Opinion by PETER HEHIR
Quoting a line from the great Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want”, is the Rozelle Interchange contractor John Holland/CPB practiced in the art of deception?
Definitely, if previous experience is anything to go by. In the earlier stages the contractors were pushing early inspections, ostensibly to identify existing structural defects.
In reality – based on the rejection of hundreds of claims for compensation – where the owners in Beverly Hills, Homebush, Strathfield and Haberfield believed that the substantial damage to their homes could only have been caused by the shallow road tunnels excavated beneath and adjacent to them and had almost all of their claims for compensation rejected, these inspections are all about evading the contractor’s responsibility for damage.
These structural damage claims were thrown out on the flimsiest of pretexts including dripping garden taps, rusted guttering and leaking downpipes. In one street in Beverley Hills two adjacent homes built just after the First World War cracked up, requiring hundreds of thousands in underpinning and repair bills. The same thing happened in two streets in Homebush.
The Beverley Hills homes built on clay based soils had their subterranean water table radically altered due to the deep access ramps opposite their homes. The impact this can have on a structure’s foundations can be and often is extremely serious, with the worst case scenario resulting in the demolition of the property.
I’m not alone in believing this pressure to accept early inspections is a thinly disguised attempt to ensure that the maximum amount of time elapses between the inspection and the arrival of the tunnel. The reason for this is obvious; simply to give the contractors an out.
Because the onus of proof lies on the home owner to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the tunnelling caused the damage; the greater the time between the inspection and the damage, the less likely are the chances of a successful legal challenge.
Obviously any and all of the above excuses are trotted out and used as justification to deny almost every claim. The count about 8 months ago was something like 400 claims lodged and all but 14 were denied. Of those remaining a decision was still pending.
Last September, well in advance of the works commencing in the Rozelle goods yard, I spoke with the Rozelle project manager Mr Kevin Parker (his mobile # is now disconnected), who had been pressuring me since April to act immediately on the offer of the free inspection.
As I had two tunnels planned underneath my home, one at 46 metres and the other at 24 metres, both of which I’d estimated were were at least 10 months away, I declined his offer and said I’d delay my inspection until the tunnels were about a week from my property.
I made it very clear that I was only too aware of the treatment that hundreds of other homeowners had received at the hands of the M4 and M5 contractors and that I wasn’t going to be bullied into an early inspection.
He then suggested a simple solution. I could have two inspections, one in September prior to the civil works beginning in the goods yard and the other when the first of their tunnels was approaching my property.
I willingly accepted his offer of two on the understanding that I could delay them both until each of the tunnels was about a week away.
About six weeks ago I contacted John Holland/CPB to arrange for the first of these pre-inspections, as the 46 metre deep tunnel was approaching the rear of my 160 year old Heritage listed property. I was advised that Kevin Parker was no longer working on the project. The new project manager – Brandan Perron – said he had no knowledge of this arrangement, that there was no record of it, he couldn’t tell me how to get in touch with Mr Parker and that he didn’t have the authority to make good on Mr Parker’s offer.
I also expressed my concern for the integrity of my home and my bitter disappointment, were they to renege, at a meeting outside my home with his team leader Koby Boer. He texted me back indicating he didn’t think I’d get the two promised inspections.
Mr Perron did say he’d contact the RMS and put the request to them. He called me and said my request had been denied. I asked that he confirm this in writing so that I could be certain that he was being quoted correctly and he advised that he would email me later that day.
That was well over five weeks ago now. I’m still waiting. I’ve made four calls in the past few days to the community engagement call centre requesting Mr Perron contact me. All of these were recorded. He still hasn’t bothered to pick up the phone or email me. So much for community engagement…
The WestConnex works on the Rozelle Interchange, known as Stage 3B, were awarded to John Holland/CPB on the basis of a fixed price contract. This means exactly what it says. A fixed price.
Given that every major infrastructure project inevitably suffers significant cost overruns and when the money runs out savings have to be made somewhere, it’s the owners of the damaged homes – who’ve lodged what inevitably prove to be futile claims – who ultimately bear the financial cost as well as suffering the emotional stress.
Because I have less than zero faith in the process, including the so called ‘independent’ review panel, I made the decision to use my now one free pre-inspection when the shallower tunnel was imminent; and also to engage a private certifier, who has considerable experience in legal proceedings in relation to structural damage cases. His report was undertaken on the 13th June prior to the arrival of the 46 metre ventilation tunnel. That document showed no existing structural damage.
The EIS clearly admits that the shallower the tunnel, the greater the subsidence caused by the effects of both vibration and the contraction/expansion of clay based soils due to interference with the water table.
I await firm advice of the arrival date of the ever closer 24 metre deep Inbound Iron Cove Tunnel with considerable trepidation. I made a formal complaint to Cameron Weller at email@example.com. The contractors then arranged a meeting with Martha Halliday and Roos (whose surname I do not have) from the Community Engagement and the Tunnelling Team on the 13th July. They both stated ‘there has been no structural damage caused by the Rozelle Interchange tunnelling’.
A CPB property damage inspector while recently inspecting a home in St Peters following construction of the M5 tunnel, refused to photograph a huge crack that had appeared in one of the walls. His reason? It wasn’t shown on the initial property survey! So, do I think the community should place its trust in John Holland/CPB? No way! Not a snowball’s chance in hell…
Peter Hehir is the convenor of RAW (Rozelle Against WestConnex. Contact details are on the website.)