Hardship fund released for struggling City Rail Link businesses

Author
Bernard Orsman, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 3 Sep 2021, 3:08PM
The City Rail Link has caused long-running disruption in the central city. (Photo / File)
The City Rail Link has caused long-running disruption in the central city. (Photo / File)

Hardship fund released for struggling City Rail Link businesses

Author
Bernard Orsman, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 3 Sep 2021, 3:08PM

A $12 million hardship fund for small businesses impacted by City Rail Link works announced today has been welcomed, but come too late for one restaurateur who lost his business to the project.

"I don't want to talk about it, I'm too upset," said Antony Ariano, who closed his Da Vinci's Italian Restaurant in July and since run up legal costs to get out of his lease.

Auckland Central MP ChloƩ Swarbrick said she would be really surprised if Ariano would not qualify for relief for outstanding bills given the fund is being back-dated to February.

Antony Ariano who closed his Da Vinci's Italian Restaurant in July. Photo / File

Antony Ariano who closed his Da Vinci's Italian Restaurant in July. Photo / File

"The main focus now is getting that immediate relief and trying to help Antonio get back payments for all those bills," she said.

The CRL works at the city end have caused mental and financial stress for many businesses, with shopkeepers likening the construction works to a "war zone".

Many businesses, including Da Vinci's restaurant and the well-known Mai Thai restaurant have closed their doors. Others are on the brink.

Shobhana Ranchhodji, who owns a Roma Blooms on Albert St, said the hardship fund was a "little light of hope" but until she saw how it is run she would not know if it is a positive or a negative.

Albert Street Florist Shobhana Ranchhodji has lost a lot of her business due to Auckland City Rail Link project. Photo / Dean Purcell

Albert Street Florist Shobhana Ranchhodji has lost a lot of her business due to Auckland City Rail Link project. Photo / Dean Purcell

The florist said it is essential the fund is administered by an independent body and not City Rail Link Ltd, the joint government and council body set up to manage the huge transport project.

Ranchhodji said the CRL works had affected so many businesses and their families of their physical and mental wellbeing.

"They have robbed us of five-and-a-half years (since work started) and we will never get that back," she said.

Transport Minister Michael Wood and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff announced they are putting aside $12m over the next two years for businesses suffering genuine hardship and affected by lengthy disruption from the $4.4 billion City Rail Link works.

Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo / Alex Burton

Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo / Alex Burton

The detailed criteria to qualify for financial help is still being finalised but in the meantime, interim payments will be made to businesses and backdated to February. Businesses will need to provide evidence they meet the eligibility criteria.

An earlier business hardship programme paid out $617,178 to 25 businesses, but it only applied to delays on the first stage of the CRL works from Britomart and up Albert St to Wyndham St.

There are three more years of construction on the main contract building twin tunnels, two underground stations at Albert St, called Aotea, Karangahape Rd, and a new station above ground at Mt Eden.

Wood said the Government and Auckland Council have listened to businesses, saying it was unfortunate hardship support was not established before the project was set up and began in 2016.

The City Railk Link works have taken a financial and mental toll on shopkeepers. Photo / Dean Purcell

The City Railk Link works have taken a financial and mental toll on shopkeepers. Photo / Dean Purcell

"My expectation is major urban projects like Auckland light rail will have hardship support schemes created in advance," he said.

Goff said in the interest of fairness to small businesses whose livelihoods are threatened by the disruption, a targeted hardship fund is essential.

It will cost ratepayers and taxpayers $6m each with a review late next year for the following two years, he said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo / File

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo / File

Heart of the City chief executive Vic Beck, who has been pushing for a hardship fund on behalf of businesses since 2019, welcomed the "long overdue" hardship fund but said the devil will be in the details.

"Financial support is desperately needed for businesses that have been massively impacted by this large scale and long term project, and we hope this does bring the relief that is needed," said Beck, who called for an independent panel to determine how the scheme will work.

She said the situation with the CRL cannot be repeated and was pleased to hear support for large scale projects, like light rail, has been confirmed.

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck. Photo / File

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck. Photo / File

Swarbrick said financial assistance to businesses cannot come soon enough, and thanked the minister and the mayor for coming to the table.

Wood said there will be a significant value uplift for property owners once the project is complete and expected landlords to support tenants as well.

"I acknowledge some landlords have already provided relief and I hope this continues," he said.