The state government appears to have a class action on its hands over the impact of Newcastle’s light rail works after unhappy traders packed out a meeting with lawyers on Saturday.
The Newcastle Herald counted more than 50 people at the Customs House meeting, including some who had to listen from the hallway outside, and most appeared to be signing up to the planned lawsuit.
Organisers said 39 people had signed by Saturday afternoon and another 20 who could not make the meeting would receive registration packs.
“I think they’re [the government] in deep s---,” one crowd member told the Herald after the meeting.
Sydney lawyer Richard Mitry explained the class action to those assembled, and Hunter Street businessman Colin Scott and Sydney cafe owner Angela Vithoulkas outlined their rationale for backing it.
“I’ve been to just about every level of government for support,” Mr Scott said. “I’ve been to the small business ombudsman, the Small Business Commissioner, Transport [for NSW], the premier’s office, the local member.
“All I’ve had are platitudes of, ‘Can’t help.’ The door’s been closed, so I contacted Angela.”
Mr Scott, owner of Frontline Hobbies, said the turnout was slightly higher than he expected.
Mr Mitry and Ms Vithoulkas, who is a City of Sydney councillor and is running for an Upper House seat in the March state election, received warm applause after speaking.
Ms Vithoulkas told the crowd she was being forced to close down her George Street cafe after 16 years of operation due to the Sydney light rail project.
She said Mitry Lawyers expected to file a Sydney class action in the Supreme Court in the next five days.
Mr Mitry said he would approach litigation funders to finance the Newcastle lawsuit, which has followed more than seven months of road closures and other disruptions in Hunter and Scott streets.
Representatives of his firm helped traders fill out registration forms which outlined their financial losses this year.
The state government has repeatedly refused to compensate Newcastle business owners, arguing the project is running on time.
Stephen Blyth, who runs Adele’s Thai Massage in the section of Hunter Street still closed to traffic, said he hoped the traders could find strength in numbers.
“The beauty of today was Angela getting people together. They won’t listen to one person, but if there’s a couple of hundred people complain, they’ll do something about it.
“Hopefully today will be the start of that.”
Mr Blyth said his turnover had dropped about 40 to 50 per cent this year.
He was “very keen” on the lawsuit.
“That’s why we’re here. Basically we’ve been treated very ordinarily. We haven’t been communicated with, they’ve put barricades up, they’ve closed off roads, they’ve created lots of dust and pollution.
“They’ve left us in the lurch.
“We’re running at a loss, really. It started on the eighth of January, they’re still going, and I’ve got no idea when they’re going to finish.
“It was supposed to be done section by section.
“I’m very angry when at times you come in and the footpath is blocked … We went three days without a customer.”