The state government has poured cold water on hopes of light-rail compensation in Newcastle the day before more than 100 businesses gather for a forum on the subject with the NSW Small Business Commissioner.
Hunter Business Chamber and Newcastle Now say they have organised the forum so the SBC can explain “how they can assist business, in context of the challenges being experienced around the light-rail project”.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian raised hopes of help for Newcastle traders when she said on a visit to the city last month: “If there’s demonstrated loss, we’re always considering rental assistance. That’s what we’ve done for other projects in other parts of NSW, so, of course, we’ll look at those issues.”
The government has set up a rent-relief scheme in Sydney, but Transport for NSW said on Tuesday that construction work in Newcastle was not as disruptive.
“The situation in Newcastle is not the same as in Sydney, and we can’t create a cookie-cutter model because any form of assistance to business has to be tailored to individual needs,” it said.
“As the Premier said, we are always happy to consider ways to support the small business community.
“But so far construction on Newcastle light rail is progressing well, and we expect contractors to get in and out of zones on time. In some construction zones in Sydney, businesses who were prepared for a nine-month construction period have dealt with more than two years of construction.”
The Herald has been told the civil-works stage of the project is due to finish in September.
The government is framing financial help for Sydney businesses as “rent relief” rather than compensation, possibly because it is facing the prospect of a class action from traders along the state capital’s new tram route.
The Herald has reported on the struggles of Newcastle CBD businesses since light-rail work began in September.
These Days cafe has closed, Newy Burger Co has moved to Honeysuckle and is paying two lots of rent, Frontline Hobbies is poised to make a call on its future after Wednesday’s forum and Newcastle Coins says it will close this year if things don’t improve.
Bike shop Cycle Fitness Nutrition is the latest to feel the pinch, moving to Adamstown last weekend.
Owner Glenn Stojanow said sales at his business, which has been in Scott Street for 11 years, had dropped 30 to 40 per cent since work began.
“They said the work would be for one to two months, and then all of a sudden it was six months,” he said. “Six months would be enough to put any business on the ropes.”
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