Auckland Transport urged to provide easy compensation

By Mathew Dearnaley

File photo / Richard Robinson.
File photo / Richard Robinson.

Auckland Transport is being urged by planning commissioners to provide an easy compensation scheme for businesses losing major custom during construction of the city's $2.86 billion underground railway.

A hearings panel has recommended to the council body that it confirm land designations for the project, subject to any appeals to the Environment Court and conditions such as adopting a business disruption management plan for the five and a half years needed to build the tunnelled link from Britomart to Mt Eden.

But it said in a decision issued today that designations over the 3.5km route should lapse if the project is not well-advanced within 15 years - rather than 20 years initially sought by Auckland Transport - to reduce risks of "blighting" properties with prolonged uncertainty over when their owners will be allowed to redevelop them.

It rejected submissions such as from the Life church in Mt Eden Rd for the lapse period to be limited to five years, saying that would be inadequate given that full funding had yet to be secured for the project.

Although Mayor Len Brown wants construction to start in 2016, he has yet to identify alternative funding sources for the city's half-share of the cost, which the Government says it will not start matching until 2020.

Mr Brown welcomed the recommendation, and the five-member panel's acceptance that the project would bring significant overall benefits to Auckland, but councillor Cameron Brewer said the mayor's only hope of fast-tracking it lay with what he called an increasingly unlikely election victory for Labour leader David Cunliffe.

Generation Zero youth organisation spokesman Sudhvir Singh called on the Government to provide earlier support for the project and give residents and businesses certainty, now that approval had been recommended for the route designations.

Despite rejecting the church's plea, the panel has recommended that Auckland Transport work with it to ensure it can be moved to a suitable alternative central city site by the end of next year, at no cost to its 3000-member congregation.

It has made a similar recommendation about re-locating the Chinese Community Centre from a site at the top end of Symonds St which is needed for building an entry to one of the project's three underground stations.

Panel chairman Alan Watson said in the decision that construction impacts could potentially ruin some small businesses close to the rail route by driving customers away, and there was need for a more readily available compensation scheme than prescribed by the Public Works Act.

The panel was therefore recommending, although only informally, that Auckland Transport set up a mechanism to provide quick and ready access to those suffering significant lost business.

"Adopting an overall broad judgement and having regard to the benefits of the project, we have concluded that the effects of the construction works on loss of customer and therefore on the economic wellbeing of some people [or] businesses do not provide sufficient justification for recommending that the notices not be confirmed," Mr Watson said

"We do consider, however, that it is unfair and arguably unsustainable for the wider community benefits of the project to be at the economic expense of individuals or businesses.

"This is a multi-million dollar project being carried out by a public body and supported by the council and the Government."

The panel rejected as impractical calls from some businesses, including the Stamford Plaza hotel and New World supermarket owner Foodstuffs, for a tunnel boring machine to drill beneath the full route, including a large section of Albert St which will be dug up for a "cut and cover" tunnel.

But it said their concerns should be addressed by proposed conditions such as for a business disruption management plan, which would ensure foot access at all times for their customers, and noise and vibration controls.

Auckland Transport is not commenting on specific recommendations during a 30-day review period when it will decide whether to confirm, amend or withdraw its designation notices.

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