Hunter Street businesses calling for light rail rent relief scheme to be extended

CASH CALL: Hunter Street businessman Duncan Passmore says rent relief would help struggling traders. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
CASH CALL: Hunter Street businessman Duncan Passmore says rent relief would help struggling traders. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

WORRIED Hunter Street traders say rent relief offered to retailers on George Street in Sydney should “absolutely” be extended to Newcastle as light rail disruption leaves businesses struggling.

But a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Andrew Constance said George Street “is not comparable to Newcastle”, echoing the comments of the government’s representative in the Hunter, Scot MacDonald.

The tussle comes as Hunter Street retailers begin to feel the pinch from the staged closure of the city’s main street, with reported revenue losses of up to 30 per cent.

Passmores Business and Management College principal Duncan Passmore said the rent relief scheme seemed “completely unfair”.

“I think it’s very reasonable to expect the program should be offered here. Absolutely it should be,” he said.

“It would help all those businesses who are struggling at the moment.

“It’s like their properties have been temporarily resumed by the government.”

The rental reprieve offered to small businesses along the George Street light rail route was announced in August after years of sustained pressure. The government said it was offered to businesses within identified construction zones that could prove financial loss associated with missed deadlines, with the project running overtime in some sections by years.

But Newcastle traders argue they have “copped a hammering” with a number of major projects beginning concurrently, including light rail, Supercars track construction and Bathers Way upgrades.

Newcastle Bridal House owner Michelle Stephens said “people just can’t be bothered anymore”.

Hunter Street businesses have 'copped a hammering' with a number of projects beginning at the same time. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Hunter Street businesses have 'copped a hammering' with a number of projects beginning at the same time. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“It’s too stressful to come into the city,” she said. “The parking has dried up. A lot of these businesses, particularly mine, rely on accessible parking.”

Civic Lunch Delights owner George Fallas said his revenue revenue was down 30 per cent.

“I had to put one [staff member] off,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Constance said while short-term disruption was unavoidable, the finished result would have “direct benefit to local businesses”.

The spokeswoman pointed out that the Newcastle project was only in its infancy and had not missed a deadline. “The Newcastle CBD remains open for business and the Revitalising Newcastle team will generate more activity to support businesses in the city as Newcastle undergoes an unprecedented transformation period,” she said.

Newcastle City Council boss Jeremy Bath said the new park and ride service from Broadmeadow was designed to ease the parking squeeze.

“By freeing up 350 car spaces in the CBD and potentially another 300 in the new year, we are addressing the number one reason people are avoiding shopping in the CBD,” he said.