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A push for change to Light Rail system

The NSW government has revealed it will go ahead with the South East Light Rail system that will run along Anzac Parade and straight through Surry Hills along Devonshire Street. The residents of Surry Hills are to be significantly impacted by this and PUSH (People Unite Surry Hills) is a key group in making sure the residents’ concerns are addressed.

People Unite Surry Hills is a local action community group that was formed in response to the government’s announcement of the Light Rail system. With reference to the houses of Surry Hills, the streets connected with Devonshire Street, the demolition of Olivia Gardens and surrounding parklands, PUSH’s aim is to persuade the government and the Light Rail Company to abandon the planned route from Anzac Parade to Chalmers Street, via Devonshire Street. Founder and director, Venietta Slama-Powell, states: “We believe there are better ways. We are greatly surprised by the consideration of Devonshire Street, as it is not an existing traffic corridor. It has not been used as a traffic corridor for good reason.”

This Light Rail System will significantly impact residents of the Surry Hills Community. It will affect parklands. It will mean the demolition of 69 apartments, which is a loss of homes for over 100 people.

Ms Salma-Powell highlights how, if Light Rail were to proceed, it will affect not just the residents but surrounding businesses who help breathe life into the inner-city suburb.

“It will directly affect a lot of business that gentrify Surry Hills. Surry Hills has been gentrified, for the last ten years, into an internationally unique suburb. It is recognised across the world, and it is made up of a lot of small business. That will not be able to withstand a long construction period that is typical for Light Rail. So we are talking about the iconic Bourke Street Bakery, and the Book Kitchen who are greatly concerned.”

The parking around Surry Hills is also a noteworthy concern. It will be greatly impacted, with the possible loss of over 100 spots. In addition, residents living in Devonshire Street are concerned that the loss of parking will result in a decrease of 20 per cent on their property value.

“There are a lot of properties on Devonshire Street that have one-way access which is via Devonshire Street. There are a lot of people with a disability, who rely on taxis to go to their front door to pick them up. They will no longer be able to have that access.”

Also, lives could be impacted because emergency services are going to find it difficult to get to people in homes on Devonshire Street and also across Surry Hills,” Ms Salma Powell said.

In response to these concerns, PUSH has issued a Freedom of Information request to try and obtain some information which the public has the right to know after the government failed to involve the residents and business owners of Surry Hills concerning the proposed Light Rail system.

“They announced it publically on the 12th of December, 2012. It was the first that any of us heard about it. The residents of Olivia Gardens were told on the 6pm news that their property was going to be removed, which is absolutely appalling. The local businesses have been trying to communicate with the government and trying to have a dialogue. There has been no means of communication. Thousands of people have written to the Minister and the Lord Mayor. Residents received a generic letter, which people found really offensive because we have raised very genuine concerns, and raised very genuine questions, but we still don’t have answers and we definitely need answers.”

The residents of Surry Hills and PUSH have been active in a petition calling for a sustainable route and are also gaining support for their cause from influential MPs. PUSH has been collaborating with Independent MP of Sydney, Alex Greenwich, who is endorsing PUSH’s petition. “I will work to protect public open space, maximise on-street parking and ensure access across Devonshire Street at all junctions. We also need to prevent noise impacts on people’s homes and businesses, and to ensure that anyone whose home is resumed gets fair compensation. And the government needs to plan the project well to prevent chaos during construction.”

Ms Salma- Powell concludes: “What we are asking is for the right research to be conducted, and to ensure the best route for the sustainable future. We believe that working together, through consultation with the community and the government, we can find a better solution and can make better variants to their proposal.”

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