Senior Labour politicians are side-stepping pleas to show some "human decency" and set up a hardship fund for small business owners facing financial ruin and mental distress as work continues on the $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck is seeking immediate hardship relief for a small number of businesses seriously impacted by two years of disruption along the central city route of the project.
Beck said Transport Minister Phil Twyford has not responded to a letter asking for help and a meeting with Auckland Mayor and former Labour MP Phil Goff yesterday drew an empathetic response but no commitment to a hardship fund.
All the businesses are crying out, but no one is listening
"You have both said there is no compensation available for this project. However, I believe this is rather a question of human decency and doing what is right when your constituents face severe hardship," Beck said in a letter to Twyford and Goff last month.
A spokeswoman for Twyford said the joint funders of the project, the Government and Auckland Council, are not considering compensating local businesses. Instead, he had been advised the company building the CRL are working with affected businesses to manage the impacts.
Along Albert St where work is not due to be completed until the end of next year, the Weekend Herald found one woman struggling to save her souvenir business is on medication for depression and an elderly Indian couple working 110 hours a week to help their son who cannot afford to employ staff at his small supermarket.
Sunny Kaushal, who runs the historic Shakespeare Tavern, estimates his business has lost $1.5 million and called for help to small businesses "dying a slow death".
He said Twyford, Goff and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who cut her teeth representing Auckland Central as a Labour list MP, have shown no sympathy for the financial suffering and mental nightmare small businesses and their families are going through.
"All the businesses are crying out, but no one is listening," he said.
After yesterday's meeting, Goff said in a statement past and present governments have indicated compensation is not on the table because of the far-reaching consequences and the potential costs to taxpayers.
He had sympathy for a small number of business struggling and had talked and will talk further with Twyford to see if any flexibility exists to assist them.
Beck said she understood concerns about setting a precedent for compensation, but said a hardship fund was different.
She said compensation is money for losses incurred, but hardship is about people struggling with circumstances outside their control from the extreme length of a project.
She said Sydney did not offer compensation for a light rail project, but got to a point where it was recognised the project had gone way over time and they needed to address problems faced by affected businesses.
Up until May this year, 153 Sydney businesses have received $35 million in financial help and the New South Wales Government has addressed the mental health and wellbeing of businesses, Beck said.
She said Seattle set up a $50m relief funding three years ahead of a light rail project starting, saying the Government has to address its own plans for light rail that will affect hundreds of businesses in Queen St and along Dominion Rd.
Ardern made a big election promise to build light rail to the airport from the central city and down Dominion Rd, half of which is in her electorate of Mt Albert.
Meanwhile, the main contract for the CRL was signed yesterday between City Rail Link Ltd and the Link Alliance marking the formal start of work on an underground tunnel between the CBD and Mt Eden and the new Aotea station on Albert St and a station at Karangahape Rd.