13 Mar 19

Tensions erupt around Wickham high rise | photos, video FIRED UP: Bank Corner manager Monique Lee and Metro Cycles owner Bernie Hockings outside the construction site in Wickham. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
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COUNTING THE COST: Bernie Hockings estimates the Basebuild site has cost his business Metro Cycles around $30,000 in lost trade, from “dust tornadoes”, noise and loss of parking. He warned Hunter Street traders to expect a similar “hell” in coming years. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

FRUSTRATED: Manger of Bank Corner Cafe, Monique Lee, says dust storms along Bellevue Street from a nearby construction site have been costing her customers. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Workers pump sewage out of the ground outside Metro Cycles. Picture: Supplied.

A procession of trucks block Beresford Street in Wickham. Picture: Supplied.

A procession of trucks block Beresford Street in Wickham. Picture: Supplied.

ON PATROL: A parking inspector headed towards a car parked in a ‘no stopping’ zone, despite the loss of as many as two-thirds of the spaces in the area. Picture: Supplied

A procession of trucks block Beresford Street in Wickham. Picture: Supplied.

TweetFacebook Building site battleground IT’S the $36million project that has turned atiny inner city laneway into a battleground.

The construction of the Huxley Apartments in Wickham has driven neighbours to despair, sparkedlegal battles and even physical clashes between the builder and union officials.

Angry businesses and residents surrounding the building site on Beresford Street say they’ve been pushed to the brink by “tornadoes” of dust, noise and road closures during the 16-month construction of the eight-storey, 64-apartment development.

But the Floraville-based construction company – Basebuild – has defended its actions, saying the problems are part of the“growing pains” of the city.

The project is expected to be completed this month;just as two union officials face court over an on-site altercation last year.

The representatives of theConstruction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) attendedthe worksite after being alerted to safety issues by workers.

There was a heated confrontation when the site manager objected to them conducting a spot inspection, before he wasallegedly assaulted by the officials.

CFMEU Newcastle office coordinator Peter Harris said the union was escorted by police and Workcover officialson a subsequent inspection of the site, which saw several breaches of workplace health and safety laws uncovered.

“Police had a concern over the potential for [another]…physical altercation,” Mr Harris said.

He said the union disputed the builder’sversion of events andplanned to defend the actions of itsofficials in court.

“If we get complaints about site safety, we’ve got a legal obligation and a right to conduct an inspection of the site. We’re not required to give anybody notice.”

A SafeWork NSW spokesperson would not respond directly to questions about the company, butsaid it attended a construction site on Beresford Street in February 2016 and issued improvement notices in relation to falls from heights, scaffolding and electrical safety.

“These notices have been complied with,” she said.

“SafeWork NSW also visited the site on several occasions in late 2016 as part of a high risk construction safety project. No work health and safety issues were identified.”

Managing director of BasebuildScott Shafrendescribed the issues raised as “minor” and said all were “acted on and rectified immediately.”

He declined to comment on the alleged assault of his site manager while the matter was before the courts.

But the company is still at loggerheads with neighbouring businesses – Metro Cycles and Bank Corner Cafe on Bellevue Street –who claim itsoperations have nearly driven them out of business.

They say they have been forced to contend with “dust storms” coming down the street andconstruction noise at 80 to 90 decibels in the middle of the day.

FRUSTRATED: Manger of Bank Corner Cafe, Monique Lee, says dust storms along Bellevue Street from a nearby construction site have been costing her customers. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“The dust gets all over thetables, it’s a health hazard,” said Monique Lee, the manager of Bank Corner Cafe.

At least one resident was forced to move his family out of the neighbouring Cove Apartments when his son became ill because of the constant dust from the demolition works.

“He suffered allergies and was sick for months, he had to take medication,” Martin Simon said, saying his son had recovered since moving away from the building site.

“Then when the apartments were builtyou looked outthe window and you looked directly into someone’s bathroom. For the life of me I can’t understand how they were approved.”

