Newcastle light rail class action lawyer argues state government failed duty of care

Watt Street restaurant owner and reality television star Mark Fren registers for the class action with lawyer Richard Mitry on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil
Watt Street restaurant owner and reality television star Mark Fren registers for the class action with lawyer Richard Mitry on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil

Lawyers for traders claiming they have been affected by Newcastle light rail construction say the state government has failed in its duty of care to the businesses.

Mitry Lawyers partner Richard Mitry was in Newcastle on Saturday signing up potential claimants in a class action being organised by Sydney businesswoman and politician Angela Vithoulkas.

The government initially intended to complete the light rail work in stages but changed its mind at the end of last year and shut down about 1.5 kilometres of Hunter and Scott streets to finish the project sooner.

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Mr Mitry said this decision had unfairly affected business owners’ revenue.

“In this case, the authority, the government … owed a duty of care to the businesses,” he told the Newcastle Herald.

“We’re saying they failed in that duty by not managing it properly in any way and they should have known – what’s known as reasonable foreseeability – that what would happen would be the damage that has now occurred to these businesses.

“And by blocking out such a large part in one hit, without really managing it in any way, ripping up footpaths, ripping up roads, they’ve caused that damage and they should be liable by reason of their failure to comply with their duty of care.”

Mr Mitry said the government’s assurances that it would stage the construction and not block access to shops “indicates what they considered their duty to be”.

“If they’re telling people that ‘we won’t impede your access’, you could infer from that what they were saying is that they considered they had a duty not to impede the access to businesses.”

The government has repeatedly rejected Newcastle traders’ requests for compensation because the project is running on time. It has also argued that the traders will benefit greatly from the light rail line and city beautification works when the trams start running early next year.

Asked whether it rejected the lawyer’s assertions, Transport for NSW said on Sunday: “Construction is progressing well on Newcastle Light Rail, with around 40 percent of the on-road route reopened to traffic, and testing due to start on tracks later this year after the arrival of the first tram. 

“Services are on track to start early next year, and it’s the businesses on the light rail alignment that will see the biggest uplift from the NSW Government’s $650 million investment in the city.”

Mr Mitry said he had spoken to third-party litigation funders about financing the lawsuit and would go back to them once the businesses owners had completed registration forms detailing their losses.

He said he planned to file a similar class suit in Sydney soon, but that action would remain separate from Newcastle’s. 

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