City Rail Link delays hitting businesses around Auckland’s K Rd

By Nick Truebridge of RNZ

Businesses around Auckland’s famed Karangahape Road are facing yet more financial woe, as City Rail Link construction drags on.

Today, the Transport Minister and Auckland city officials lauded the Karangahape Road Enhancements project, which has seen the street tidied up, and cycleways installed.

However the pain rolls on for businesses on Pitt St, which runs into K Rd. Huge barriers have turned the central city street into a noisy, narrow lane, shielding owners from the people who pay their bills.

With CRL works delayed by Covid-19, the government may be forced to extend a Business Hardship Programme that has already paid out hundreds of thousands.

Craig Wright has poured everything he has into his little pub on the corner of Beresford Square and Pitt St.

But right now Northern Line Bar and Social is anything but social.

Wright is fighting for his future, trying to turn a profit behind the giant walls that have turned his street-front free house into a back alley bar.

“I’m not confident, but I’ve got to keep going. I’ve invested everything into this. I’m a small, independent businessman – it’s just me – there’s no deep pockets anywhere,” he told RNZ.

The area around Wright’s bar is a hot zone for the City Rail Link development – which is due to drag on for another few years.

The massive walls that have been erected around his pub, mean a massive drop in business.

RNZ paid him a visit just before 5pm, when Northern Line should be full. However just one punter was slurping back a pint at the pub.

It’s true to say the $4.4 billion City Rail Link was well in the works when Craig Wright started pouring porters, pales ales and pilsners here back in 2018.

He had accounted for that interruption, but then Covid-19 arrived.

“I can’t blame the Link Alliance for Covid-19, we had to deal with that,” he said.

“I even just said today if I had a dollar for every time someone says ‘you’ve just got to wear it out’, I wouldn’t need to wear it out, I could just retire.”

Around the corner, the iconic Pitt St Pub on the corner of K Rd and Pitt St sits empty, except for a few people playing the pokies.

Manager Satbir Singh said that’s normal, and he claims K Rd’s newly completed cycleways have hurt the business finances.

“Covid-19 didn’t help at all and then on top of that, the construction. The foot traffic is very low, there are no tourists in the CBD,” he said.

Things are improving. K Rd is now clear of roadworks, the cycleways are done, and there is still some parking.

However, Singh has grave fears for Craig Wright and the rest of his neighbours.

“Not too much for us, but the cafe down the lane and other businesses that are on this alley, where people can’t just walk in – there is a problem.”

Transport Minister Michael Wood told RNZ it is something he is working on.

He said City Rail Link Limited has already paid out over $617,000 to a particularly vocal bunch of businesses on Albert St.

“I have asked officials to review that to determine if that might be an appropriate way of providing some support for other businesses that are impacted,” he said.

For some businesses, the nightmare is over.

Danielle Butler owns and operates the Pie Piper. The sweet smell of freshly baked donuts is usually more than enough to draw hordes of customers, but years of road works on K Rd have kept customers away.

“Coming in to pick up a cake or pie was impossible because there was no parking. Those customers, of course, were frustrated, so they’d go somewhere else,” she said.

However Butler is relieved to see the barriers outside her store have now gone.

Politicians, cyclists and mana whenua gathered early this morning to celebrate the completion of the Karangahape Road Enhancements project.

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