16 Jan 2020

Frustration over CRL hardship fund: 'They're playing God with our businesses'

12:20 pm on 16 January 2020

Small businesses affected by delays to Auckland's City Rail Link (CRL) project say they have little faith that a hardship fund set up for them will be of much help.

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City Rail Link construction work. Photo: Kethaki Masilamani

The details of the fund were announced just before Christmas and businesses that meet certain criteria are being told to apply for rent assistance.

CRL said they were running a workshop on Thursday briefing people about the fund which offers rent assistance.

The owner of a florist shop, who did not want to be named, said the assistance, which caps at $75,000, would not make up for loss of business and the rates they have to pay.

He said the people setting up the hardship fund failed to consult the businesses appropriately.

"They didn't even consult us about what they were going to do for us. This is what they think is good for us. They haven't come to us and said how they're going to put this hardship fund together. They actually did the hardship fund themselves," he said.

"I'm just very frustrated with what they've come up with. It was meant to be done prior to November last year. They announced it in December, and between November to December they never told us what the hardship fund is going to consist of."

His wife said the project never took the impact on small businesses into account.

"They are the ones that are planning all. They're the ones that have got our future in their hands. They're playing God with our businesses and they're setting the standards. Has any of the people who're making plans for us had a small business?"

Another man, who runs a superette on the street, said the construction started half a year after he moved there, and he has seen much less customers coming in ever since.

He said he could no longer afford to hire people working for him but just getting some help from his parents. He didn't have much hope for the fund either.

"This is just a temporary relief one. It's not going to cover what we have gone through. We're not seeking a hardship fund. We're seeking compensation."

Dr Sean Sweeney, the chief executive of the project, said the hardship programme was directed at small business owners at the lower or northern end of Albert Street or from nearby streets.

To date, four businesses have made applications through the programme and CRL understands further applications were in the pipeline, he said in a statement.

"When CRL Ltd announced the Business Hardship Programme before Christmas it contacted 120 businesses with details of the programme. Those businesses were contacted again in the New Year," Dr Sweeney said.

"Information about the programme is available on CRL Ltd's website, and media were informed when details of the Programme were first announced last month."

He said applications were being assessed by an experienced and qualified property valuer, who worked independently of CRL.

"CRL Ltd is committed to honouring any decision made by the valuer, including the level of rent assistance to be paid," he said.

"Because the programme is funded with public money, businesses who apply for assistance have to meet criteria relating to their business operations including the number of people employed, who holds the lease on a rented property and that all business-related obligations are being met."

He said CRL-related work to improve the lower end of Albert Street was well under way and due to be completed by the end of this year.

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