COMMENT:

Auckland's $4.4 billion City Rail Link will transform the heart of our country's biggest city.

It will finally open up the Britomart Station cul-de-sac and promises to make travel within the central city – and to and from West Auckland - much more convenient.

It's likely that when it's finished in the middle of next decade, Aucklanders will wonder why it took 50 years for Sir Dove-Myer Robinson's vision of a rapid transit system to get on the move.

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There has, undoubtedly, been some pain along the way.

As well as causing delays for motorists attempting to cross parts of the inner city, the CRL project has put a construction site on the doorstep of businesses along its route.

The Herald this week revealed the luxury Stamford Plaza Hotel wants compensation as works outside it on Albert Street continue well past the agreed completion date of March this year.

If the idea of compensation was ever to be entertained, these issues should all have been answered and clearly laid out long before contractors began digging.

The hotel says it has suffered from excessive dust, noise and vibration from construction works, which have severely limited vehicle access and created hassles with pedestrian access. It says it is incurring losses from lower occupancy rates and food and beverage sales and that hotel tenants are also losing money.

The Stamford is not alone – one small business owner is struggling to save her Albert St souvenir business and an elderly Indian couple were working 110 hours a week to help their son keep a small supermarket running.

The owner of the historic Shakespeare Tavern, too, estimates the "war zone" outside his business has cost $1.5m in lost earnings.

Aucklanders will of course feel sympathy for these businesses, which have put up with extensive disruption.

Few, though, will want ratepayer dollars being paid out in way of compensation at this stage for the CRL construction, and the council is wise to resist any claims for cash.

That's because many impacted businesses will reap the financial benefits of a revitalised central city upon the project's completion.

Many on Albert St, too, will find a flock of customers frequenting the new Aotea Station – expected to become New Zealand's busiest train station.

Paying out Stamford raises difficult - and costly - questions for the CRL project and Auckland Council, notably which firms deserve recompense, and how much?

If the idea of compensation was ever to be entertained, these issues should all have been answered and clearly laid out long before contractors began digging.

The drama on Albert St illustrates how big public infrastructure projects - whether the brainchild of central or local governments - need to do a better job of looking after either residents or businesses impacted by major construction works.

There's no reason why, for future works, this couldn't include a pre-established avenue for compensation to be paid for undue delays or disruptions.

Clauses, too, could be written into construction contracts so builders share liability if they're to blame for schedule overruns.

It is something both Auckland Council and central Government need to get right if plans for light rail under Queen St, down Dominion Rd, or out to Auckland Airport ever see the light of day.