Leading compulsory acquisition law firm Slater and Gordon has applauded the Victorian Government’s effort to minimise the social impact of the Melbourne Metro Rail Project, but has warned many residents’ property rights remain unclear.
Minister for Planning Richard Wynne today confirmed the final route for the nine kilometre twin tunnels under central Melbourne, with five stations at Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain.
The choice of the final route means only one home will be acquired in South Kensington, rather than nine that were proposed under an alternative option.
Green light for planning approval and hundreds of acquisitions
Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer Manisha Blencowe said today’s decision is great news for those who successfully campaigned against acquisition, but it is also the ‘green light’ for planning approval, which will mean hundreds of other acquisitions.
“Choosing the route that requires fewer acquisitions shows the Victorian government is serious about minimising the social impacts of major infrastructure projects on local communities,” Ms Blencowe said.
“Today’s decision will trigger the remaining approvals and legal processes and activate property rights for affected residents, but many protections are yet to be clarified, especially for properties outside the acquisition zone which are also likely to be seriously impacted.
“For instance, the Minister’s report discusses respite and temporary relocation for residents affected by construction, but is silent as to protections for any ongoing impact on property values.
“If residents need to sell their properties at any point during the nine year construction timeframe, it’s foreseeable that offers might be lower or buyers might be put off by the closeness of the construction project.
“Additionally, some residents might experience an increase in property value due to their new proximity to public transport, but this can also have the opposite effect and diminish value of properties in quiet neighbourhoods away from major infrastructure.”
Unclear property rights for residents living above the tunnel
Ms Blencowe said clarification is also needed for hundreds of residents whose properties will be directly above the new tunnels, which are just 15 metres below the surface at some points.
“The state government has previously said it has the right to acquire land underneath residents’ properties for major projects and does not have to pay any compensation, because no loss is suffered by property owners,” Ms Blencowe said.
“The government has claimed that say prices return to normal once construction is complete, but this is not necessarily true if you consider the uncertainties of having a major piece of infrastructure underneath your property.
“If you were given a choice between purchasing a house that had a major rail tunnel just 15 metres underneath and one that didn’t, which would you think is worth more?”
Ms Blencowe said the state government is yet to address the issue of sub-stratum acquisitions in relation to the Melbourne Metro project.
“Hundreds of sub-stratum acquisitions were set to happen as part of the East West Link Project, but the project never went ahead so any consequential impact on property values not been legally tested in Victoria,” Ms Blencowe said.
“The legal rights of those living above the tunnels need to be clarified and the logical starting point is for the government to confirm the acquisition of land directly below properties will indeed form part of the Melbourne Metro project.”
Extensive new protections for residents and business owners
Ms Blencowe also welcomed the implementation of several of the recommendations Slater and Gordon made in its submission to the Environmental Effects Statement.
“The Minister’s residential impact guidelines go beyond the basic recommendations of the committee, in recognition of the significant impact on residential and business property owners,” Ms Blencowe said.
“The inclusion of protections for business owners who experience loss of trade is also an admirable move.
“Recognising the financial impact of increased congestion, road closures and a reduction in public and private car parking will help avoid a repeat of the financial stress felt by businesses affected by the Level Crossing Removal Project.
Ms Blencowe said as always, the proof will be in the pudding.
“It’s one thing for the state government to affirm guidelines and another for them to be implemented effectively on the ground level,” Ms Blencowe said.
“If the authority ensures these guidelines are properly applied, the social and community impacts of Melbourne Metro should be kept to an absolute minimum.