Emails reveal secret property resumption report set to be released two years ago

A senior barrister’s landmark report into the NSW compulsory acquisition system being kept secret by the Baird government was set to be publicly released two years ago, emails reveal.

But the report by David Russell, SC, is still under wraps amid the forced sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of properties for infrastructure projects such as the WestConnex motorway project and the Sydney Light Rail.

Many landholders are complaining about the process, including that they are being offered compensation well below market value, with limited recourse.

In November 2013, then Nationals MLC Jenny Gardiner told a businessman, Owen Coleman, that she had been advised the report “is due to be received later this month and that the government’s response to it will be made available in December”.

Mr Coleman was eager to learn the recommendations of the report as he had been through three compulsory acquisitions of parts of his property at Bulahdelah on the mid-north coast, where he owns a caravan park.

The latest had been by the Roads and Traffic Authority – now Roads and Maritime Services – for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway.

Mr Coleman says the initial valuation was $300,000, which the agency finally agreed to increase to $920,000 after he repeatedly challenged it.

However, in December 2013, Ms Gardiner emailed Mr Coleman saying that the office of then finance minister Andrew Constance “has advised that the report … is now expected to be released in January.”

The report, commissioned in May 2012, was initially due to be handed to the government by the end of that year but was eventually handed over in February 2014.

It is understood the broad range of issues raised by stakeholders contributed to the delay.

Mr Coleman said some months later he received a phone call from Mr Constance’s office saying its public release had also been delayed.

The government says that a number of Mr Russell’s recommendations, including a plain English explanation of the process and an improved meeting process between land owners and acquiring parties, have been adopted.

It notes RMS carries out about 80 per cent of compulsory acquisitions, of which 90 per cent proceed with agreement with the landowners.

But Labor’s roads spokeswoman Jodi McKay said the delay in releasing the report is “inexcusable”.

“Clearly there’s something the government wants to hide,” she said.

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