Auckland restaurateur lashes out at Transport Minister over City Rail Link works destroying his business

The Auckland restaurateur who lost his business due to City Rail Link works has lashed out at Transport Minister Michael Wood.

On Saturday, a tearful Antony Ariano closed his Da Vinci’s Italian Restaurant, saying 10 years of hard work had been “suffocated” by metal fences, hoardings and the daily noise, dust and smell of sewage from construction works.

Many other businesses in the path of the CRL have gone the same way, including the well-known Mai Thai restaurant not far from Da Vinci’s on Albert St, and others are on the brink.

“My sympathies go out to Mr Ariano and it’s very unfortunate that there’s been additional disruption to his businesses during a global pandemic,” said Wood, who has declined to say if the Government will cough up compensation for businesses impacted by the CRL works.

Wood said the previous National Government – which started the $4.4 billion rail project – did not create a process or budget for compensating businesses, saying Labour is carefully working through a $50 million request from Heart of the City.

“This is crap,” said Ariano.

“The works are costing people’s lives. Pull your act together, otherwise there will be more victims and more people suffering depression,” said Ariano, who has been left a broken man and put on sleeping tablets and medication for depression.

Ariano said the issue of compensation is not rocket science and he urged Wood not to give false hope to businesses because it will just make people more upset and create hatred.

“Small businesses have done nothing to be treated like this,” he said.

In a small victory for struggling businesses in the path of the CRL, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has agreed to meet some of those affected this week.

Goff has consistently supported financial help for some businesses experiencing significant financial hardship, but passed the matter to the Government.

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said the Government’s lack of response to the ongoing disruption is disappointing given ministers had been given a proposal from the business association for financial help in January this year.

She said the proposal is for up to $10m a year over five years and based on assumptions.

“We have seen nothing. We have seen no urgency. This is devastating that this has gone nowhere, businesses are closing and they are distraught. The delay is inexcusable,” said Beck.

A business hardship programme for the first stage of central city works covering construction delays paid out $617,178 to 25 businesses.

Beck called the hardship fund “miniscule”, saying small businesses affected by the light rail project in Sydney got $200,000 on average from a budget of $60 million.

In responses to Parliamentary Written Questions from Auckland Central MP, Chloe Swarbrick, Wood said he had received briefings from the Ministry of Transport in April and June regarding businesses impacted by the CRL works.

Wood also said he was consulting a range of parties and may take a paper to Cabinet, but there is no date for this.

Small Business Minister Stuart Nash has also expressed sympathy for struggling businesses, but questions from Swarbrick show he has not requested or received advice, let alone taken a paper to Cabinet on the matter.

Swarbrick says it doesn’t matter who dropped the ball working with small businesses.

“What matters is we’re several years down the track and they have not been particularly well informed, let alone supported. They cannot keep being kicked down the road.

“At the very least, civil leaders have a role in fronting up to the very real stress, rolling up their sleeves and ensuring this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

When he announced plans to get light rail back on track in March, Wood pointed to the business disruption caused by the CRL works.

“It is my view we have to deal with that issue [for light rail] as part of the indicative business case process,” he said.

If the Government proceeds with light rail, the disruption will be far greater than the CRL, potentially affecting hundreds of businesses in the central city, Wynyard Quarter, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, Mt Roskill, Onehunga and the airport for many years.

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