IF the NSW government wants to see how much distress the Newcastle CBD light rail construction program is causing, it need look no further than the turnout of some 120 or so business owners to a meeting on Wednesday with the state’s Small Business Commissioner, Robyn Hobbs.
Ms Hobbs, who initiated the meeting with the Hunter Business Chamber and business improvement association Newcastle Now, heard first-hand from from emotional business owners concerned at the way the large-scale shutdown of Hunter Street was hurting their livelihoods.
The small business commissioner did not rule out advocating on their behalf for some type of financial compensation, but she also argued that the Newcastle situation was very different from that of the Sydney CBD, where traders have been able to apply for assistance on the basis that the project was taking much longer than originally envisaged to complete.
The argument at this stage against compensating Newcastle business owners is that the light rail project was running on time, and that the disruption is no more than they were warned about before the project began. While this may be technically correct, it is worth going back to the original announcements about the way that the work would be conducted, when the government and its agencies were adamant that the Hunter Street construction would be done block by block to minimise disruption.
While it could be argued that the work has indeed proceeded block by block, the businesses concerned –along with the rest of the general public – could be excused for thinking this meant that a new block would not be shut unless work on the previous one was completed. The most cursory of looks along Hunter Street and Scott Street shows this is far from the case. Work is under way along virtually all of Hunter Street east of Worth Place, where the light rail leaves the old heavy rail corridor. Not only that, but Scott Street east of Newcastle rail station is also blocked to traffic, adding to the length of road out of action.
When the Newcastle Herald viewed light rail in France in early 2016, authorities there acknowledged that managing construction disruption was a major task. Compensation for affected businesses was commonplace.
Disruptions along Hunter Street are so pervasive that assistance must be considered here too.