BY JOHN MOYLE
Scenes from ‘The Castle’ are being played out all across Sydney as the city undergoes an unprecedented development boom, but few expected that the nightmare would visit the quiet streets of Randwick in the way that it has.
The ghostly apparition that descended on Randwick firstly took their homes, and then began systematically undervaluing them for compensation.
In June last year, the State Government announced that they were going to bulldoze 88 properties in Eurimbla Ave, Botany Street and Magill Street, to make way for a $720 million redevelopment of the Prince of Wales Hospital.
The land is situated between the Prince of Wales and the University of New South Wales and the resumption includes university property.
“We are building a new acute services centre, with a new emergency department and 12 new operating theatres, a new ICU and approximately 300 new in-patient beds that the campus requires to for the next 10 to 15 years,” Mr Tobi Wilson, general manager, Prince of Wales Hospital said.
No resident that City Hub spoke to for this story was against the hospital redevelopment.
“We’re not against the development as it’s for the community, but it’s the way that it has been gone about,” Graham Walsh Green, committee member, Forced Acquisitions Residents Group for Randwick, said.
Prince of Wales general manager Tobi Wilson was emphatic in explaining that Health Infrastructure NSW and not the hospital were carrying out the land requisitions.
It seems that many of the approximately 200 residents impacted by the decision found out in a variety of ways, and none of them are examples of a government department conducting best practice in regards to a highly sensitive community issue.
“From the beginning the communication was appalling between Health Infrastructure and the residents, for example, some were door knocked, others had letters left under their doors and others saw it on the news the next night or found out at work,” Wendy Gillett, committee member, said. “It’s pretty crappy.”
A spokesperson for Health Infrastructure replied, ”Health Infrastructure has been working directly with each resident impacted by the land acquisition since the announcement in June 2017.”
If the land grab has any single media profile it would belong to 88-year-old Eileen Collins, who ironically is a long-term volunteer at the Prince of Wales.
“I can’t afford Randwick, and I have had to move to Pagewood, where I will have to take two buses to get to the Prince of Wales,” Eileen Collins said.
It’s all a bit of déja vu for Eileen, as in 1972 her Palmer Street home in Woolloomooloo was taken by the State Government as part of the redevelopment of the local area.
But it is not just Health Infrastructure’s bad manners that the local residents are complaining about. It is also about real estate, and in particular the price of the real estate as estimated by the acquiring party.
Under NSW law the government must compensate the owners of affected properties with a fair market value, and that if there is doubt, that value should be at the high end of the range and is to be resolved in the favour of the dispossessed owner.
“Every Health Infrastructure valuation is lower than every owners valuation and the differences range between 10 and 31 per cent,” Ms Gillett said.
Domain’s current estimate for a two-bedroom house in Randwick is $1.73 million, while a three-bedder is $2.75m and a four bedder is $2.8m.
If Ms Gillett’s estimations of Health and Infrastructure’s valuations are correct, that means that homeowners at the higher end are being offered up to $1million less than market value for their properties.
“Health and Infrastructure obtains a valuation from a qualified property valuer and makes an initial offer on this basis,” a Health and Infrastructure spokesperson said.
Flo Mitchell is an acquisitions lawyer acting for around 20 Randwick homeowners and said, “Valuers appointed by the Government will frequently be below other valuers and the owners are usually expected to negotiate down from their own independent valuations.”
On top of what the Government valuer is offering, the 2014 Russell Report on just compensation advised that an each homeowner be granted an additional $75,000 for disruption to family life.
The Victorian government is slightly more generous, putting the pain of removal at 10 per cent of the property’s value.
“The Baird Government sat on the Russell Review for two years before releasing it, and when they did in 2016, it was already two years old, “Wendy Gillett said.
Where the Randwick homeowners go from here is best likened to an execution schedule.
“By around 17th February they will be served with a PAN, that stands for Proposed Acquisition Notices, and these are the first formal step for the Government to take ownership of the land,” Flo Mitchell said.
The PAN sets out the right of compensation and usually says that the owner has 60 days to file their claim, and that within 90 days the Government will take possession.
From that time, owners have the right to remain without paying rent for up to three months, after which time, in most of these cases, by the end of August, they can be forcibly removed.
“They are just not taking people’s houses, they are taking a community,” Wendy Gillett said,
Flo Mitchell is also acting for homeowners in Marrickville, Parramatta, Westmead and Badgery’s Creek, and so the story goes across Sydney.