BY ANDREW BARCLAY
Hundreds of families could be left out of pocket as the New South Wales government moves ahead with controversial plans to forcibly acquire homes in the way of major infrastructure projects.
Residents across the inner west have raised concerns about the forcible purchase of homes along the WestConnex route, branding the exercise a “farce”.
The criticism comes after a Liberal Party chaired parliamentary committee found the mandatory acquisition process was unfair to landowners.
The report, published by a committee led by Liberal MP Matt Kean in 2013, found multiple issues including the “transparency surrounding valuation methodologies [and] procedural fairness”.
Up to 200 homes in Sydney’s inner-west are planned to be purchased as part of the WestConnex project.
Residents impacted by the acquisitions are now complaining of poor consultation, below-market property valuations and high-levels of stress, urging the government to consider the social ramifications of the move.
WestConnex Action Group spokesperson Pauline Lockie said the offered prices were hundreds of thousands of dollars below market value, given a booming Sydney property market.
Lockie, whose own St. Peters home could be acquired, said that the consultation process has been “traumatic”.
“I know of homeowners in Haberfield, Ashfield and Strathfield who have been offered 300 to 400 thousand dollars less than the market-value, meaning they can’t be relocated within the same area,” she told City Hub.
“Our legal teams warned us that the RMS [Road and Maritime Service] were going to be extremely aggressive buyers”.
She said the process disempowers ordinary people and leads to a systematic approach to undervaluing properties.
The current process requires the government to negotiate with homeowners, but if no agreement is reached, legislation allows for compulsory acquisition if approved by the state governor.
The landowner can appeal the decision to the Land and Environment Court.
The parliamentary committee, however, had already warned of a systemic failure to afford landholders a fair hearing, treat landholders with the respect, dignity and fairness.
“This has significantly and detrimentally impacted landholders,” the report from the Joint Standing Committee on the Office of the Valuer General said.
Instead, the report recommended a “paradigm shift, so that treating landholders fairly and respectfully is seen as a complementary”.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Valuer General told City Hub the government had already introduced a series of measures to improve the fairness and transparency of the valuation system and provide a smooth consultation process.
“The Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act requires that compensation will not be less than the current market value of the land,” they said.
“In the case of WestConnex, valuers engaged on behalf of the Valuer General have been closely monitoring the market and have a solid understanding of market values in the area.”
Statistics show that in more than 90 per cent of cases, acquisitions occurred through agreement with property owners.
Yet, campaigners and impacted residents said they have felt the social and emotion impacts of the compulsory acquisitions were being overlooked by the government.
MP for Newtown and NSW Greens WestConnex spokesperson Jenny Leong has labelled the process “unacceptable” and called for a moratorium on all home acquisitions until an independent inquiry of WestConnex has been undertaken.
“Families are being forcibly uprooted removed from their homes and communities, before planning approvals have even been granted,” she told City Hub.
Lockie said the process has been traumatic and has been extremely emotionally stressful for her family.
“The worst part about these revelations is that the government has known for three years about how unfair this process is,” she said.
It was announced this week that the Sydney Motorway Corporation would acquire a further 6,000 square metres from the award-winning Sydney park and surrounding areas, after the government wrote to City of Sydney Council late last year saying it intended to compulsorily acquire further andparts of the park.
“Large sections of Sydney Park are being carved off to make way for the slow moving polluting carpark that is slated to appear on Euston and Sydney Park Roads as a result of WestConnex,” Leong said.
The WestConnex project is Australia’s biggest ever infrastructure project and was reported that $58 million was spent to acquire 45 properties from June 2014 to April 2015. The M4 to M5 link, the project’s third stage, is projected to open to traffic in 2023.
Photo Credit: King St Crawl, Newtown. By Martin Brady.