Where's my compo? Motorway landowners await payouts
A DESPERATE business owner trapped in a 'David versus Goliath' battle with the State Government has turned to the media, hoping to finally be paid for land the government took.
It has been almost a decade since Main Roads resumed parcels of land from 80 different landholders to expand the Ipswich Motorway.
In 2014 ten people were still waiting for compensation.
Two years later, eight compensation cases are outstanding including that of Ipswich man Tony Halpin, who has taken his plight to the media twice - once in 2014 and again now.
Mr Halpin feels he has been put in the 'too hard basket' and doubts the State Government will ever pay him what he's owed.
Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey says his department is following legal procedure and that a "fair" price needs to be determined by professionals - not an arbitrary figure decided by Mr Halpin.
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Since Main Roads first knocked on Mr Halpin's door in 2008, he says he has been "to hell and back".
His business collapsed, he lost his house and has racked up $400,000 in unpaid legal fees, related to the resumption of his land.
Now, as the State Government prepares to start the next phase of the motorway upgrade from Darra to Oxley, Mr Halpin has issued a warning to those affected property owners.
The state government has never officially made Mr Halpin an offer for the 1.5 hectare piece of land resumed for the motorway expansion, which opened in 2012.
Mr Halpin can't understand why, four years after the motorway opened, he still hasn't been paid.
But a string of email exchanges dating back to 2014 shows Mr Halpin hasn't taken the government's advice on how to progress his compensation claim.
In 2014 it was agreed Mr Halpin would be paid $76,000 to cover the cost of "legal fees, interest and the two items agreed on (scrap metal and truck hire)," an email from Main Roads Principal Property Officer reads.
"The second advance we would like to process will be for the proposed professional fees in relation to the preparation of the claim for compensation."
To process the compensation claim, Mr Halpin needs to engage a qualified professional to value the land resumed by the government, Minister Bailey said.
"For a landowner's claim to be properly considered, it must be supported by appropriate information and expert advice," Minister Bailey said.
"Transport and Main Roads is committed to reaching a fair compensation agreement for property owners but also has to be fair to the taxpayers of Queensland."
Instead, Mr Halpin has lodged a compensation claim, for $4 million, which he considers fair to not only compensate him for the loss of land, but for the loss of business caused by the State Government.
His $4 million claim isn't based on a professional valuation and doesn't include any expert analysis.
The State Government believes his land was worth $1.2 million, or at least that was the estimate given to them in 2008.
The figure appears in an email exchange, obtained under RTI, between a senior property officer and the project manager who asked for an estimate ahead of an objection hearing.
Almost two years had gone by since Mr Halpin was last in touch with the Main Roads department until this week when his lawyer was asked, "is there a reason why your client does not wish to engage professionals to assist in his preparation of the claim?"
"I don't have any money to pay experts," Mr Halpin said.
"The $76,000 went to legal fees.
"I feel like it's a trap. I will get a professional evaluation, they will dispute it and then I will have to take it to the land court to fight them.
"I can't afford that. To beat them is impossible - they can afford the best lawyers in the land. I can't even afford to pay my lawyer what I already owe him."
It's true the State Government has no shortage of experts.
In a meeting proposed for this month, Main Roads advised Mr Halpin they would be bringing four experts, a principal property officer and a senior manager.
"They're using bullying and intimidation tactics," Mr Halpin said.
"Why can't they just give me the $1.2 million and we can argue about the rest later?"
Mr Halpin blames the state government for a downturn in his business following the removal of a sign, strategically positioned on the old Ipswich Motorway.
But the emails from 2014 show the State Government had offered to consider "reasonable costs" to replace the sign and asked him to supply three independent quotes.
He hasn't done that either, again citing financial constraints.
"If the government advanced me some more money, I would use it to engage an independent valuer, even though I think paying my lawyer should come first," Mr Halpin said.
"My biggest concern is for the land owners who will be affected by the Oxley to Darra upgrade. If this is what they're in for, then they need to be warned."
Stage one of the next upgrade for the Ipswich Motorway is a three kilometre stretch between Granard Rd and Oxley Rd. On its website, the State Government says it has been consulting with affected property owners.
"In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to resume properties for infrastructure projects," Minister Bailey said.
"It's the hardest part of a necessary process and we approach it with the utmost compassion."
"There's a legal process in place when it comes to land resumptions to make sure property owners are treated fairly.
"Transport and Main Roads has assured me that the lines of communication with Mr Halpin have been and are still open and I encourage him to make contact with the property acquisition team in my department."