In the news: Applause for change

CREDIT: Kaylee Meerton, Mandurah Mail

Dozens of locals filled the inside of the Pinjarra Civic Centre last week in another effort to stop the controversial Point Grey marina development, but the company behind the project remains undeterred by the Shire of Murray’s latest hurdle.

At a meeting on June 25, councillors approved a change to their Town Planning Scheme, removing a marina as permissible use under zoning around Point Grey and therefore deeming the development “unsuitable”.

Residents eagerly waited to hear the Shire of Murray hand down its decision, with latecomers forced to listen from the foyer after the centre hit its 100-person indoor capacity.

It was the second time the council has voted on the amendment, after the WA Planning Commission raised concerns over the confidential nature of the Shire’s last decision in March.

With a banner hanging in the back of the Civic Centre reading “Save Our Estuary”, the questions to councillors started firing quickly as the meeting got underway last week.

Gregory was worried about the development destroying the “quiet marina vibe”.

However, Morris was in support of the plan and looked forward to the improved infrastructure in the Shire of Murray.

Steve agreed, but he was more focused on the 4000 jobs expected to be created during construction of the marina.

But it was made evident by the murmurs sweeping over the crowd and residents shaking their heads that they were outnumbered.

You could cut the tension with a knife.

Realising everybody in the room was awaiting the decision on the Point Grey marina, councillors agreed to bring the item forward and discuss it first – much to the appreciation of the audience.

Mr Bolt invited the first of 12 deputations on the issue to come forward and Jane O’Malley and Steve Fisher from the Peel Harvey Catchment Council (PHCC) took to the stage.

The pair, who have been vocal about their opposition to the Point Grey marina on behalf of the PHCC for many years, said the development “poses a serious threat”.

“Ecologically the estuary is showing big signs of trouble,” Dr Fisher said.

“The Peel-Yalgorup wetland system is of international importance… we absolutely must consider the cumulative impact of this development on the estuary.”

“We have not been kind to our environment and we are paying the price,” Ms O’Malley added

As the pair thank councillors for the opportunity to speak and take a seat, the crowd take to their feet and erupt into applause.

Their submission is followed by many more – all citing concerns for the environment, local wildlife, the tourism industry and commercial fishing.

Peel Preservation Group secretary Susanne Godden said the marina would be “particularly disturbing” for bird life, while local resident David Rennie encouraged councillors to consider the legacy they want to leave behind.

Kahree Garnaut from the UWA Science Students for Environmental Action expressed her concerns for the possible impact on biodiversity, followed by Southern Seafood Producers (WA) Association executive officer, Don Nichols, who described the Peel Inlet as an “absolute jewel”.

Mandurah Licensed Fishermen’s Association president and fifth generation fisher, Megan Watts, said dozens of local fishing businesses would not exist without a healthy estuary while Friends of Rivers Peel founder Colin Elton threw his support behind the Shire of Murray, along with Mandurah Environment and Heritage Group member Barbara Sing.

Mandurah mayor Rhys Williams acknowledged the Shire of Murray’s “courage and leadership” and Birdlife Australia’s Dr Vikki Stokes recommended considering an “environmentally sensitive and sustainable option” for the location.

Local elder and traditional Bindjareb owner George Walley also took to the stage for a brief, but gripping speech.

“A number of people were consulted over two different heritage surveys but I didn’t notice any of the recommendations of the survey in the presentation,” he said.

“That concerns me… what we have to say is really relevant. If we’re just seen to be a ticker box so [the developer] can get on with things, that’s unfair.”

Ryan Darby from Roberts Day Planning and Design represented the developers for his deputation – the only one in support of a marina at Point Grey.

Mr Darby said the proposal, which includes a playground, community town hall, boating club, apartments and retail space, would help the Peel region’s “long-term issues with unemployment”.

“It beggars belief that the Shire do not want this kind of investment,” he said.

But when it came time to vote, the decision was almost unanimous.

“This amendment is like moving the goal post after the game has started,” Brenda Beacham, the only councillor to vote against the motion, said.

“[This] is like saying you want to build a highway for boats through the middle of internationally recognised waterways,” Shire president David Bolt replied, to the applause of the crowd.

Despite the council’s vote, Tian An Australia chief financial officer Hai-Young Lu said the company respected the process undertaken.

“We are disappointed that the Shire didn’t wait to review the many reports prepared by our project team, as we believe these would have allayed most, if not all, of their concerns,” he said.

“We are committed to following due process and will adhere to the planning process as set out at a local and state level and look forward to taking the project to the next stage…we look forward to engaging further with the broader community whose voices we believe have so far been drowned out by a very vocal minority.”

The matter will now head back to the WA Planning Commission and to the EPA, with an answer expected within two months.

This article was originally published in the Mandurah Mail on July 1, 2020