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Slater and Gordon has welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement of a voluntary purchase scheme for property owners who may be adversely affected by the sky rail project.

Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Roger Batrouney said the announcement showed the Government was taking a prudent approach to project planning.

“The issue of how best to compensate property owners who may be outside a designated project area, but are nonetheless adjacent to and affected by the project, is one we have been concerned about for some time,” Mr Batrouney said.

“We have made submissions to Government and planning committees through successive governments to seek a fairer outcome for residents, including proposing voluntary buy-outs, as part of reducing the burden borne by individuals for the sake of infrastructure for the broader community’s benefit.”

Mr Batrouney, an Accredited Specialist in Planning, Environment and Local Government law, said home owners whose properties were not being compulsorily acquired but were adjacent to the proposed Caulfield to Dandenong elevated rail project had no legal right to compensation.

“Without legal rights to compensation, these property owners can easily be left out in the cold,” he said.

“In light of that, it’s encouraging to hear the Government has recognised the legitimate interests of affected owners and introduced a voluntary scheme to provide options to address locals’ concerns.

“For those whose lifestyles have been unexpectedly compromised overnight, it’s only fair they are afforded the chance to sell their property to the Government.”

The scheme, announced by the Government provides options for voluntary purchase of properties as well as alternative landscaping and fencing solutions.

The option of selling homes to the Government will be limited to those meeting certain criteria involving impacts from the overhead structures and would only be offered to residential owners.

“The scheme defines eligibility for voluntary purchase in somewhat loose terms, although sharing a boundary with the rail corridor will be an essential prerequisite,” Mr Batrouney said.

“There may be an opportunity for owners to demonstrate their circumstances warrant a buyout.”

Mr Batrouney said it was important for anyone considering their eligibility to join the scheme to speak with experienced lawyers as soon as possible.

“The scheme provides that eligible owners’ legal and valuation costs be paid by the Government, so there is no downside for residents to seek legal assistance throughout the process,” he said.

“It is critical that owners understand the value of their property for the purposes of offers under the scheme.

“Proper valuation advice from a qualified valuer is essential to any owners’ consideration of their options.”

Mr Batrouney said similar issues were raised during the former East West Link project.

“We put the case to the Government very strongly that the properties identified should have been included in the project area and compulsorily acquired,” he said.

“When that was met with resistance, we proposed a voluntary purchase scheme that still afforded the affected home owners the same rights to compensation as they would have if their property were compulsorily acquired.”

The then-Government eventually offered the owners of 88 residential properties the option of having their property purchased by the Government with some, but not all, of the rights arising in the event of compulsory acquisition. Slater and Gordon acted for nearly half of those who joined the scheme.

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