The Prime Minister is being dragged into growing calls for financial help to businesses facing ruin and mental stress along the route of Auckland's $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
Jacinda Ardern has been accused of showing no sympathy for constituents in the Auckland Central electorate where she was once based as a list MP, and criticised for incorrectly saying it is an issue for the NZ Transport Agency.
Business groups also want to know what help the Government has in mind for hundreds of businesses affected by Ardern's election promise to build light rail from the central city to the airport, including businesses on Dominion Rd in her electorate of Mt Albert.
Light rail will be a hundred times worse. The disruption will be a killer
A spokesman for businesses affected by the CRL, Sunny Kaushal, said Ardern cut her teeth in Auckland Central but she and her Government are not being sympathetic to the huge financial stress inflicted on businesses beyond their control.
He was gobsmacked to hear the Prime Minister tell Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this week the issue of compensation is a matter for the NZ Transport Agency.
"She has no idea what she is talking about," said Kaushal, who said the project is being jointly funded by the Government and Auckland Council, who have set up a company, City Rail Link Ltd, to build the 3.4km underground rail project between Britomart and Mt Eden.
A spokesman for the NZ Transport Agency confirmed it has nothing to do with the CRL.
The Herald is seeking comment from the Prime Minister, who has been on the road today.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck has been pressing Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to show some "human decency" and urgently set up a hardship fund to help struggling businesses along the CRL route on Albert St, where work has dragged on for two years longer than planned.
Twyford and Goff have been empathetic, but not committed themselves to compensation because of the precedent it would set. Beck said hardship is different to compensation because it is about people struggling with circumstances outside their control from the extreme length of a project.
Goff reiterated he is talking with Twyford about "how best to assist those adversely affected by construction" but said Governments have ruled out a broad compensation fund because of the potential consequences of that nationwide and over time by the taxpayer.
"CRLL is a company subject to joint decision-making by its two sponsors, Auckland Council and the Government. The council is not able to make unilateral decisions including on dealing with businesses affected by construction work," he said.
Goff is coming under strong pressure from his own senior councillors and members of the opposition "B" team to get off the fence and act.
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore said it was not an easy issue, but council could investigate a hardship fund for extenuated and dire circumstances.
"There would have to be Government and council agreement ... personally I would envisage should this fund be set up, that there would be an appropriate panel to allocate any grants," he said.
Labour councillor and finance committee chairman Ross Clow supports a hardship fund approach.
Next week, nearly half of the 20 councillors are planning to attend a meeting with affected business to hear their plight and pleas for financial help.
Waitemata ward councillor Mike Lee supports a relief package, which he said should come from CRLL's contingency budget. Delays to the project have had a devastating impact on businesses, he said.
John Watson, Wayne Walker, Chris Darby and Desley Simpson are other councillors who support some form of financial help to struggling businesses suffering from delays. Waitemata Local Board chairwoman Pippa Coom supports a one-off hardship fund.
Beck said action is needed to do something going forward for people affected by massive projects like the CRL and light rail in Auckland.
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.
The planned route for light rail will affect hundreds of businesses in Queen St and about 500 businesses along Dominion Rd.
Dominion Road Business Association manager Gary Holmes said businesses have had enough disruption from veranda cutbacks and pushing out kerbs for double decker buses.
"Light rail will be a hundred times worse. The disruption will be a killer," said Holmes, saying businesses are talking about light rail but it is not real in their minds because there is no business case or hard and fast dates to start work.
City Rail Link chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney said people and companies seeking compensation are advised to follow the processes under the Public Works Act.
Since CRLL took over the project from Auckland Transport in July 2017 it has received seven requests for compensation but nothing has been paid out to date, he said.