Angela Vithoulkas on George Street Photo: Alec Smart

Posted by & filed under City News, Featured City News.

by John Moyle

The Sydney Light Rail project has another headache coming its way as businesses and residents along its route are about to launch a class action suit for losses and damages to property. 

The class action will be brought by CBD cafe owner and City of Sydney councillor Angela Vithouklas, who has had her George Street business severely impacted by the project. 

 

“We knew that we were never going to be treated fairly in terms of compensation and that there were many businesses that were described as ineligible under the current criteria, and then there were residents that don’t fit any sort of criteria and have been stonewalled in regards to their homes,” Angela Vithouklas said. 

 

Coming on top of the debacle with project sub- contractor ACCIONA Australia who are taking the State Government to court for $1.1 billion for what is says was misleading information supplied in regards to power infrastructure for 106 utility pits controlled by AusGrid. 

 

ACCIONA are currently on a go-slow while they tangle with the government with no resolution or settlement in sight. 

 

“Since January of this year there has been infrequent work and weeks and days go by with  nobody working, so clearly the go-slow is happening here,” Ms Vithouklas said. 

 

“On the days when they feel like working there is massive noise and there does not appear to be any project management happening and no information about when construction is going to occur.” 

 

In 2017 the NSW Government admitted that costs for the 12km track had blown out by $500 million, but that figure is expected to rise before the project’s now estimated completion date of 2020. 

 

Meanwhile many small businesses have gone to the wall or are suffering financial hardships from which they may never recover. 

 

“My last count of the businesses that have gone bankrupt due to the light rail would be close to 50,” Ms Vithouklas said. 

 

“There are a lot of businesses that are hanging on because they feel compelled to and there are a lot of businesses that can’t walk away because of their legal obligations such as leases.” 

 

Ms Vithouklas says that over the past few months she has been working with a team of six to get businesses and residents to sign on and now has a couple of hundred signed on and a law firm on board. 

 

“All the signatures have been collected online and because I have been fighting the light rail for some years now we have been able to reach a lot of people,” Ms Vithouklas said.  

 

While transport minister Andrew Constance has been the unsteady hand in public for the project, it is in fact the pet project of Premier Gladys Berijiklian, as she was the transport minister when the coalition came to power in 2011 and oversaw the project’s formative years of planning. 

 

The Government at the time saw the project as a jewel in their crown to be unveiled to grateful Sydneysiders in time for the 2019 elections. 

 

The whole debacle was foreshadowed in 2012 when Infrastructure NSW’s then chief executive Paul Broad and then chairman Nick Greiner both warned the Government that a pitfall of delays and financial problems lay ahead. 

 

In 2012 Mr Broad told the ABC: “If you add light rail to George Street you will not fix a problem, you will create a problem.” 

 

By 2013 Gladys was pondering 10 possible routes for the light rail, and despite warnings that Devonshire Street was inappropriate, she went ahead with that route that saw the demolition of Olivia Gardens in Surry Hills, making 70 long term residents uncertain of their futures. 

 

Writing in the SMH  in 2014, Nick Miller warned that “subterranean surprises” could be major risks. 

 

Gladys and her current Passepartout, Andrew Constance, could have also looked at the tram wreck that occurred with the Edinburgh project that saw costs blow-out by three times estimations and build time double, while less the half the planned line was produced. 

 

That project also saw one of its main contractors, Bilfinger Berger, sue Transport Initiatives Edinburgh for similar underground problems encountered by ACCIONA in Sydney. 

 

In January of this year City Hub wrote about the residents of Parkham Street, Surry Hills, who had been battling for compensation for damages to their properties with no results. 

 

Barbara Best, one of the residents interviewed for that article, has signed onto the class action saying: “I have been trying to get settlement for at least a couple of years and there has been no progress.” 

 

Ms Vithouklas will make a public announcement regarding the class action later this month and is calling for more people to sign on, particularly people who have suffered damage to their homes. 

 

“To continually keep telling people affected by the light rail that it is short term pain for long term gain is one of the biggest insults that this government has ever put forward to its people,” Ms Vithouklas said. 

 

For those interested in joining the class action go to sydneylightrailclassaction.info.