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The recent surprise announcement by NSW Premier Kristina Keneally that property acquisitions for the CBD Metro in Rozelle had been put on hold has people in the area very excited – and confused.

Just ask proprietor of the threatened Adore Pharmacy in Rozelle, Chadi Tahan, who has ridden a rollercoaster ride of uncertainty these last few months about the fate of his recently-renovated business. “We haven’t been told formally yet [about their plans] – we have only heard about it from newspaper reports, and they all have conflicting stories,” he said. “We don’t know what to do. The Premier said the property acquisition has been put on hold, but that the final decision will be made in late February. That doesn’t help us in any way.”

Mr Tahan said that the lack of certainty surrounding the issue was becoming a scandal. “We have not received any formal notification. When the Premier put the acquisition process on hold, we only received a phone call, and this is apparently not legally binding,” he said.

According to Mr Tahan, approval from the Transport Minister meant Sydney Metro Authority had already progressed on certain acquisitions. “Even if this whole project is cancelled, some properties on Darling Street have already been acquired and will be owned by the Transport Department,” he said. “They have also acquired properties on Victoria Road, not essential for the metro but for the Tigers Leagues Club redevelopment. These properties are in key positions for traffic access to the Leagues Club. But until the metro is confirmed or cancelled, the Tigers are holding back on the development.”

Leichhardt’s acting mayor, Michele McKenzie, said she would be very pleased if the Rozelle leg of the metro was cancelled, describing it as “incredibly unpopular” throughout the area. “It doesn’t form part of an integrated planning system and Rozelle certainly wouldn’t work as a bus interchange,” she said. She noted, however, it was difficult to ascertain the true state of affairs, due to the lack of official detail.

Media leaks have suggested that if the Rozelle station is scrapped, plans for the West Metro may be brought forward. If [such a proposal] is part of an integrated transport system, we are all for it,” Cr McKenzie said. “It would a far better way to help commuters than widening the M5, which is being discussed.

Cr McKenzie noted her preference for the area remained a light rail line along Parramatta Road. “All the research shows that people will go from cars to light rail, but not to buses,” she said. “And light rail has a flow on effect on local business and employment, [plus] it’s cheap to build. Instead of digging these huge tunnels that will take 15 years to bring online, you could get the light rail up and running in a few years.”

The near-simultaneous announcement by Minister Campbell that the study for light rail was going out to tender has raised hopes that after fifteen years of proposals and studies, some real progress is on the horizon. But Gavin Gatenby of EcoTransit Sydney, an advocacy group which supports the expansion of light rail, described it as a strange situation. “They announced last year they were going to do a study, then the government announced the brief for the consultant without consulting the steering committee,” he said. “Then, Clover Moore button-holed Campbell and made her view [representative of] all the other mayors, with the result that the study was pulled.”

Consequently, the brief was delayed over Christmas, with a new brief finalised and again put out to tender in recent weeks. “This time, it included the light CBD rail loop in the city and other elements like the cycleway – things that had been left out of the first brief,” Gatenby observed.

Mr Gatenby believes the recent array of leaks demonstrate the fate of the Rozelle metro is effectively sealed. “My understanding is that the Metro authority was absolutely livid with the government that they did not get their EA approved before Christmas,” he said. “They were expecting that to happen so they could go on and push through the compulsory purchase of the properties and start doing something – and clearly, they suddenly saw the writing on the wall, and were really, really angry about it.”

For her part, Balmain MP Verity Firth has long advocated her enthusiasm for the metro, but has in recent times qualified support for the Rozelle leg. “I continue to support the Sydney Metro as a 21st-century solution to Sydney’s public transportation needs,” she said. “I welcome the decision to pause the acquisition of properties until the Transport Blueprint is finalised in late February. This will ensure that whatever the outcome, it will be considered within the context of an integrated vision for land use and transport planning.”

by Jeremy Brown