By Joe Bourke
The CBD and South East Light Rail has moved forward this week despite its construction schedule remaining unfinished.
A business owners forum and a community forum on the light rail took place within four days of each other last week. The forums are a regular part of the project’s consultation process, and saw the NSW Government’s Transport for NSW (TfNSW) team and ALTRAC, the company running the light rail project, front up to business owners and community members alike.
City of Sydney councillor and owner of VIVO cafe on George Street, Angela Vithoulkas was at the business owners meeting, and said those present shared the major concern that there was no construction schedule.
A TfNSW spokesperson told City Hub they hope to provide the construction schedule “in the coming weeks” and that it was currently being finalised by ALTRAC.
Clr Vithoulkas said that big business and small business were keen to have involvement with the schedule but understood from the meeting this wouldn’t be the case.
“We’re all worried about not having the information on the construction schedule given that it appears that they’re going to be starting around September,” she said.
“Again that’s just what we’ve been told, not what’s been confirmed, and the main questions were ‘when are we going to be able to see the construction schedule and are we going to have any input on it?’.”
Clr Vithoulkas has been a CBD business owner for more than thirty years and owns one of a dwindling number of small businesses in George Street, and is concerned her cafe will not survive the construction period.
In the Gold Coast, businesses suffered heavily from the construction of the GoldLinQ light rail, and more than 13 percent of business surrounding the light rail closed as a result of its construction.
The TfNSW spokesperson said that community and business consultation was “extensive” and would continue throughout the project.
“More than 25 local and Community and Business Forums and seven Community Reference and Business Reference group meetings have been held with more than 3,000 visits carried out by the project team to businesses and residents,” they said.
Although concerned for her business, Clr Vithoulkas is not opposed to light rail, saying it would bring Sydney to “a position in the world of global importance”. She did say however that small businesses like hers needed to be protected and called upon the state government to help in future developments.
“There’s uplift for landlords and big business because they will go the distance, so could they consider for a moment giving back to small business the time we lose? Would they consider extending our lease?” Clr Vithoulkas said.
“Giving back to the small business owners and the retail owners a period of time so that we have the opportunity to spread this financial burden.”
As reported in last week’s edition of City Hub, some businesses like Sunglasses Hut are signing extra long leases due to the light rail’s long term benefits, something Clr Vithoulkas said would not be available to small businesses.
Other issues brought up from community members at last Monday’s forum included the light rail’s wheelchair accessibility and whether TfNSW were going to improve Sydney’s taxis.
A CBD taxi driver slammed the current amount of ‘no stopping’ signs around the city, saying they should be ‘no standing’ signs, as it made it very difficult to legally pick up passengers.
The panel took this as a comment, and responded that the light rail machines were easily accessible and that at completion of their vision, one would “never be more than 150 metres from a taxi rank” in the CBD.
Regardless of the long term positives of the light rail plan, Clr Vithoulkas said her small business will certainly have to undergo changes, including laying off staff, and that she hoped more meaningful consultation would take place in the future.
“It won’t be a ‘may’ – we will have to lay off workers. We just won’t have the ability to provide the services that we’ve got now,” she said.
“We don’t know what the construction schedule is yet… They say we’re all working together on this but we’re not. Nobody’s going to be paying my rent or my staff or my suppliers.”