Inner West Independent

WestConnex has owner arrested at home

A children’s game eerily echoes the community’s concerns about the Westconnex motorway. Credit: Supplied

BY PAUL CLARK

Mr Van Ngo, 68, pleaded guilty in Newtown Local Court on Tuesday 16 May to charges arising from him ‘breaking into’ his own home which had been compulsorily acquired for WestConnex. Magistrate Margaret Quinn dismissed a conviction under the crimes sentencing procedure act.

Mr Ngo was arrested for ‘breaking in’ to his own property in St Peters in December 2016. His home had been compulsorily acquired for WestConnex and police were called when he refused to surrender possession of the property. Subsequently Mr Ngo was charged with property damage and entering a premises without a lawful excuse. He spent seven nights in Silverwater Correctional Centre after initially being denied bail. A second bail application secured his release until his court appearance in May 2017.

At the time Mr Ngo was arrested he believed that he was still in negotiation about the acquisition of his home. Apparently, the process does not work that way and the government can take possession of a person’s home before the price is agreed by all parties. It is understandable that Mr Ngo was unclear about at what point the government had acquired his property, as the acquisition process is complex to a level that would confuse Byzantine court plotters.

According to the NSW government published guide to compulsory acquisition, the Valuer General may determine the amount of compensation to be offered either before or after the acquisition takes effect. This is terrific unless one is on the receiving end of it. Astoundingly, before the government acted on some of the recommendations of reviews conducted into the compulsory acquisition process by David Russell QC and Customer Service Commissioner Mike Pratt, homeowners were being charged rent to stay in what was once their own property.

Pauline Lockie, spokesperson for the WestCONnex Action Group, knows all about the stress of the compulsory acquisition process. The state government also recently acquired her home in the inner west.

“We just came to a settlement in March 2017,” she said. “This is from a process that started on Melbourne Cup day 2014.”

Ms Lockie says that in 2014 about 81 households in the St Peters area were advised that their properties were to be acquired. Most were confirmed after Australia day in 2015, but there are still some people awaiting confirmation one way or the other.

Fighting the acquisition in court is an expensive business. Ms Lockie says that taking RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) to the Land and Environment Court is a two-stage process: mediation followed by a hearing. By the time a case gets to a hearing in front of a judge, costs could top $140,000. Most would be unlikely to recover this horrific sum.

The compulsory acquisitions for WestConnex are below the perception radar of many Sydney residents. It all sounds incredible, until it happens in your street. St Peters, Ashfield, Haberfield, and Rozelle are just a few of the areas that have been or may be in the firing line.

Exactly which locations or streets are in danger from WestConnex is difficult to determine from what information is made available about the project to the public.
This is why the Inner West Council has given the state government a serve for the latest ‘consultation’ over WestConnex.

The Council says that WestConnex is inviting comment on the M4-M5 Link Concept Design but doing it in such a way that no real input can be made. “The opportunity to provide feedback on the design is incredibly narrow,” said Council Administrator Richard Pearson.

“Just eight aspects of the Concept Design are open for comment – and these include the architectural design of the ventilation stacks and the entry and exit points. I know our local residents will have a lot more to say about these than what they look like,” he said.

“How can the community properly comment on a design that raises more questions than answers?” asked Mr Pearson, drawing attention to aspects of the Concept Design that Council calls “inaccurate, confusing and misleading”.

The Council also says that comment is made more difficult by deliberate omissions of adverse features, such as the locations of schools and aged care facilities.

Examination of the WestConnex website revealed several ways of making comments including email, a web form, and making comment on an interactive map. What is not clear is what, if anything, happens to these submissions. The M4-M5 Link Concept Design May 2017 itself includes many references to how the project has listened to the community, though these seem to consist largely of examples of WestConnex not doing something that would have been egregiously ridiculous.

“There is no surface work proposed for Pioneers Memorial Park, Leichhardt,” is just one of these. Well, thanks WestConnex.

The Concept Design also seems to offer strange design choices such as the now infamous Dan Murphy’s ‘site’ (otherwise known as a building) on Darley Road, which is proposed to be used for tunnelling.

“The potential site at 7 Darley Road, Lilyfield is between the light rail line, City West Link and Darley Road. It is currently occupied by Dan Murphy’s liquor outlet. We envisage this site would be used as a launching site for two tunnelling machines as well as removal of excavated material,” says the Concept Design.

If any tunnelling must be done, why a huge site such as the now abandoned Rozelle Rail Yards 1km away, cannot be used goes unexplained.
The Inner West Council says it is concerned that the Environmental Impact Statement for the M4-M5 link will be issued before comments have even been received.

“If what we are hearing is true, that the EIS may come out before comments are received and considered on the Concept Design, then this is completely unacceptable, and makes no sense at all,” Mr Pearson said.

In a final dig at WestConnex, the Inner West council called on the Government to reform the consultation process.

“I would hope that when the Minister becomes aware of this he will agree and ensure that the EIS is not released until comments have been received and fully considered. Otherwise it truly will meet the test of a “Clayton’s” consultation,” Mr Pearson said.