In a significant development in the ongoing legal battle over the controversial WestConnex project, specialist disputes boutique, Ironbridge Legal, has taken over from Quinn Emanuel as the lead plaintiff counsel in a class action suit filed in the New South Wales Supreme Court against Transport for NSW. This case centres on the New South Wales Government’s contentious land acquisitions linked to the multi-billion dollar initiative, which aims to construct a 33km traffic-light-free motorway network in Sydney.
Launched in 2018 and slated for completion in 2023, WestConnex has been promoted by Transurban and the New South Wales Government as a key solution for easing congestion and creating jobs in Sydney. However, the project has been marred by multiple legal actions and class actions, stemming from disputes over land acquisition practices and property damage. The class action, now spearheaded by Ironbridge Legal, focuses on the former issue which has been singled out in a Further Amended Commercial List Statement filed by Ironbridge Legal in the New South Wales Supreme Court on 23 November 2023.
The land acquisitions for WestConnex, including areas for the M4 widening, the M5 East corridor expansion, and the M4-M5 connection, were conducted under The Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991 (NSW). This act empowers the New South Wales Government and quasi-government bodies to compulsorily acquire private land for public purposes. “In general terms, whether you want to sell your land or not, the NSW government and its entities can take private land or part of a property for a public purpose“, explains Trevor Withane, Partner at Ironbridge Legal.
The Sydney Motorway Corporation, a subsidiary that held the interests in the acquired land, was sold to Sydney Transport Partners, a consortium led by Transurban Group. The deal, which was comprised of two tranches, involved Sydney Transport Partners acquiring a 51% stake in the WestConnex project in 2018 for A$9.26 billion and purchasing the remaining 49% stake in 2021 for A$11.1 billion. The deal has been controversial given that, while the landowners were not compensated for the subterranean compulsory acquisition, “Sydney motorists are reported to pay over A$123 billion in tolls by 2060 which will generate substantial revenue for the New South Wales Government and the private road operators“, Trevor added.
Ironbridge Legal’s commitment to testing the exercise of government power, ensuring justice and equitable compensation for affected individuals underlines the significance of this case in the broader context of compulsory land acquisition and infrastructure development in New South Wales. This lawsuit not only seeks fair compensation but also aims to set a precedent for future projects, ensuring that property rights and legal obligations are duly respected.
Trevor commented: “It is critical that the rights of landowners are respected by governments, and the governments of Australia comply with the rule of law. To do otherwise would be akin to the kind of objectionable expropriation of land we see in some foreign jurisdictions. This is why it is important that the legality of compulsory land acquisitions by the New South Wales government is carefully scrutinised, particularly in cases where the landowner does not receive compensation. It is a privilege that Ironbridge Legal has been appointed by the plaintiffs and approved by the funder in this case, which is a testament to our reputation as a market-leading disputes law firm – and much more a testament to the caliber of our lawyers.”
Ironbridge Legal team will be led by Trevor Withane, with assistance from Laura
Coleclough and Radith Khan.