by JOHN MOYLE
Just as Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) had finished crowing about settling a $1.1billion light rail legal claim for the bargain amount of $576million they are preparing to defend a new $400 million claim.
The class action set down for a hearing on July 1 next year is being brought by City of Sydney councillor and former cafe owner Angela Vithoulkas under the umbrella of her Small Business Party and representing the claims of mental anguish and loss of income for around 180 small business owners and residents along the light rail route.
“Right now we have upward of 180 people signed up and another 50 about to come into the class action,” Ms Vithoulkas said.
To get to the figure of $400million lawyer for the case Rick Mitry, Mitry Lawyers, said “you add the losses of each claimant, and we have around 200, and some of them have lost up to $10million but the average is around $500,000.”
While the TfNSW’s applications for small business assistance closes on October 1 Ms Vithoulkas wants residents and business owners to know that her class action is still open and she is ready to take enquiries.
“We got a lot of enquiries and that sparked another round of community sessions and we have been pushing out on social media, letterbox dropping and word of mouth,” she said.
Ms Vithoulkas added “We want to inform the residents that they can come into the class action if they have suffered any mental anguish, distress or trauma.
Rick Mitry said that a class action needed commonality and in this case “it is that they have all been aggrieved by the mishandling, bad management and bad planning of the light rail infrastructure project and they have suffered either economic loss, such as landlords, or psychological loss such as the people who have suffered the dust, noise, vibrations and light spillage.”
Many businesses have been confused that if they accept any offers from TfNSW then that will disqualify them from joining the class action.
Since 2017 TfNSW “has supported 179 businesses by providing more than $39.8million in financial assistance,” a spokesperson for TfNSW said.
While this is a help to some small businesses, it has failed to help many others as the paper work required was onerous and the timeframes for assessments did not always live up to TfNSW’s claims.
“I know of more than 60 businesses that have closed in my local government area and there are more outside of it, and there are hundreds who have their backs to the wall and they will never be able to climb out of the dark pit of debt,” Ms Vithoulkas said.
Fight for compensation
Dave Seibert is a resident of Devonshire Street in Surry Hills who works from home and has received noise mitigation work on his property but has since found it unacceptable.
“We had to fight for any sound treatment and that took a year and a half and even after it was put in it was not good enough and we are still hearing trains,” he said.
“I am joining the class action for mental anguish, as it’s my home and it should be a haven for us, but it hasn’t been for some time,” Mr Seibert said.
Jason Pope and his wife are hospitality consultants and experienced cafe operators and should have had all their dreams come to fruition when they took out a lease on a prime property on the corner of George Street and Margaret Street in Sydney’s CBD.
“We did our due diligence thinking the light rail would be complete by the time we had finished our fit-out around October 2018,” Mr Pope said.
“A week or two before we were to open we read that the light rail is going to be delayed around a year and a half.”
Since that time the cafe has only been able to operate by personal loans from Mr Pope’s family and is trading around 50 per cent of where it needs to be.
Mr Pope has also been unable to qualify for assistance.
“I had to submit all these documents and pay my rent up to date so I could submit invoices and my case went to the minister and he turned me down,” Mr Pope said.
Originally TfNSW promised that the project would be conducted over 30 zones but that went out the window when it was discovered that it was much cheaper to put it all in a single zone and lock down the whole city while the work was done.
No wonder that these people have turned to a class action to get the justice that should have been theirs from the beginning of the bungle.