Class action lawsuit against Sydney light rail project hears endless construction cripple local businesses

Up to 300 people have joined a lawsuit claiming construction of the Sydney light rail project was a ‘train wreck’ that has ‘decimated’ local businesses, a court has heard.

A group of retailers and residents allege they suffered ‘unreasonable interference’ in the work between the CBD, Randwick and Kingsford, and are suing Transport for NSW in a class action.

The court heard that around 300 people had joined the class action, but thousands more were still eligible.

Their solicitor, Tony Bannon SC, told the NSW Supreme Court the scheme was “a train wreck that would be predicted from a mile away”.

He said businesses had been “decimated” due to “extended duration of the project” with inadequate mitigation attempts by the state government.

“It is inconceivable that the state would choose to block the roads for three years,” Bannon said.

The Sydney Tram on the morning of its official launch in December 2019. (ABC News: Rani Hayman)

The group’s claim alleges the construction was a “nuisance” that caused “substantial and unreasonable interference” resulting in economic loss and psychological suffering.

While Mr Bannon told the court that Transport for NSW would deny interference, the government lawyer has yet to respond or make his opening statement.

Mr Bannon told the court on Monday that businesses in several areas had been told construction would take months.

After work began in 2015, completion deadlines have been extended several times – with the final section of the network opening in April 2020.

This, he claimed, along with the impact of dust and noise, prohibits businesses from taking advantage of the “location”, “visibility” and “parking” that were an expectation of these locations. .

“Instead, they got three years of a construction zone,” Bannon said.

Financial documents from the luxury handbag store, Hunt Leather, were presented in court.

The company, based in Strand Arcade, experienced a “downtown drama” in terms of average monthly sales when construction began, Mr Bannon said.

“They went from $400,000 in mid-2015 to $100,000 the following year…in rough terms? asked Judge Richard Cavanagh.

“Yes,” replied Mr. Bannon.

“When construction started, the whole baseline shifted down.”

Outside court, an emotional Angela Vithoulkas spoke to the media about what she described as a “horrific day”.

She said she represented one of the “hundreds” whose business has closed, forcing her to wonder “how are we going to keep a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table”.

“There are hundreds of class members, but there are thousands of people eligible to be part of the class, who are welcome to join anytime and charge the state government for what ‘they did,’ she said.

Mr Bannon said he would oppose any potential argument that the ‘interference’ associated with light rail was for the ‘public benefit’.

“It doesn’t fall into the category of building next door,” he said, arguing that the duration exceeded what was “normal” or “reasonable”.

The hearing was adjourned and the state government is expected to make its opening statement on Tuesday.

The government has already been in court over the project, when construction company Acciona successfully sued the state for misleading or misleading conduct in 2018.

Acciona sought compensation for issues related to the cost of digging up and replacing Ausgrid power lines for the project.

The payment brought the total cost of the project to more than $3 billion, nearly double the original price predicted by then Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian in 2012.

Jose P. Rogers