weeks of the Enquiry-by-Design forums and was widely distributed to the community for public comment.

Following the 4 week public comment period, the community submissions were analysed and the report was adjusted accordingly.

Government response
The final report was submitted to the Town of Port Hedland, the Pilbara Development Commission and the State Government for their response. An implementation plan is currently being considered by the key stakeholders.


Although the Enquiry-by-Design process always involves the community, this input is usually far more limited in representation and deliberation than at these forums. The technical planners were most concerned that the community would not be able to reach common ground and that the process would stall. This did not occur. Because of the way a 21st Century Town Meeting is structured, it is possible to rapidly seek common ground among a large group of people. As is clear from the participant responses to key proposals, documented in the table above, the extent of agreement was high.

Additionally, there was concern that with the community engagement continuing over a three day period – Saturday, Sunday and Monday evening – there would be a large drop-off in participation. This did not occur. The reduced numbers on the 3rd day of review was largely a result of the shift work commitments of a resource industry town.

Although many of the issues were contentious, participants showed remarkable goodwill towards the process and consideration of others’ positions throughout the three days.

Probably the most contentious issue was the proposition of residents no longer remaining in the industrial precinct of Wedgefield. One unhappy participant left after the second day and returned to speak to the media, resulting in very negative media coverage of the process. However, feedback from the local Shire and letters to the organisers indicated that the broad town consensus was that the engagement was seen as very positive – particularly if it resulted in action.