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Leave Leamington Alone: Hands off our Homes say Newtown locals

Leamington Ave, Newtown, residents won’t give up their heritage homes to RailCorp without a fight reports Aimee Scott in Central on 13 July 2010.

“I don’t want to lose my home, I don’t care about compensation, I’m going to fight tooth and nail to stay here,” said Pat Smith, who has lived in her home for nearly 40 years.

“No compensation will be enough to relocate me in the same area. I’ve lived here a long, long time and planned to retire here.

“All the young people might be able to start again, but I’m a 66-year-old widow, if the kick me out, what am I going to do?”

As she spoke with tears in her eyes, solar panels were being installed on the roof behind her, an expensive investment she tried to cancel, too late.

The convenience of living so close to public transport turned into these residents’ worst nightmare on June 4, when the Sydney Morning Herald published leaked information that their houses could be demolished to make way for a City Relief Line tunnel.

Their lives are on hold while they wait to hear whether their homes will be compulsorily acquired by Transport NSW to build the tunnel - a decision which the department’s director of infrastructure Brian Watters has promised will be made within two months.

But Mr Watters, who used to live in the area, failed to inspire much confidence in the 120 residents who attended the Save Leamington Ave meeting on July 5.

One labelled him “contemptuous” while another said: “The rail man is without mercy.”

There is a lot of justified anger among the residents, who range from those who have just purchased in the street to established locals whose families have lived in the area for decades, but they are united by their determination to save their homes.

When house hunting, Peter and Amanda Keeble, decided they wanted to live in the “little jewel” of an area, with its village feel and proximity to the city. They settled on number 21 just a week ago.

“I’m determined we’re going to win and keep our new home,” Mr Keeble said.

Dennis Van Lawick, 37, and Jody Hovell, 32, bought number 3 in May 2008 because they fell in love with the community-minded area and decided it was where they wanted to raise a family.

They applied for a DA to create a four-bedroom house and in June this year, RailCorp approved it - after demanding extra assessments that cost the couple thousands.

“We are just gutted,” Mr Van Lawick said. “We’re planning on getting married next year and were hoping to have the house finished before then.

“Now our life is just on hold and we don’t know what to do.”

Brian Conner has lived on Leamington Ave for more than 25 years. He owns two houses on the street and lives with his son Roy, 21.

“My son has enough difficulties as it is without taking him away from the support services in the area,” Mr Conner said.

But it’s not just the residents who could lose their homes that are worried. Michael Beach and Louise Alley live on Holdsworth St, which adjoins Leamington Ave.

“We’re facing huge upheaval while they’re digging up the neighbourhood and looking at living on a construction site for six years,” Mr Beach said.

“Then when it’s finished we’re going to be right up against a rail tunnel.”

They have been informed that they will have no rights to compensation should the compulsory acquisition go ahead.

“We’re collateral damage,” Mr Beach said.

Metro Example

The owner of a small business who says she is going broke thanks to the CBD Metro plans stood up at the Save Leamington Ave meeting on July 5 and warned residents: “Don’t let this happen to you.”

The woman said she owned a $250,000 small business at Martin Place that was “practically in the gutter” after the 18 months of uncertainty over the CBD Metro, which was then canned.

“I’m here at this meeting to tell the people of Leamington Ave, don’t let this happen to you. Demand answers now. It’s bad enough when it’s your business, but this is your homes,” she said.

Peter Cannon of Leamington Ave said: “They’ve already upset the Rozelle and Pyrmont people with the CBD metro debacle and now we’re the next victims.”

Lives on Hold

Peter Cannon finds himself in a particularly precarious situation, with his house sitting on deep trenches while his renovations are on hold.

Mr Cannon and his wife purchased their one-bedroom worker’s cottage at number 17 two and half years ago.

After a “long and arduous” two years, he received the development consent to turn the cottage into a two-storey house, including written approval from RailCorp.

On May 6, Mr Cannon, a carpenter for more than 30 years, gave up full-time work “fixing other people’s houses” to begin the “loving restoration” of his own dream home.

Heritage restrictions precluded a storey being added, so complicated excavation work began on May 25.

But on advice from Mr Cannon’s lawyers, those works have been suspended.

The house now sits on two metre trenches, dug in highly reactive clay, that run along the walls of the adjoining houses.

He has to remove the ground water that collects in the trenches daily.

Mr Cannon must now chose between expensive measures to safeguard the structural integrity of his and his neighbours’ houses, or to continue with the costly renovations – with no guarantee that he will be reimbursed for his outlay should his house be compulsorily acquired.

“And we’re haemorrhaging money in the meantime,” Mr Cannon said.

He said he felt that RailCorp have been “underhanded” in their dealings.

“The plans were leaked by people in RailCorp with a conscience, who felt it was totally unfair that we knew nothing about what was going on,” he said.

Photos: Pat Smith will 'fight tooth and nail' to keep her home. Photo: PHIL ROGERS

This famous mural on Leamington Lane could be demolished. Photo: PHIL ROGERS

Leamington Avenue protest Photo: PHIL ROGERS