Hunter Street businesses feel brunt of Newcastle light rail construction

They may have looked on the bright side when light rail construction began in Hunter Street a fortnight ago, but some business owners say the impact of work has been worse than they expected.

Difficulties for suppliers making deliveries and allegedly insufficient communication between the state government and businesses are among the issues traders say they have faced since construction started.

Despite trying to remain positive about the promised benefits of Newcastle’s light rail, some business owners are facing tough decisions in the meantime.

George Fellas said the impact of work between Darby and Auckland streets had been “a lot worse” on his business than he originally expected.

“It looks like a war zone,” said Mr Fellas, who has owned Civic Lunch Delights for 14 years. After estimating a 20 per cent loss in trade on the first day of construction, he said the impact had been closer to 35 per cent.

It’s already meant he has had to let a staff member go.

“It’s like anything, when big brother does what he has to do you’ve just got to hope you get through,” he said.

Blue Door Cafe owner Peter James estimated the construction would have a lasting impact on his business – of about three years.

He said staff morale was dropping because work hours had to be cut and the situation was “pretty tough".

Mr James said he’d also had ongoing problems with suppliers who could not find a vacant loading zone near his cafe.

“I feel like the state government came in and said ‘we’re going to put light rail on Hunter Street – you deal with it',” he said.

The Herald understands that Revitalising Newcastle conducted face-to-face visits with Hunter Street businesses before work began, and has held several briefing sessions for traders. Monthly updates have been circulated and a 24-hour hotline has also been set up.

Program director Michael Cassel said he could understand that business owners might feel “anxious” about the work. He said some short-term interruptions were part of any major construction project.

“But it’s important to remember that the government is investing over $650 million in infrastructure and urban revitalisation that will deliver significant benefits for Newcastle, including local businesses,” Mr Cassel said. “Within a few short years light rail will be up and running.”

Construction between Auckland and Darby streets is expected to be complete by December.

Some businesses the Herald approached did not want to speak publicly about their concerns.

Tanya Corradi, from NNT Uniforms, said the shop was still getting customers who had planned to visit the store for a specific purpose, but passing trade had dried up.

“Our desks shake when they start to dig the road up,” she said.

Meanwhile, The Press Bookhouse manager Joseph Baker remained as positive in his outlook as he was a fortnight ago.

“Business has been down but at least you know it’s working towards something,” he said. “Everything’s a bit quiet but it’s still cool – we’re happy.”

Disruptions in the city centre will be a regular fixture until the light rail network becomes operational in 2019, as Hunter Street and Scott Street are progressively closed to allow the transport infrastructure to be built.

When work began, on September 12, Transport Minister Andrew Constance described the situation as “short term pain, but there will be long-term gain at the end”.

Construction on a section of Hunter Street, between Crown and Perkins streets, will start in November, with work scheduled to begin on Scott Street, between Pacific and Telford streets, in December.

Work will also start between Worth Place and Auckland Street in December.

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