Are you in the firing line?

Are you in the firing line?

By Peter Hehir

Tunnelling works for the next Stage of the biggest unnatural disaster to ever hit Sydney begins in May. The potential for structural damage to homes is all too real, based on what has previously happened to home owners affected by Stages 1 and 2 tunnels.

This link takes you to an interactive map that shows the route of the tunnels for Stage 3 a – aka the M4-M5 Link, from Haberfield to St Peters.

The identified route traverses the suburbs of Haberfield, Leichhardt, Annandale, Camperdown, Newtown, Stanmore, Enmore, Erskineville and St Peters – and is reputed to be accurate to within half a metre. It indicates the depth of the tunnels and shows the homes and businesses that are likely to be affected.

This map identifies a staggering 4,500 properties in total!

All of these homes fall within the designated 50 metre impact zone and claims for damage will only be considered for properties within that zone! There is however a change in relation to the manner in which structural damage to homes affected by Stage 3a are to be assessed.

The substantive difference between Stages 1 and 2 and the assessment for Stage 3a, is that a “review panel” has now been introduced into the application process for reimbursement in relation to structural damage. On the face of it this appears to be an important safeguard. However the members of that supposedly “independent” review panel are all appointed by the RMS!

Nothing else has changed. The onus is still on the property owner to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the damage was caused by the tunnelling or associated drainage works. This has been shown to be extremely difficult, if not almost impossible to do.

RAW – Rozelle Against WestConnex – has requested at the Inner West Council Community Forum meeting held on the 6th of November, that the Department of Planning and Environment write to the Joint Venture requesting they provide both the total number of properties whose owners believe they have been affected by the tunnelling works for Stages 1 and 2 and also how many of these claims have been accepted as valid.

In North Strathfield at least 15 homes have sustained structural damage, at least 8 in Haberfield as well as a number of others in Beverley Hills; however none of these people have yet had their claims approved. This concern was raised in the article “It’s your home. You fix it…” in a recent edition of City Hub.

Those who live in the 50 metre impact zones, are strongly urged to avail themselves of the opportunity to have their homes inspected by the Joint Venture contractor when the offer is extended. This offer takes the form of two written communications to the property owner as well as a knock on the door by the contractor.

Home owners are well advised to also ensure that they arrange their own independent inspections by a licensed builder in the week or two before the tunnels approach their properties.

This inspection should ensure all walls, skirtings and cornices in every room are photographed in detail with a time and date stamp, all doors and windows fully open and closed, with external shots of the structure looking along exterior walls, as well as the rear and the façade.

Any cosmetic or essential structural repairs that need to be undertaken should be identified well in advance and rectified prior to the inspections, so that the residence is then both aesthetically and structurally sound.

This approach will prove invaluable once the claim has been routinely denied by the contractor and evidence is then presented to the review panel. Given the past performance of the RMS and the utter contempt that they have shown to the community over the past decades, it’s inconceivable that this so called “independent review panel” won’t side with their contractors and will almost certainly deny all claims.

The matter can only then be referred to the DPE, whose record in relation to assessing objections to this project; coupled with allegations from whistle-blowers of rife internal corruption – could only be described as abysmal. They’ll then adjudge whether the determination process and the decisions made by both the contractor and the review panel are compliant.

With the current slide in property values here in Sydney, home owners are already feeling the pinch. The unwelcome burden of having to shell out big dollars to rectify damage to their homes; damage that is no fault of their own, could well tip many over the fiscal edge.

Insurance companies will be loathe to honour these claims in the belief that a prima facie case exists suggesting that the tunnelling is to blame and that the home owner should seek redress through the courts.

It’s thanks to Glad the Impaler that the onus is on the property owners to prove causality – and they will no doubt be left holding the bag. And what an expensive sack it is. Remediation of structural damage can easily run into six figures.

Thanks again Premier. I’m so glad your days are numbered…