We’ve had many shocked and distressed people approach us for information after learning that their homes or businesses are to be acquired for WestCONnex. While we can’t offer legal advice on this, we can offer some information that may help based on what other residents have experienced.
Obtaining legal advice
You should do this ASAP If you’ve received notice that all or part of your property is to be acquired for WestCONnex. There are laws in place regarding your compensation rights, but they’re complex. Without a thorough understanding of the law, it can be very difficult for you to get everything you’re entitled to.
A number of residents affected by WestCONnex are being represented by Slater & Gordon. The person to email there if you want to enquire is Vincent Butcher, Vincent.Butcher@slatergordon.com.au.
Other residents are being represented by Mitry Lawyers. The person to contact there is Richard Mitry on 02 9222 2833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Both of these firms will advise free of charge if you are likely to have a case, and will generally withhold charging you legal fees unless you go to the Land and Environment Court (LEC), as they charge the RMS directly. So they may be a viable option if you’re unable to afford upfront legal fees. Speak to each of these firms directly as to how their fee structures work if you end up electing to go to the LEC, as it gets a bit complex from there.
We're seeking other recommendations from people who've been through this process and will post details as they come in.
Whoever you choose, it’s important to make sure your lawyers are experienced in compulsory acquisition laws and processes.
If you’re renting a property that’s being acquired for WestCONnex, you may also be entitled to compensation. So it’s worth seeking legal advice in this instance as well.
Limited compensation may be available for people whose properties are not being acquired, but will be right next to the affected area. Unfortunately, this is by no means assured, as the law doesn’t allow for much compensation outside of fairly rigid boundaries. But again, if you’re unsure if you qualify, get legal advice.
What compensation are you entitled to receive?
Broadly speaking, you're entitled to market value for your property (and it should be valued without any negative imThe pact arising from WestConnex, or the project in question); solatium, or the limited compensation for non-financial disadvantage you may be able to claim; and disturbance, or the losses or expenses you incur as a direct result of the acquisition. Again, it's important to seek legal advice to find out exactly what applies to your situation, so you can claim your full legal entitlements.
Have people whose properties are being acquired for WestCONnex been treated fairly?
While we can't say everyone has been treated unfairly, there have been widespread reports of people receiving offers that are far below what they're entitled to for market value, disturbance, or both.
The system of forced acquisitions has also come under fire for being inherently unfair to property owners. In late 2016, the Baird government was forced to make some changes after news broke that it was deliberately burying the findings of a review into the system. While this may result in more compensation for some, the changes didn't go as far as the review recommended, and it remains to be seen whether it results in a better process for people affected.
For more, see the following articles:
- Residents offered far below market value for homes needed for WestCONnex, lawyer says (SMH, 03/07/15)
- Warning of 'unfair' process unheeded as government forges ahead with property resumptions (SMH, 11/01/16)
- Landmark review of compulsory acquisition kept secret by Baird government (SMH, 12/01/16)
- Homes taken, now trapped residents must pay to stay (SMH, 16/07/16)
- The human toll of Mike Baird's WestConnex (SMH, 23/08/16)
- What you can do if you're facing compulsory acquisition (SMH, 21/09/16)
- Compulsory acquisitions: owners get more time, money but fairness questions remain (SMH, 18/10/16)
Can you refuse to negotiate / stop the acquisition?
This is difficult as the laws are tilted very much in the government’s favour when it comes to acquisitions. Again, we recommend obtaining legal advice early, so you know your rights.
Should you be open with your neighbours about your negotiations?
This is something only you can decide. However, other members have found this a useful source of support, especially given how stressful the acquisition process can be. It can also help stop the RMS following a “divide and conquer” strategy to lower the settlements you and/or your neighbours are paid.
You may also find it beneficial to use the same lawyers as your neighbours, and/or to use a lawyer that is representing other property owners affected by WestCONnex acquisitions. That way, even if you don’t feel comfortable discussing the process with others, your lawyer will be able to use knowledge of settlements received elsewhere to help you.
We hope this helps. Feel free to email us if you have any questions, or would like to be put in touch with others who've gone through this process.
Copy of the letter distributed to affected Rozelle residents on 18 July 2016.