Mr Shafren acknowledged that jack hammering had occurred but said it was conducted in “accordance with acceptable work practice” and within the council-approved hours.

He said that “all reasonable measures” were taken to control the effects of inground works and dust.

“We werevery unfortunate to experience some extreme weather events during this phase of construction,” he said.

The construction siteresulted in the loss oftwo-thirds of the parking spaces in the area“almost overnight”according to the owner of Metro Cycles Bernie Hockings, and he estimates there have been nearly 100 full or partial road closures.

“If people can’t get here, the first time they go ‘I’ll try again,’” Mr Hockingssaid.

“The second time, they go ‘that was a pity’ and the third time they don’t bother coming here again.

COUNTING THE COST: Bernie Hockings estimates the Basebuild site has cost his business Metro Cycles around $30,000 in lost trade, from “dust tornadoes”, noise and loss of parking. He warned Hunter Street traders to expect a similar “hell” in coming years. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“The workers used to get here at 6.30 in the morning and put witches hats out to reserve more of the parking spaces. It was outrageous.”

Mr Shafren said the tradesmen were encouraged to car pool and to park in the larger council-approved parking areas to reduce the pressure on on-streetparks, which workers could not use for long periods anyway due to the timing restrictions.

He said they had council approval to usepart of the road for aconstruction zone and an area adjacent to the old Wickham station, where the witches hats were positioned.

“It would be impossible to build anything if we didn’t have this area,” Mr Shafren said.

ButMr Hockings said that while he was not opposed to development nearby, theconstruction works had cost him an estimated $30,000 in lost trade, and that was too high a price to pay.

“I know you have to break eggs to make an omelet, and I knew this was a developing area when I moved here,” he said. “But I also assumed there would be a compromise where the construction would be well managed.”

He said his bikes had been devalued because they were covered in sand and dust and he had seen declining numbers of people in the shop –until the construction workers knocked off for Christmas, and they “exploded” with customers.

“When you’re selling a brand new $3000 bike and it’s covered in dust, the best you can do is say‘sorry, it’s a display model, I’ll knock five or 10 per cent off’.

“People used to come in here and spend half-an-hour picking a bike, but if the environment gets trashed and it’snoisy and dusty, they walk out after five minutes.”

A further strain on relations was a bungle in October 2015 when the workers accidentally pumped grout into a sewer main.

Hunter Water spent $373,000 replacing that section of the sewerand is still pursuing Basebuild’s insurer for costs through its lawyers.

Mr Hockings was unimpressed when he saw raw sewage pumped out of the ground outside his shop.

“You’re standing there talking to the customers about buying thousands of dollars worth of bikes and suddenly the shop was full of the smell of s***. I was embarrassed,” he said.

Mr Hocking claims in another instance, Beresford Lanebehind his shop –where prospective buyerstest ride their bikes –was dug up and not resealed.

“We just had a dirt road down there for three or four weeks. I finally got the council to make them do it and the workers were really angry.

“Now they are just belligerent, I don’t even ask them to do anything.”

Mr Shafren insisted that the contractors always intended to resurface the laneway.While he was sympathetic to the complaints of the surrounding businesses, he stressed it had been very challenging to construct a high-rise tower in such close proximity to other buildings.

“I am sorry that our shop operator feels so bitter about our building process as it is very hard to build a major construction in a built up area,” he said.

“We have at all times tried to minimise the disruptions to all surrounding business but it would be impossible to get the building built if some people had theirway.

“Call it ‘growing pains’but I hope his business and all others will benefit with another 100 residentsliving at his doorstep.

“This is also a bad time as whilst we are in our last month of completing construction another major project is now beginning.”

But Mr Hockings saidhis experience did not bode well for the retailersalong Hunter Street; ahead of a‘frenzy’ of buildingwork in coming years with the construction ofthe light rail and further high rise apartment blocks.

“It will be absolute hell for them,” he said.“The way it’s going wewon’t be here in two or three years time and someone else will get the benefit and we will have paid the price.”


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