Planning in Contested Space: coastal Changes in Perth Western Australia

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6.1 Introduction

Over recent decades, urban and regional planning has evolved from a technical activity based largely on normative scientific methodology and regulation, to a process that attempts to incorporate socially constructed values, knowledge and expectations. This shift has resulted in a move away from planning spaces for the majority towards using the planning process as a tool for drawing together diverse interests to create consensual solutions. Commonly termed collaborative planning, this approach has resulted in considerable innovation in the way urban spaces are planned, designed, built and subsequently used. Collaborative planning has been promoted as an approach that facilitates participants to resolve deep-seated concerns, identify mutually acceptable decisions, and generate new creative solutions (Margerum, 2002). As this collaborative planning model has been rolled out over the last decade, concerns have been raised regarding the validity of the operation and outcomes of the model (Dredge, 2006; Forester, 2006; McGirk, 2001). Major concerns regard how participants’ values and perceptions are included and excluded and how power differentials are acknowledged in the process (Dredge, 2006). Critics tend to agree that community participation in planning is necessary and should be purposeful, with criticism usually directed towards the limitations of methods used for the collaborative planning processes.

Purposeful community involvement in planning, in such a way that accounts for often conflicting values, knowledge and expectations, is inherently difficult to orchestrate. Generally, the more contested the space being planned the more difficult it is for planners to establish consensus views and appropriate implementation strategies for these (Maginn, 2007). This chapter describes the changes to coastal planning strategies and the evolution of collaborative planning in a real scenario – Perth metropolitan region since the 1930s. It concludes discussing collaborative planning in contested spaces. Specifically, this chapter focuses on planning of metropolitan coastal spaces. In addition to coastal spaces  having a number of overlapping and contested commercial, social, cultural and aesthetic values, coastal spaces are valued and used by people who do not usually live within the planning administrative zone. The chapter gives an overview of the emergence and nature of collaborative planning and how it has been adopted into Western Australia’s planning framework. This section pays particular attention to how Western Australia’s administrative arrangements for land use planning have influenced approaches to collaborative planning. The chapter concludes with a review of planning in coastal spaces.

Traditions of Planning in Coastal Spaces – 522_AD

There has been rapid population growth in Australia’s coastal suburbs since the 1970s, with property prices in these areas increasing dramatically. Lifestyle led migration to coastal communities has contributed to a trend where over 85 per cent of Australia’s population lives within 50 km of the coast (ABS, 2004). The coast, and more specifically the beach, has long been recognised as an important icon of ‘Australian’ culture. Used for passive and active recreation, prevalent dialogue about the coast fashions an image of a clean, wholesome, energetic, freely accessible environment. Coastal living is widely associated with improved lifestyle opportunities, and environment to aspire to live in or to visit. The reality however of how coastal spaces are used and valued is considerably more complex. They contain a mixture of uses including industrial, residential, public open space, and commercial. They are also used by residents and visitors, from differing social and economic backgrounds and who have differing expectations of, and aspirations for, coastal spaces.

Rapid development of coastal spaces over the last four decades, together with population growth, has proliferated discord regarding land use within coastal spaces. With increasing frequency, discord, expressed as public protest, has been concerned with proposed physical developments. For example, public debate around proposals for new commercial development, high-density residential development, canal and marina development, and port expansion often concern the issue of how the proposed development would influence the perceived culture and social value of a space. As coastal spaces often have multiple uses and values, planners are faced with the complex task of identifying these values and considering the probable positive and negative benefits of the proposal. Traditional planning approaches positioned planners to consider the dominant uses and values, and the likely benefits and costs of proposed developments. Emerging collaborative planning approaches aim to establish open dialogue between planners and representatives of all user groups to institute consensus building regarding the proposed development.

Collaborative planning, Dredge (2006) argues, has emerged as an implementation strategy for the construct of sustainable development. Sustainable development rhetoric calls for inclusive, democratic, equitable participation in governance and planning. Collaborative planning seeks to bring together diverse views and values and build consensus rather than use a normative science or a majority rule approach (Innes & Booher, 1999). The methods to identify and bring together diverse views can be quite variable, largely influenced by the nature of the planning issue and the spatial location of the ‘user’ community. Indeed, the process of identifying and bringing together diverse views in costal spaces is inherently difficult given a considerable proportion of the population of those who use and value coastal spaces do not live within the planning administrative boundaries. However, despite the difficulties this complexity can present, collaborative planning can provide an avenue for diverse values to be represented in the planning process.

