BY CHARLI SHIELD
The NSW Government and City of Sydney are facing backlash over problems caused by the construction of their $2.1 billion light rail project that local retail owners say is destroying the viability of their businesses.
Construction has been delayed for the second time since the project started 18 months ago, after 7 out of 10 construction zones on George Street have missed completion deadlines.
The light rail is now due to be completed in early 2019.
Small retailers on Sydney’s main street are suffering a revenue loss of up to 40 percent in the face of ongoing delays, according to George Street Vivo café owner and Independent City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas.
“There are hundreds of devastated small businesses right across the light rail route from the CBD to Anzac Parade, and collectively we are losing millions of dollars a month,” she said.
The discovery of disused underground utility and service cables along the CBD route has complicated progress, as each cable requires a lengthy negotiation process and poses potential design changes.
Urban planner and former Deputy Lord Mayor John McInenery says that such complications are the result of poor planning on behalf of the council and the state government.
“I think there are problems in the detail,” he said.
“George Street has been the major artery of Sydney from the very beginning. It has had everything from gas to electricity to water to modern telecommunication cables built into it.
“We would have thought it could have been mapped a lot better before the project commenced.”
But Geoffrey Clifton, lecturer in transport and logistics management at the University of Sydney, says that a lack of historical records has made it impossible to accurately map the underground of the rail route.
“This is a known issue that has plagued the development of light rail around the world. Even with the best people [working on the plans] in the world, it is very difficult,” he said.
“I think they’re doing the best they can in these circumstances.”
Ms Vithoulkas, however, is adamant that local business owners should not have to suffer at the expense of the transport upgrade.
“Minister [Andrew] Constance has compared us to farmers who experience drought. But when farmers go through drought they get money from the government. There has to be compensation,” she said.
Despite the state government’s criticism of Labor over the disruption to small businesses caused by the Rozelle metro plan, Ms Vithoulkas says that neither Premier Gladys Berejiklian nor Sydney Mayor Clover Moore have responded to pleas for help from distressed local retailers.
Moore has been accused of prioritising her concerns about the design of the tram stops over those presented to her by devastated business owners.
Ms Vithoulkas says her café business cannot possibly recuperate without compensation for their losses from the government.
“My business is heavily devastated. My landlord has told me they won’t be renewing my lease because they will be able to put another tenant in at the end of the light rail construction and get more rent from them.
“I will have no future, no job, and no way of feeding my family. I have been living with a guillotine over my head for the past two years with two more to go. And I’m just one story,” she said.