George St Sydney CBD Light Rail Project construction site. Photo: Mick Tsikas

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BY JADE MORELLINI

Construction for the light rail has been in progress for over three years and despite the Government’s earlier promise that it would be completed by 2019, it is obvious that this is no longer the case. 

In April, ALTRAC informed the Government that construction is running behind schedule and will not be finished until 2020, making commuters and small businesses wait an extra year before the city will be restored. 

From Circular Quay to Randwick, the city has been chaotic since construction began and has impacted heavily on over 350 businesses along the route, as well as around 12,000 residents. 

Leader of the Small Business Matters Party, City of Sydney Councillor and small business advocate, Angela Vithoulkas said, “My business has been impacted by construction for the past three years. We’ve had a dramatic drop in sales and we’ve lost a lot of business. It’s just devastating and catastrophic for the business, our family and our staff.”

At blame for the delays is the Spanish sub-contractor ACCIONA who have been accused of using “go-slow” tactics during the construction process.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance told ABC that “they are on a ‘go-slow’.

The city has unattended construction zones with no work force on the ground.

Ms Vithoulkas added, “Only the state government was saying that it was still running on track, no pun intended, but everyone else could see that it wasn’t. It was clear by the appearance of the lack of progress that it was going to take longer than they had anticipated.”

With the case now before the court, ACCIONA are demanding financial compensation, blaming Transport for NSW for making them join a contract without having all the required information on the project. They are arguing that a core issue issue is how they deal with underground electricity infrastructure. 

NSW Labor Deputy Leader Michael Daley told ABC he agrees with the contractor, “If you examine why the contractor is holding things up, its because they are sick of being treated like rubbish from day one with the contract that lied to them, with plans that said we don’t know what’s underground, do your best.”

What initially started out as a $1.6 billion project is now expected to cost $3.5 billion because of all the mishaps which have taken place. 

“I think the initial scope of work didn’t allow for enough investigative work,” Ms Vithoulkas told the City Hub. “I believe that the construction project in general was very poorly handled and that the State Government didn’t take responsibility or an interest in the operation of this construction project. They allowed the disaster of it to continue for too long.”

Businesses along the route have been blocked by construction and are losing a lot of sales as a result. 

Leigh Harris, Vice President of Darlinghurst Hills Chamber of Commerce, said, “In terms of the Surry Hills Creative Precinct and in my role as vice president, I’d say the businesses continue to be placed under stress. The situation is unfortunate, but we are working really closely with Transport for NSW, ACCIONA, the City of Sydney and other stakeholders to support businesses through this period.”

Surry Hills Creative Precinct and Transport for NSW have started a campaign to assist small businesses with the Head to Surry Hills and Devonshire Precinct competition. This provides the chance to win $100 daily to use at their favourite local business. 

“There are a number of initiatives that the chamber has driven to support businesses, including a new initiative called Spring into Surry Hills which is part of the Surry Hills festival,” Harris said. 

Despite having these initiatives in place and Minister Constance announcing his new small business assistance program to try and help business owners, they all just want construction to come to an end. 

“The impact of this light rail project has devastated our businesses but it’s also been really tough on the residents. They suffered a lot and they have gone unacknowledged a lot of the time,” Ms Vithoulkas said.