Dear (1986) elaborates on the position of collaborative planning in this history of the evolution of planning knowledge presenting a cognitive map of the evolution of planning knowledge (reproduced in table 1). More recently Hillier and Healy (2008 p. 205), with the benefit of being able to reflect on the evolution of planning knowledge since 1985, in commenting on postmodernism in planning stated that the, ‘recognition of multiplicity and diversity of places, people and knowledge relocates the role of spatial planning practitioners from the modernist role of the planners as ‘experts’, having a God’s – eye – view of the world and knowing best, to a role of identifying and mediating between different groups, voices and desires with regard to the management of land’. Collaborative planning can therefore be considered as a method, with its roots grounded in firmly in the postmodernist turn, and as a response to prescriptive and restrictive planning methods popularised by modernist traditions

The following section will review the emergence of collaborative planning approaches Perth, Western Australia, specifically in regards to coastal space. As coastal spaces are value laden, and users are not easily identified by geographic boundaries, they provide an interesting case study of how the methods of tool used for collaborative planning ……

Coastal Planning in Western Australia – 2112_FF


This section will outline some of the specific challenges of planning in urban coastal spaces with reference to the coastal zone of Perth Western Australia. The section will document the major planning developments that have influenced planning in Perth’s coastal areas since the 1930s. The first part of this discussion will detail the process of early thought towards Governmental responsibility of coastal land, one that was based upon a technical ‘positivist’ activity. The second part of the discussion will outline current arrangements for coastal planning, and indicate how the shift to incorporate social values in planning is playing out in the built environment. Recent changes to administrative procedures for coastal planning will also be documented


Planning in coastal spaces has long been dominated by an institutionalist approach in Western Australia. Such an approach positioned technical and scientific knowledge at the forefront of planning decisions. Community uses, values and perceptions were largely removed from formal planning arrangements and had limited role in the coastal land use process until the late 1990s.

Early Western Australia, planning of coastal spaces was largely left to individual road boards and local government authorities. The control of roads to local Road Boards since 1871 (District Roads Act 1871), had enabled monies to be collected and an executive chain of command be established and it was these road boards and the City of Perth which had been pushing for a Town Planning Act that would guide the future development of Perth (Boas et al. 1930). The Metropolitan Town Planning Commission Report (Boas Report) of 1930, although principally undertaken to guide development and planning requirements for the Perth metropolitan region for the next 50 years, highlighted the Crown’s responsibility of ownership of ocean frontage of all metropolitan beaches. The Report recognized the value of control of the coast beyond local government areas. It advocated the beaches be developed on a ‘common and cooperative basis and as required to meet the needs of the community’ without the competitiveness between the local authorities (BOAS 1930). The Boas Report ideas were never applied, although a most significant outcome was the parallel implementation of the first planning legislation for the Perth metropolitan region  in 1928. Under the  Town Planning and Development Act 1928, the Town Planning Board was created. Coastal reserves would remain under public ownership although land use planning became a responsibility of the local authority (O’Brien 1992 cited Bassett 2004).


Since this time there has been a steady evolution of planning policy for coastal land over the last five decades. In 1955, the first strategic plan for plans of Perth’s metropolitan region was produced .  The Stephenson and Hepburn Report did not specifically plan for the coast, however ocean beaches were noted as “one of the greatest assets in terms of human enjoyment and maintaining a high level of fitness” (Stephenson 1955). Their preservation and improvement was proposed as a regional issue (Stephenson 1955). Stated as beyond the scope of the Report to make individual recommendations for particular beaches, they did however recommend all beach shorelines be retained to 2half chains as public open space (p97). Also it was advised that with the appropriate local authorities that detailed surveys be carried out to “prepare a co-ordinated plan and report on the future development of the beaches and their immediate hinterland”(Stephenson 1955).

