Central Auckland business owners protest CRL disruptions as 'debts are mounting'

2:33 pm on 17 June 2021

Central Auckland business owners say officials have been complacent in the 'decimation' of their livelihoods, during City Rail Link construction.

Two dozen people protested on the steps of the Auckland Council offices this morning demanding compensation.

Two dozen people protested on the steps of the Auckland Council offices this morning demanding compensation. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

After more than four years of road closures and construction noise, two dozen people protested on the steps of the Auckland Council offices this morning demanding compensation.

They used placards and a loud speaker to voice their frustrations ahead of the closure of the Albert and Victoria Street intersection next week.

Owner of the Shakespeare Hotel and Brewery on Albert Street, Sunny Kaushal, blamed disruption from the project for an estimated $2 million in missed revenue since 2016.

He said he couldn't keep borrowing money week after week.

"The debts are mounting and it has been very very hard. It's taking a toll on our health. It's taking a toll on every worker's job. We have to pay the rent, we have to pay the expenses, we have to pay the rates," he said.

The business owners submitted a proposal in January asking for a share of their rent to be paid, at a cost of about $10m each year.

However chief executive of Heart of the City, Viv Beck, said they hadn't heard back about it.

"We haven't had the opportunity to work through that with officials. That's not good enough. So this is about the people coming to the decision makers, raising their voices," she said.

The owner of Attic Backpackers Michael Leroy-Dyson said he was using his retirement savings to pay staff, after the double whammy of the pandemic and construction disruption.

He said he would have closed his business if he could.

"I think most of us are locked into leases that we can't get out of because of personal guarantees. Many of these people would have just closed up and gone but they've got no choice but to file all their life savings or borrow money just to try and stay alive," he said.

"It's a $5 billion project. I would have thought putting a few million or even a few tens of millions into helping businesses that are being affected by this would be a sensible and reasonable way to run a project."

A spokesperson for the office of mayor Phil Goff noted there had already been $617,000 in direct financial support to businesses impacted the construction delays, through a hardship programme in 2019.

It was distributed to 25 businesses, all on lower Albert Street.

The spokesperson said the government had now asked the Ministry of Transport to investigate if that could be adapted, to provide support to other businesses facing hardship from construction.

"The mayor is supportive of the government's direction," they said.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson said landlords in the area could also help struggling small businesses.

"There will be a substantial value uplift for properties close to the City Rail Link connections, which means property owners will receive a significant benefit because of the expenditure of ratepayer and taxpayer money. The mayor believes it is reasonable for property owners to look at how they can support their tenants during the construction period."

Transport Minister Michael Wood wasn't present at the protest as business owners hoped, but told RNZ in a statement that the government was "carefully working through" compensation requests.

He said the previous government did not create a process or budget for business compensation when the project was first set up.

The business owners plan further demonstrations if their demands are not met.

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