Central Auckland businesses affected by the ongoing construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) project will receive rental assistance from a hardship fund.
Small businesses have been struggling since the closure of lower Albert St and the ongoing delays to construction of the $4.4 billion project, which was originally planned to be completed mid-2019.
The CRL project construction began in 2016 and is now not expected to be finished until late 2020.
Shakespeare Tavern owner Sunny Kaushal, who is the spokesman for the lower Albert St businesses, earlier told The Herald many business owners are suffering mental health issues.
"Every day starts for us with stress and ends with depression – it's taking a huge toll on our personal lives and our families."
Some of the business owners don't know how they are going to open their doors tomorrow, he said.
CRL Ltd chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney said an independent valuer would be used to assess the effects of construction delays on the rent being paid for businesses affected.
"No matter what shape a business is in, rent invariably has to be paid and can be the biggest fixed cost on a business owner's books," Sweeney said.
Sweeney said the work had been delayed for a number of reasons, including CRL Ltd carrying out work for other organisations.
The Business Hardship Programme will offer help on a goodwill basis for those impacted by construction delays, Sweeney said.
"It's early days, but our preliminary investigations indicate that the Business Hardship Programme could cost between $2m-$4m."
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While the programme won't provide compensation, it will provide targeted assistance relating to the delays.
Funds for the payments will come from the project's existing budget and will continue until the work's completion.
"We understand that some businesses have experienced a greater length of disruption than originally planned and we're taking action to assist those that may be suffering financial hardship as a result."
Once completed, the CRL will offer significant benefits to the city, including increased business opportunities along the project's route, Sweeney said.
To receive the financial boost, businesses need to be along or nearby the CRL works in the Albert St area, between the Victoria and Customs St intersections.
Businesses will also need to be employing less than 20 full-time staff, be commercially viable and operate legally and legitimately, and have the business operator as a tenant of the premises, being unrelated and or unconnected to the owner.
The businesses must also have been situated in the affected zone since 2016, when the construction first began.
Documents supporting the assessment criteria must be provided.
CRL Ltd was contacting businesses and inviting them to register under the programme, Sweeney said.
Requests for assistance will be assessed independently in the new year.
The programme's development followed support by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and the Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford.
"I welcome the work done by CRL Ltd to establish a programme to provide assistance to businesses facing hardship as a result of the delay in the completion of its work on Albert St," Goff said.
The hardship fund follows examples such as the fund established in Australia to support businesses impacted by a rail tunnelling project in Melbourne.
CRL Ltd and its contractors will continue to implement several initiatives already in place to support small businesses along Albert St independent of the fund, Sweeney said.