An Auckland business leader is turning up the heat on Transport Minister Phil Twyford to support a hardship fund for businesses facing financial ruin from the $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
"It's now time for Mr Twyford to show that he cares about the businesses already struggling from this project," Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said.
She was commenting after the company building the largest transport project in New Zealand's history yesterday announced work is about to begin on the main contract that will cause further disruption to businesses and Aucklanders in the central city for the next five years.
The eight-year build has faced delays along a short stretch of Albert St in the central city, causing financial and mental hardship for many small businesses.
"After months of urging, Auckland Council has made positive signs in the last week that it will step up to support seriously impacted businesses," Beck said.
"However, a response is still to come from the Minister of Transport after pleas for him to show some human decency and support these businesses.
"Respect, concern for mental wellbeing and human decency must extend to business too – after all, the sector creates jobs, pays taxes and ensures wellbeing for others."
A spokesman for Twyford yesterday said he was still considering a proposal by Goff for a hardship fund and would respond in due course.
In response to Beck's call for action today, Twyford said that while businesses have been affected by the construction works, there were other issues that needed to be taken into account.
"The Government spends $4b a year on transport and much of that is on new infrastructure projects, many of which have an impact on businesses during the construction phase. We have to carefully consider the potential flow-on costs for the taxpayer.
"Whatever decision is made on this, it's important that we are fair, consistent and appropriately careful with public money."
Speaking to Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said she had spoken to Mayor Phil Goff and Twyford about the issue of financial help, saying the pair are still doing a bit of work.
"There is concern around how do you determine when there has been financial impact. How do you ensure there isn't precedent setting every time...these are some of the things that are being considered," Arden said.
Beck is also annoyed with Twyford for not meeting affected businesses and stakeholders.
She said three things need to happen with the project:
• High quality management so business needs are understood and respected, with disruption minimised as far as possible.
• Hardship assistance for those who have been seriously impacted by delays and poor management of the impacts to date.
• Wider policy questions must be addressed relating to the remainder of this project and other large-scale, long-term projects going forward such as the proposed light rail project.
"Leadership that understands and respects the needs of all stakeholders has been lacking on this project. This must be rectified as the extent of ongoing disruption from the City Rail Link is announced to ensure business is not a wholesale casualty," Beck said.
She said it also did not bode well for the mooted light rail project, saying Heart of the City and others will be watching this very closely.
"Our first priority is to ensure businesses impacted by the CRL project receive appropriate support as soon as possible."
Ardern promised at the 2017 election campaign to build light rail from the central city to Mt Roskill within four years. Since the election, little progress has been made on the project.
Hundreds of businesses in the central city and about 500 businesses down Dominion Rd, some of which are in Ardern's Mt Albert electorate, will be affected by construction work for light rail.
Next month, early works start on the new Aotea Station for the CRL between Victoria and Wellesley Sts on Albert St where the council building is located.
City Rail Link Ltd (CRLL) chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney said the company managing the project and the Link Alliance contractors will do all they can to minimise disruption but a project as big and complex as the CRL will "unavoidably impact on life in the city centre for some time".
Aotea Station will be completed in three stages. Early works, including the relocation of utilities, start next month. The main works to extend the tunnels to Mayoral Drive are due to start in the first three months of next year. The third stage will be landscaping and public improvements.
A pit 15m deep will be excavated for the Aotea station. The construction method from Mayoral Drive to just north of the Victoria St intersection on Albert St will be top-down. Walls and a roof will be built and construction will carry on underneath.
This will allow parts of the road to be opened earlier, and will help keep noise and dust down. It is different from the work between Customs St and up Albert St to Wyndham St where the site remained open after excavation.
"Work is quickly ramping up for a project that is going to give an international city like Auckland the modern rail network it needs, but there is no easy way to deliver a job like this in the middle of a busy CBD," Sweeney said.