The financial proposal supporting the maintenance and development of the beaches and regional open spaces was for a regional authority to be constituted, which would not only raise the finance but also administer responsibilities across the region. The State’s Garden Board was mooted as a potential vehicle however this would require an expansion of its powers, and functions. The architects of the Plan did not advocate local authorities continuing as the administrators of beaches as they believed that this “burden” should fall on the State as the beaches were “ quite clearly recreation for areas (in) the Region and, indeed, the State” (Stephenson 1955)

Major changes proposed for the metropolitan region which impacted upon the beach areas were the recommendation for a Regional Planning Authority and the acquisition and finance of metropolitan regional land by a land tax.  The Metropolitan Region Town Planning Scheme Act was proclaimed in February 1960 with the financing of land acquisition being achieved with the promulgation of the Metropolitan Region Improvement Tax Act  (MRIT Act) (1959). Acquisition of land reserved in the MRS for various public purposes was to be financed under the new MRIT Act (1959) (Foley. 1995).


Despite Stephenson and Hepburn’s suggestions that a coordinated plan be developed for coastal spaces, this was not achieved. Coastal areas continued to suffer with ad hoc development decisions resulting in inappropriate land uses and growing social discontent with the planning process. The coastal foreshore was a region of unmanaged facilities and in the outer metropolitan area, squatter’s shacks were present and local government would respond to local issues and environmental protection when the need arose (Stirling 1984).  The lack of a coordinated strategic plan meant that larger regional issues such as coastal erosion were overlooked. The growing public discontent regarding the limitations of planning in coastal spaces prompted, once again, the call for a coordinated strategic management plan for coastal areas. .Coastal erosion directed focus toward a coordinated state effort in coastal management (Bassett 2004 citing O’Brien 1992).

In 1971, the year the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Act was passed, the concept of a coastal zone ‘worthy of heightened management efforts’ was introduced in a review of the Mining Act with the recommendation that all Crown land and reserves in the coastal strip be declared ‘C’ Class reserves to a half mile (500 metres) limit of coastline (Government of Western Australia 1971; Donaldson, Eliot, and Kay 1995; O’Brien 2006).  The establishment of the Sand Drift and Sea Erosion Committee led to the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee on Beach Erosion in 1972 and the publication of the intergovernmental report that recommended beaches and foreshore remain in public ownership (O’Brien, 1972). In its yearly review in 1973, the EPA endorsed the ‘principle of conservation of a nominal half-mile strip of coastal reserve, including management of public access to the beaches of much of the coastline of Western Australia’ (Environmental Protection Authority 1973; Donaldson, Eliot, and Kay 1995).  The Beach Erosion subcommittee Report advocated more research to understand the workings of the coast and highlighted the need for an integrated State approach to coastal management (Department of Town Planning 1974). The  intergovernmental report recommended that beaches and foreshore should remain in public ownership adding that there should be considerably more research undertaken to understand the workings of the coast and the Review highlighted the need for an integrated State approach to coastal management (Department of Town Planning, 1974). This was particularly relevant when local authorities  were responding to management strategies on the coastal reservation without reference to other localities, which often resulted in quite different management strategies. In the north, City Beach and Floreat, (in the City of Perth), border the City of Stirling which maintains a broad coastal reserve for its sandy beaches, whereas the City of Perth did not. This resulted in the loss of the Floreat Surf Club in the 1970s due to proximity to ocean swells and the undermining of the building (Stirling, 1984). However, in the same context, the Esplanade, a road between Scarborough and Trigg disappeared by the 1970s, with its remnant at Trigg being lost to sand deposition until dune rehabilitation in the late 1980s.

