CRL disruption dispute: Owners not happy with $2k business advice programme

From Checkpoint, 5:23 pm on 30 June 2021

Auckland's Albert St business owners are seeing red after being offered $2000-worth of business advice, as they struggle to survive.

They are trading behind the huge walls of the $4.4 billion City Rail Link (CRL) project, in some cases hidden from public view.

"It's an insult to the local businesses," Alex Law said of CRL's new Small Business Support Programme.

For years Law said has watched customers disappear from his business, Photo Image Ltd, just off Albert St.

"We need money to help us pay rent," he told Checkpoint.

"Customers are not coming here .... no matter how much they spend. $20,000 on promotion, $200,000 on promotion.

"You hear the noise? It's going to get worse."

For now, with no compensation on the horizon, Law and his neighbours are being offered up to $2000 a year in social media marketing, business innovation and counselling.

Roma Blooms florist co-owner Shobhana Ranchhodji said she was offered the Small Business Support Programme about two weeks ago.

"It's an anger you would never feel, of people not listening, the anger of just being lost and people not understanding," she said.

Adding insult to injury, Ranchhodji says CRL's contractor told her the support package could be used to assist in winding a business up.

"So for us to help close our doors, to shut it once and for all," she said.

Erdal Demiray is busy cooking for the few left at his lunchtime service at Midnight Cafe, just off Albert St.

"I mean, as you can see, [there's] nobody here," he said.

"It just give us a lot of stress - as usual, no customers."

Mr Demiray says CRL's $2000 package is laughable.

"It's a joke, like coffee money."

Heart of the City's Viv Beck says the Business Support Programme is separate to the sorely sought compensation, but is not surprised it has not gone down well with everyone.

"For somebody who's fighting for the survival I can imagine it seems like a slap in the face, you know, like giving someone a cup of coffee when they need something way more than a cup of coffee," she said.

"So I can understand that people are upset by that. I think they are genuinely two separate things and I would hope that there are some people that might be able to have support that they might need and that would be really valued."

In a statement, a CRL spokesman told Checkpoint the programme, developed with the K Rd Business Association and Heart of the City's support, was not designed to offer support to wind up businesses. 

He said it offers an independent external engagement specialist, who works closely with business owners to provide services such as business continuity planning, social media help, digital marketing and support for events.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Michael Wood said he and officials continue to consider a $50 million compensation fund, proposed by Heart of the City.

"I can't put a firm date on that because it is subject to engagement with colleagues, and Auckland Transport, and CRL and Auckland Council but I would give some assurance that I do understand the calls that have been made," he said.

"I do understand that it's important that we have a look at it and I'll be trying to move that discussion along as quickly as I can."

On Albert St, businesses continue to be barricaded in. The Albert St-Victoria St intersection was closed-off to vehicle traffic on Thursday morning. The intersection remains open to those walking and cycling.

It will stay this way for two years.

CRL works on Albert St are due for completion in late 2023.