Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is proposing a hardship fund for businesses struggling to survive along the route of the $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
After months of pressure from businesses whose livelihoods and mental health have suffered, Goff told the Herald today a targeted hardship fund would provide
financial assistance to small businesses facing exceptional hardship.
He indicated the fund would be established by the company building the City Rail Link and need Government approval. Council and the Government jointly fund the project.
Every day begins for us with stress and ends in depression
Details of the hardship package had still to be finalised, a mayoral spokesman said.
A spokesman for Transport Minister Phil Twyford said "the Government has received the mayor's proposal and we are considering it".
Yesterday, Twyford told the Herald "we're not considering cash payments" but open to ideas to help affected businesses.
The mayor's position follows pressure from businesses, Heart of the City pushing for a hardship fund along the lines set up in Sydney for a light rail project, lobbying by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye and a meeting today attended by eight councillors.
At the meeting attended by 12 people impacted by the CRL works, the councillors supported a call from Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck for Auckland to follow Sydney's lead which has seen 153 businesses receive $35 million.
"I'm not proposing a 'Sydney style' compensation package. I'm proposing a much more targeted fund," Goff said.
Business owners affected by long delays on the CRL works up Albert St in the central city wanted to know from the councillors, Beck and Kaye when to expect help.
Mike Lee, the councillor for the central city, said there was a model for providing financial help and that was the "Sydney solution".
"You have a fair case and I'm confident we can come up with a fair and rigorous process to give you a fair outcome," said Lee, saying the money should come from the large contingency fund in the $4.4b CRL budget.
The effects of the prolonged disruption on small businesses was clear to see at the meeting.
The owner of a small supermarket on Albert St, who did not want to be named, said he had been hit with a $5000 penalty from his landlord after being unable to pay rent for three months and threatened with legal action if he did not pay up by tomorrow.
Florist Shobhana Ranchhodji said for council to expect businesses to hold their breath from the time the project started in 2016 until it is completed in 2024 was impossible.
Bo Manoonpong, who runs the Grasshopper and Mai Thai restaurants in Albert St and Victoria St, said the CRL works had been very bad for businesses and bad for her health.
"We need the financial assistance package as soon as possible," she said.
Sunny Kaushal, who runs the Shakespeare Tavern and a spokesman for affected businesses, told politicians at today's meeting the CRL had destroyed businesses in the vicinity of Albert St and shattered the lives of families.
"Every day begins for us with stress and ends in depression," he said.
Kaye said she had never spent so much time on a constituency issue or witnessed "the level of life-wrecking, unfairness and stonewalling that needs to be rectified".
"It is my strong view this is a unique situation where the scale of the delays and their impact has been so significant that a small package should be developed for businesses.
"We can learn a lot, very quickly, from Sydney," said the MP.
Becks said the central city business association wanted a speedy resolution.
"This can't go on," she said.
Beck said she understands the Government's reluctance to offer compensation and the precedent it would set.
However, she said hardship is different to compensation because it is about people struggling with circumstances outside their control from the extreme length of a project.
Lee said he was a pioneer for the CRL in his days as chairman of the former Auckland Regional Council.
"This is a project that will have all sorts of benefits, but in the meantime these people shouldn't be the sacrificial lambs," he said.
The councillors who attended today's meeting were Mike Lee, Sharon Stewart, Chris Fletcher, Grey Sayers, Desley Simpson, John Watson, Wayne Walker and Paul Young.