By KATE RAFFERTY
Permanent acquisition of underground land due to WestConnex construction has left property owners in the Inner West battling the government for compensation.
Under the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991, governments can permanently acquire underground land, or substratum, without compensation if it is in the path of project plans.
In the case of WestConnex, this involves any underground land that falls along the route of its WestConnex link tunnel, WestConnex interchange and NorthConnex tunnel projects.
Member for Balmain Jamie Parker says providing adequate compensation to substrata property owners is the least the government can do.
“This project is ripping through our community and causing permanent, serious damage to homes,” he said.
“Dozens of residents have contacted me seeking help after learning their land will be acquired, and I’m supporting them.”
While the compulsory acquisition of homes is often compensated by the government for damage and legal costs, substratum is treated differently.
This is because governments work on the assumption that the market value of the land is zero, and that the homeowner will not experience any damage to their property.
Yet in many cases, WestConnex tunnelling has acquired land greater than five metres under a home, posing real concern for subsidence, and damage to the foundations and walls.
For many, damage has already appeared, including cracking, which seriously devalues a property. While it is possible for homeowners to seek compensation for potential future loss of property market value, the process is confusing, which Mr. Parker says is cheating residents out of receiving a fair hearing.
“The government has done a terrible job of communicating the impacts and the process to residents, as well as the reasons why they think residents should not be fairly compensated” he said.
“It is already an extraordinarily stressful process for people…but this government is exacerbating the problem by making residents fight tooth and nail for a fair price.”
Class action considered
Many lodged claims have already been turned down, which has led Stacks Law Firm to consider a possible class action for the acquisition of substratum by WestConnex in the Inner West.
The firm was contacted by the Inner West Independent, but was unable to comment on the action, although over 1000 clients are said to be registered.
Additionally, the NSW Greens have secured a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the acquisitions process for transport projects, including WestConnex.
Mr. Parker says the inquiry will be chaired by Greens MP Abigail Boyd, and will give a platform to affected residents.
“It’s our hope this parliamentary inquiry will give residents a chance to be heard in public, on the record,” he said.
“I’m confident it will deliver some really strong recommendations which we will push for the government to adopt”.
Submissions are now open, and the NSW Greens are encouraging locals to have their say.