During this period, the overall planning of Perth was reviewed with the Corridor Plan proposed in 1970 (Stokes  R & Hill R, 1992). The combined effort of increasing car ownership and the decline in the importance of the inner city population led to the spread of the metropolitan population over a much wider area (Webb 1973). The framework proposing the containment of u rban sprawl within four corridors of development was opposed particularly by a ‘maverick’ local planner, Paul Ritter, who proposed an alternative directional grid pattern of development (Ritter, 1972).  The land use in the coastal domain became regulated and squatters shacks and residential nodes were advised to be removed to ensure the ‘foreshore land be protected and managed for the community as a whole’ (EPA Annual Report 1975/76, 1976).  The northern finger of the Corridor Plan (Sorrento to Yanchep/Two Rocks) was further assessed providing more detail for future development pressures (MRPA, 1977). The inter Government discernment of the 1970s led to a consolidation of endeavours. Departmental heads and university academics were in consultation together and this unilateral direction evolved a singularity of purpose which saw external protagonists excluded as planner Paul Ritter found in his endeavours to highlight an alternative to the Corridor Plan. Population drove the coastal corridor and by the mid seventies the northwest corridor of the metropolitan region, from Sorrento to Two Rocks had moved the city into what has been termed by Frost (1991) as a “new frontier” city (McManus 2005). The suburban pattern of low-density housing expanded across bulldozed heath land (McManus 2005, Farrelly 2004). It was also a time when the community were not satisfied with the State Government dictating coastal land use (Rushton1976). Sorrento and the proposed changes at its coastal nodes at Hillarys led to the first visible community protest.

The need to have an overarching strategic plan for coastal spaces was recognised by the State with the establishment of the State Coastal Planning Steering Committee in 1976. The State Coastal Planning Steering Committee consisted of representatives from the Department of Town Planning, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Water, Department of Resource Development and, the Western Australian Museum. The constitution of the committee reflected the general approach to land use planning at the time. The committee had no public or community group representatives and had little requirement to directly consult with the public. Based on the expertise, knowledge and priorities of the various agencies represented on the committee the State’s first Strategic Coordinated Coastal Management Plan was released in 1980.


Following the release of this plan, the Coastal Management Coordinating Committeewas formed in in 1982. This committee was situated within the State Department of Conservation and Environment and over the following years managed to prepare 17 non-statutory coastal management plans for local and regional areas (Donaldson et al., 1995). Due to the nature and constitution of the Coastal Management Coordinating Committee, and the dominance of modernistic traditions in planning, the coastal management plans were considerably top-down in scope, with very limited consultation with user groups and the local community. Furthermore, little effort was made to address emerging issues of conflict with various user and resident groups. Following the release of the coastal management plans, public concern regarding the development and management of coastal spaces increased. Public concern was not only levied at the content of the management plans, but also the top-down processes through which they were produced. Furthermore, wide public discontent regarding the transparency and political independence of the planning system, and the growing instability within senior ranks of the Public Service, further fuelled public concern regarding the coastal management plans (Porter, 2004).

In response to this wide public discontent at the planning process, in late 1983 the Coastal Management Coordinating Committee released a position paper which, to all intents and purposes, sought to justify the top-down planning approach. The position paper also sought to justify the exclusive use of expert and scientific knowledge as the foundation for planning decisions. Furthermore, in response to the criticism that little effort had been made toward planning for social and economic processes and values in coastal areas, the Coastal Management Coordinating Committee provided justification for its predominant focus on coastal engineering. This position paper was considerably divergent with the emerging postmodernist approach in planning. Postmodernist method was dominated by deconstruction on long held ‘truths’ in modernist planning. The postmodern form replaced ‘traditional tenets of certainly and objectivity with challenges of change, heterogeneity and fragmentation. Postmodernism sought to establish a planning method whereby spaces could have multiple, overlapping and in some cases conflicting uses and values. .

The backdrop to the perception of coastal responsibility lies within the transformation in westernized political systems where the shift moved from an abstraction to one of state authorized restructuring where the impact of market forces determining the right to manage resulted in worldwide deregulation of government instrumentalities, financial institutions  and labor markets. (Peck & Tickell 02). Within Western Australia the impact of neoliberist thought  was demonstrated  in the instability in the ranks of senior Public Service personnel as well as emerging community concern of the use of coastal space. By 1983 Brian Burke’s Labor Government reassessment of the public service demoralised and removed the senior echelon (Porter C 2004). The EPA Director was sidelined (although still heading Department of Conservation and Environment) and replaced by an incumbent from the private sector (Porter C 2004). including the proposal that future coastal residential development be located in nodes (as opposed to strip development) and reiterated the removal of haphazard squatter shack developments (EPA 1984).

