Ongoing Light Rail construction is devastating small businesses and residents. Photo: John Moyle

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BY JOHN MOYLE

 

The recent parliamentary inquiry into the CBD and South East Sydney light rail has revealed grievances from every stakeholder. The business case for the project was put under the microscope and brought to light major budget and planning failures which will impact the state for a generation to come. Glad the Impaler’s government has been shown to be guilty of consistent incompetence in commissioning and handling the project.

The inquiry has revealed the budget has blown out to $2.2 billion and the completion date has been moved to May 2020. Transport for NSW Secretary Mr Rodd Staples questioned the May completion date and wanted it moved forward to December 2019, while also refusing to speculate that the budget would blow out further to $3 billion.

Meanwhile the light rail contractor Acciona Australia’s Bede Noonan was pointing fingers at Ausgrid for failing to perform essential works to move overhead electricity lines underground in Kensington and Kingsford. Mr Noonan told the inquiry Acciona had provided the government with 45 monthly updates since construction commenced in 2015 and around half of these indicated delays.

Acciona is suing the government for $1.2 billion, alleging “misleading and deceptive conduct” over its underground utilities. The inquiry also aired some harrowing tales from business operators and residents along the route who have been adversely affected since construction commenced in 2015.

Rick Mitry, Partner at Mitry Lawyers, is leading a $40 million class action suit brought by around 100 businesses and residents against Transport for NSW. “We had a directions hearing last Wednesday and a timetable was given for what the court would expect to happen before it comes back before the court towards the end of the month,” Mr Mitry said.

“Business owners are easily 70-75 per cent [of the litigants] and the rest are residents who can only claim for psychological damages.”

A spokesperson for TfNSW said “While long term the light rail project will clearly have tremendous benefits for business, Transport for NSW understands that there have been impacts during construction to some of the 750 businesses along the alignment.

“To date the NSW Government has offered more than $12 million to 96 small businesses (to September 30) and we will continue applications from small businesses.”

Manny Tzirtilakus owns Ourororos Wholefoods Cafe in Devonshire Street, Surry Hills and is a recipient of the government hand-out. “We’ve been offered rental assistance and that is the reason why we are still open,” Mr Tzirtilakus said.

That’s where the good news ends, as he is now suffering psychological problems and has been forced to step away from his business – which is down by 70 per cent – for both health and financial reasons.

“It’s put a lot of stress on my family and my employees and if it continues I am going to have to check into some psychiatric facilities just to get my mental health back on track because at the moment it is very challenging,” Mr Tzirtilakis said.

“I didn’t sign a 5x5x5 year lease to close my doors three years into it.”

Lisa Prestridge is a Kensington resident with a daughter sitting for the HSC who lives next to the light rail route in Anzac Parade. “This has been going non-stop since 20th January 2017 and now my daughter and I have sleep deprivation and my building has cracks,” Ms Prestridge said.

“They work all night and they are allowed to jackhammer up until midnight because that is at 85 decibels and allowable.” The disruption continues all night, as after midnight the constructors can use a compactor which produces an allowable 80 decibel noise level.

Ms Prestridge has asked for double glazing and air-conditioning and was promised this by Minister for Transport, Mr Andrew Constance on the 23rd of May. In the room at the time Mr Constance made the promise were City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas and broadcaster Alan Jones.

“I haven’t seen that promise and I received a letter on the 8th of August saying that they wouldn’t help with the noise mitigation,” Ms Prestridge said. “I’m so glad that the parliamentary inquiry exposed a lot of breaches and I believe that something good will come out of it for residents and business owners.”

Ms Prestridge’s section of the project was due for completion on May 20 this year but this has now been extended to May 2020.

The fact that residents and business owners are now being heard is largely due to City of Sydney councillor and small business advocate Angela Vithoulkas who brought the class action suit against the government in August 2018.

“It would have never come to this if they had sat down and worked out compensation from the beginning and budgeted for it so that it is not a burden on the tax payer,” Ms Vithoulkas said.

Both Ms Vithoulkas and Mr Mitry warn that more trouble for the government is brewing with the light rail projects in Newcastle and Parramatta. “I would have done this pro bono as when I met people of the class action I met some very highly stressed people,” Mr Mitry said.