This time last week, Westmead residents could not anticipate their lives would be thrown such a fierce curveball — searching for a new home and workplace after discovering the government would wipe out a block to build the underground Sydney Metro West.
A group of 15 gathered at Westmead Tavern on Wednesday when lawyer Flo Mitchell of FM Legal advised property owners about their legal rights for residents whose livelihoods are planted in the chuck of land bordered by Alexandra Ave, Hawkesbury Rd, and Hassall and Bailey streets.
The government will compulsorily acquire 116 properties for the project to build the 25km line from Westmead to the Bays Precinct but it won’t be completed until 2030 — two years after initially planned.
FM Legal co-partner Flo Mitchell is determined to provide Westmead residents with a good deal when their homes are compulsorily acquired.
She is familiar with the suburb after working with Westmead Shopping Village business owners when their properties were acquired for the Parramatta Light Rail.
In a promising sign for property owners living in the Metro zone, Ms Mitchell said her dealings with Sydney Metro were more positive than Transport for NSW.
Property owners will be given a maximum $80,000 relocation compensation on top of the market value for their house.
She worked with residents whose homes were cleared for the Metro in suburbs including Crows Nest, North Sydney and Waterloo.
“We might not get everything we want but it’s better to deal with (Metro),’’ she said.
“It’s understandable you want to reach an agreement when it’s your family home … it’s very personal.’’
The news is still sinking in for the Westmead community.
Georgette and Fred Sassine have lived in their three-bedroom Bailey St house since 1971, not long after they migrated from Lebanon.
The couple raised their four children there and relish Westmead’s central location.
“We couldn’t find a house in this location,’’ Mrs Sassine, 67, said.
“It’s very close to everything. That’s why I like it, because I don’t drive.
“We don’t like to move from our house. What can you do? You have to look for another house.
“We spent our life here and we’re getting old and we have to move.”
Her husband Fred, 79, agrees it’s going to be hard to find a house in the same central location as their abode.
“I feel very bad, very upset because I’m not happy — all my children were born here,’’ he said.
“I want to look for the house because I don’t like the unit.’’
One of their daughters, Diana Sassine Hajje, said the way the government sprung the news on her parents on Monday was wrong.
“We knew about the light rail. We know nothing about the Metro.
“I feel a bit upset because there’s lots of memories. We always used to go to the backyard and play. It’s just going to be something that’s erased.
“When the grandchildren come here they feel attached to this place.”
Their neighbours, the Ismails, have lived in Bailey St for more than four decades.
“I was born in this house so 44 years,’’ bus driver Alan Ismail said.
His parents do not want to relocate but will probably search for another home at Merrylands where they can take advantage of a central location.
“Everything’s close — Westfield Parramatta and Merrylands shops,’’ Mr Ismail said.
“It’s all come as a shock. We haven’t absorbed it yet.
“We need someone to negotiate because there’s no way you’re going to do it better than her (lawyer Flo Mitchell).
“This area’s hot property because of the hospital. It’s a massive hospital and it’s only got bigger over the years.’’
Hawkesbury Rd barber Nathan Kadim, who runs the Westmead Barber Shop with his 20-year-old apprentice son, fears he won’t be able to retain his business.
“It’s terrible. It’s very hard,’’ the Westmead resident said.
“It’s always stresses me. Where are you going to go? What are you going to do?
“If I move to another place I’ll lose 80 per cent of my customers. We’ve got to start from the beginning.
“We’re happy for the people but not on the contrary of people being forced out.’’
“I know the light rail and some of the people who have been affected already and left their business as well but … Monday we found out we have to leave.
“Westmead is a nice area, nice and quiet and really very popular.’’
Hassall St resident Jesse Di Noia’s home is not earmarked for demolition but living in the same neighbourhood means he dreads the noise the Metro will generate.
He has lived in his home for a decade.
“There will be a lot of trucks. Where are they going to park the earthmoving trucks?’’ he said.
The 47-year-old, who suffers from chronic pain from osteoarthritis, also worries about the health ramifications the project will trigger.
“What about the air quality around the construction?’’ Noise can increase your blood pressure and stress you out a bit more.”
The congestion already gripping Westmead is going to increase but Parramatta Light Rail is already under way at Hawkesbury Rd.
On the opposite side of the station, one of the state’s largest schools, Westmead, is already relying on 21 demountables to cater for more than 1600 students.
Just under 1km away, the government will build Parramatta Pools.
Western Sydney Business Chamber executive director David Borger said the light rail construction at Westmead should wrap up before the Metro is due to begin mid 2021.
“You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette,’’ he said.
“Westmead doesn’t have a heart to it now. It doesn’t have a great retail centre. If you want things to improve, you have to go through change and that’s going to be hard but you have to do it.’’
And like Georgette Sassine says: “If the government wants it, you couldn’t say anything. You have to follow the rules.’’
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