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Leading law firm Slater and Gordon has today said that new land acquisition laws put in place by the Victorian Government do little to preserve the rights of would-be homeowners and residents affected by future compulsory land acquisitions.

Slater and Gordon practice group leader Ben Hardwick, who worked closely with Footscray homeowners subject to land acquisitions in 2010, said that the new laws could force people into accepting land as compensation instead of payment against their will.

“We are working with several dozen people who were affected by the state government land acquisitions in Footscray last year,” Mr Hardwick said.

“This is a group of people who are struggling with financial and social upheaval as a result of losing their home and land to forced acquisition.

“Going forward, people who are presented with the awful reality of compulsory acquisition may be in an even worse position than the Footscray residents in that they may be required to take land as compensation despite their own preferences.”

Mr Hardwick said that the new laws do not appear to provide a process of review for people who do not wish to accept land as compensation.

“Often there is a dispute between government and the displaced property owner as to the value of the property – and fortunately, there is a capacity for these disputes to be reviewed. However, it appears that there is no such mechanism for people who are required to accept land as payment or part payment,” he said.

Mr Hardwick said that any benefits to the public of land acquisition must not come at the expense of those people who are forced to uproot.

“As cities grow, it may be necessary to consider compulsory acquisition to build or improve our roads and rail networks.

“However, the people that are in harm’s way – the people that have their lives thrown into chaos – deserve to be protected through the process.

“We believe that the new laws do not enhance the rights of people subject to acquisition. In our view, this is a failure to learn lessons from the ordeal that the Footscray property owners continue to deal with today.”

The new acquisition measures are specified in the Transport Legislation Amendment (Public Transport Development Authority) Act 2011 which entered into Victorian law this week.