Unsuccessful council land grab raises questions over PPPs

By Angela Dorizas

Parramatta City Council has called on the New South Wales Government to make legislative changes that would allow councils to compulsorily acquire private land for public-private partnership infrastructure projects.

Last week, the High Court quashed Council's attempt to seize land as part of its $1.4 billion Civic Place redevelopment project.

The case was brought by two Parramatta landowners, Ray Fazzolari and Michael Winston-Smith, who sought to protect their share of the 3.2 hectares of land earmarked for redevelopment.

The High Court upheld the challenge, deciding that Parramatta City Council had not acquired the land for the public use because it intended to re-sell the land to a private developer.

Through a public-private partnership (PPP), Parramatta City Council agreed to acquire the land for Civic Place and transfer some of it to the development company, Grocon, in exchange for “substantial financial payments and other benefits”.

Parramatta City Council chief executive officer Dr Robert Lang said Council would not be deterred by the High Court decision.

“We are determined for this project to go forward and certainly we are disappointed with the result, but it’s not going to stop us from making this happen for the people of Western Sydney,” Dr Lang told GovernmentNews.

“We’ve got to keep in mind that the land owners owned less than one per cent of the 3.2-hectare site. That’s perhaps a victory for the individual over the greater public good in that case.

“My personal view is that we’ve offered them better than market value for their land, they didn’t think that was high enough, so therefore we took whatever action we had to take, which in this case was compulsory acquisition to make sure the project was not stopped by it.”

Dr Lang said Council would take the matter to the State Government.

“We’ll be talking to the State Government and considering a whole range of other options about how best we can keep this project on track and hopefully get the appropriate Part 3A planning approvals done this year, so work can commence,” Dr Lang said.

“They certainly understand the ramifications of this ruling because it not only potentially affects Parramatta and the Civic Place project, but any local government project, any State Government project that involves a PPP could well be affected by this ruling.”

Dr Lang said the Civic Place project was a “lynchpin” for achieving its targets of 20,000 new residences and 30,000 new workers in Parramatta by 2031.

“In these tough economic times certainly the challenge for all government is to ensure important infrastructure projects go ahead,” he said.

According to Dr Lang, the case highlights the need for legislative changes surrounding PPPs.

“I think the great challenge for government in general is that important infrastructure projects go ahead and they can be 100 per cent funded by government or they can be done by PPPs, but we shouldn’t allow the vehicle by which we choose to deliver it dictate whether or not the project can proceed,” he said.

“The legislation should be amended to allow PPPs to be a valid and viable way of government delivering projects.”

Local Government Minister Barbara Perry said the State Government would look into the case.

“The NSW Government is now assessing the High Court’s judgement and what implications, if any, it may have for both local government and the State Government,” Perry told GovernmentNews.

“Until this analysis has been completed it is premature to speculate on what action, if any, should be taken.”

Related Story: Govt infrastructure projects under threat: IPA

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