A 20-YEAR battle waged by three sisters to extricate themselves from a lease on Western Australian Government-owned land in Gosnells, without having to pay a six-figure sum to clean up the site, may be close to ending.
Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan told WA Business News it was likely the Government would foot most of the bill for cleaning up the petrol station site at 2291 Albany Highway.
The only question remaining is whether the Government will compensate the sisters for some of the $300,000 they have paid in rent on the site over the years, because they say the site was incorrectly valued due to a clause in their lease dating back to 1974 that gives them only six months’ security over the site.
Rosemary Devlin, Elizabeth Curtis and Veronica Georgiades inherited the service station from their father, John Robinson, and renegotiated the lease over it in 1984.
They claim they were urged to take a 20-year lease and increase the land parcel by Mobil, in return for $30,000 for a sub lease and building a larger service station on the site.
However, a clause in their father’s lease, dating back to when he renewed it in 1974, effectively gave him only a six-month hold over the site.
In that 1974 lease, a clause saying WA Government Rail could give six months’ notice to take over the site for “railway purposes” was changed, with “purposes” being typed over and “and/or for other transport purposes” added – but apparently never initialled.
WA Business News has been told that the “and/or for other transport purposes” clause became a standard part of WAGR lease contracts in the 1980s but not in the 1970s.
While the clause said “railway purposes”, Mr Robinson’s hold over the site was virtually assured because it was unlikely the Armadale-to-Perth rail line would assume a dogleg through his service station.
However, with the “for other transport purposes” addition it meant WAGR could opt to use the site for myriad other uses.
Ms MacTiernan said she had no evidence that the lease would restrict anybody’s ability to upgrade the service station site and was “mystified” by the sisters’ claim.
She said the lease problems had never been raised with her and only came up “as a passing comment” in a meeting the sisters and their representative, Col Stratton, had with WAGR staff in August 2001.
“If the lease was such a problem why has it not been raised before this,” Ms MacTiernan said.
She said the Government had even given the sisters a “rent holiday” , cutting the site rental to $10 a month from 1997 to the present time because Mr Stratton had told the Government that the site was not viable.
“He was told the rent holiday would apply so that they could either demolish the site and clean up the land or refurbish the service station. He has done neither,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“What evidence do you have that the lease has stopped them from redeveloping the site?”
However, Ms MacTiernan said the Government would most likely foot most of the bill to clean up the site.
“Government will cover most of the costs of cleaning up the site,” she said.
Mr Stratton said the Ms MacTiernan had been informed of the lease problems in correspondence he had sent to her office.
“Would you pay $100,000 on a site where you only have six months security?” he asked.
Mr Stratton said the rent on the site had been reduced to $10 a month because a Government valuer had said the lease made the petrol station unviable and recommended a peppercorn rental.
He said the lease had made it difficult for them to secure an operator for the site and, because of that, the site had never been redeveloped.
He said the Mobil deal, which “had not been worth much considering service station operators at the time such as Mark Povey and Solo were offering $200,000 for a site”, had fallen over when BP took over Mobil’s operations in 1985.
BP refused to put a new service station on the site and the matter was tried in the WA Supreme Court in 1988. The court ruled that the sub lease had been acquired for the purpose of building a larger service station. BP quit the site in 1989.