A $12 million hardship fund for small businesses impacted by disruption from construction works on the City Rail Link has been announced today by Transport Minister Michael Wood and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.
Struggling businesses have been calling for compensation since 2019, and many have gone bust or closed due to works in the central city.
Wood said the detailed eligibility criteria is still being worked through, but advance payments will be made for businesses that are likely to be eligible based on a high-level independent assessment and backdated to February.
Goff said while the hardship fund will impose costs on ratepayers and taxpayers of around $12m, in the interest of fairness to small businesses whose livelihoods are threatened by the disruption, a targeted hardship fund is essential.
Funding of up to $12 million will be provided for the next two years from the Government and Auckland Council, with a review late next year for the following two years. Payments to businesses will be backdated to 1 February 2021. Eligibility criteria will be finalised shortly by City Rail Link Limited. Businesses will need to provide evidence they meet the eligibility criteria.
Heart of the City chief executive Vic Beck, who has been pushing for a hardship fund on behalf of businesses, said it was great to hear that a targeted hardship fund will be established for businesses that have been massively impacted by this large-scale, long-term project.
"The criteria will be essential and whilst the detail is yet to be confirmed, we're pleased there will be payments in the interim as businesses are desperate for financial support.
We wish this could have been put in place sooner," she said.
Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick said she was is immensely proud to welcome this hardship fund for the small businesses she hadspent the last year working closely with.
"It cannot come soon enough, and for that reason, I'm deeply grateful that the minister has backdated this scheme to February, when I first officially engaged him on the issue. I also want to thank Mayor Goff and Auckland Council for coming to the table with half of the funds and support here," she said.
Wood said the City Rail Link project will deliver a step-change for Auckland's public transport once complete.
"But the ongoing construction has meant there is disruption around the project's Aotea, Karangahape and Mt Eden sites that will continue for some time – so we've agreed to set up a targeted fund to support businesses in those areas.
"There will be a significant value uplift for property owners once the project is complete, so it's our expectation they will be working to support tenants as well. I have asked officials to build a strong expectation of this into the design of the scheme in order to ensure that everyone is doing their bit. I acknowledge some landlords have already provided relief and I hope this continues.
"It's unfortunate hardship support wasn't established when the project was first set up. My expectation is major urban projects like Auckland Light Rail will have hardship support schemes created in advance," Wood said.