The disbandment of the Coastal Development Committee  (1972-1987) which had been  providing specialist advice on coastal statutory planning, in the Town Planning Department, was absorbed into the State Planning Commission. Coastal management continued to be focused on coastal engineering and related processes and legitimized modernist planning approaches.


From the early 1990s the planning approaches to the Perth metropolitan area changed. The downsizing of government and the deregulation of urban planning in Perth resulted in a reassessment of all aspects of coastal  development. (DPUD, 1990; DPUD Research Paper, 1991). Although coastal node residential development had been recommended as early as 1983 , the delivery of growth along the corridor was being questioned by urban planners (MRPA 1992). The importance of the road system had led to a further review resulting in Metroplan in 1990 (Government of Western Australia 1990). In an endeavour to assess the performance of coastal management in Western Australia, the CMCC in conjunction with the Local Government Association advised the State Planning Commission of the necessity for a review.  A result of this was the WAPC report under Planning Liberal Minister Richard Lewis which proposed land use changes be conducted with an awareness of the appropriateness and capability of the coast to sustain such change particularly with expected variations in climate (WAPC 1996).  One of the issues that was mooted as addressing the desire of people to live along the coast, was the suggested policy to permit “tall buildings and structures (above 12m) within coastal viewsheds on the coast …where they have been justified in the context of an approved policy or plan or designated in a town planning scheme” (WAPC 1996).  The mechanisms of review addressed by the Coastal Management Report had been politicised into a draft Labor policy document by 1996. Relevant to the coastal domain, was the Review’s recommendations to undertake a State Coastal Zone Management Strategy, to form Regional Coastal Management Working Groups and have a new Coastal Zone Management Council to integrate and review all coastal management supported by the Ministry for Planning. Also to ensure that coastal management plans were successful that public participation and transparency in coastal planning and management be established and financial support be provided from consolidated revenue, by a Coastal Zone Management Fund (Donaldson, Eliot, and Kay 1995).Only the Coastal Zone Management Council and strategy would result. During this phase, the Department of Planning and Urban Development, became the Ministry of Planning (1995) and the Planning Commission returned to a purely regulatory body. The coastal branch was amalgamated with other sections of Planning and Urban Development.

The coastal branch that moved from the Planning Commission was reviewed and the coastal engineering expertise was reduced. This would go out to private consultants in the future.


In parallel with these proposals, the Commonwealth Government initiated a study on the lack of integration across all governments and community bodies involved in coastal management. Following this, a Framework for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) was endorsed in 2003, with a focus on ecological sustainable development (Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council 2003).  In Perth, in 2001, with a change in Government, the Ministry for Planning amalgamated with the Transport Department to form the Department of Planning and Infrastructure under Minister MacTiernan. In this year the State proposed the Coastal Zone Management Policy, and a number of initiatives, such as the Coastal Planning and Coordination Council (CPCC) were implemented which replaced the CMCC.  The CPCC,(PCPSSC 2006) was to ensure there was greater integration within the coastal management process and became a statutory review body reporting directly to the Western Australian Planning Commission.

State Government initiatives also incorporated the concept of sustainability in the State Coastal Planning Policy SPP2.6 (2006) and in proposed coastal management legislation.  The State Sustainability Strategy is the overriding document to ensure that sustainability principles are considered in both local government and the State policy arena. The interdependence of social, environmental and economic dimensions have often made the quantifiable measure of these difficult. Incorporation of these within the deliberative political process by the evaluation of performance against multiple bottom lines (political : economic: environment: social) may result in progress towards a discourse of numerous outcomes within the climate of the governance process (O’Connor 2007).


The emergence of collaborative planning in coastal space had commenced. The recommendation of a consultative process, Network City: Perth Coastal Planning Strategy (PCPS), was undertaken by community consultation in 2005, and again in 2007 (Bunton 2004; Committee 2006). This strategy was promoted to  provide a planned and coordinated approach to management of the Perth coastline and to assist in implementing and refining the draft Coastal Zone Management Policy (Committee 2006; vom Berg 2005). How well that was delivered is the topic of discussion in the next chapter in this thesis.

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