By Isabelle Condon
ON a sunny Friday afternoon, Palm Beach residents gathered alongside Tallebudgera Creek, not to enjoy the sand and sun but to passionately defend their way of life.
The Gold Coast City Council’s plans for extending the light rail have been met with fierce opposition both in-person and online.
The Stage 4 Light Rail plans consist of a 13km light rail extension on the Gold Coast Highway between Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta.
Social media activism
The No Light Rail on the Gold Coast Facebook group has almost 2000 members opposed to the development.
Karen Rowles is a Palm Beach resident and founder of the group.
She described the upcoming plans to connect Coolangatta Airport to Helensvale Station as “outdated”.
Referring to herself as “not much of a social media user”, Mrs Rowles now dedicates her time to exposing the consequences of the planned infrastructure.
“I started the Facebook group because a high-rise went up one metre from my fence line, with 63 instead of 23 units.”
“I realised this would happen to other people,” she said.
Mrs Rowles is critical of the lack of transparency around planning and decision-making.
“They changed their mind for some reason and put it [the light rail] on the other side, probably because if they put it on this side they’d have to resume some of the caravan parklands which is owned by the council,” Mrs Rowles said.
Light rail gets heavy Council backing
The local council paints a very different picture, with Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate sharing strongly worded statement on the matter.
“Some protest groups claim they speak for the majority.
“How can that be the case when formal community surveys run independently of any external influences have confirmed that the majority support the light rail?” Mr Tate said, in a statement.
The three-time elected mayor had no issue holding back his disappointment on the group’s persistence and tactics used to get their message across.
“I have no problem with people protesting about it as democracy is a great thing and our country has fought in wars to protect our free speech.
“What concerns me with some protests is their inflammatory language and obvious bias,” he said.
Despite the Gold Coast Council’s efforts to collaborate with the community through surveys and consultation sessions, there are still groups, particularly in the Palm Beach area, campaigning against the light rail.
“The light rail system is not about one suburb or one area, it is our main public transport spine that will run from Helensvale all the way to the airport.”
The light rail was formally announced to the public following community consultation in 2009, with the majority of Palm Beach residents supporting the proposal.
The Preliminary Business Case for the light rail is underway and should be completed by mid-2022.