Businesses on Hunter Street are feeling the pain as construction of the light rail ramps up

CLOSED: Hunter Street and Scotts Streets are now closed between Union and Watt Streets.
CLOSED: Hunter Street and Scotts Streets are now closed between Union and Watt Streets.

TRANSPORT for NSW has abandoned its block by block approach to the construction of light rail on Hunter Street.

The move, announced on the Revitalise Newcastle website in December, has left many of the city’s traders, many who are already feeling the pinch, despairing.

Last week the construction zone extended west from Auckland Street to Union Street. Making a large section of Hunter and Scott Streets inaccessible by motor vehicle as far as Watt Street. 

Transport for NSW said it had always reserved the right to change the schedule. 

“We have always said we will continue to make changes to our construction activities to balance the impact on businesses and build as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson for the authority said. “The end goal is to create a high street where traders thrive.”

It cited a commitment to deliver the light rail on time and the upgrading the city’s century-old sewerage network as being part of the reason for the ramping up of works. 

Newcastle Now CEO Michael Neilson said the first the organisation knew of the changes was when the January Construction update was published online. 

Last week, Newcastle Now with the Hunter Business Chamber surveyed its membership to understand the impact the large scale shutdown of Hunter Street was having on trade. 

The survey sample included hospitality, retail, and professional. The majority of respondents were in small business.  

Hunter Street is open to pedestrians.

Hunter Street is open to pedestrians.

About 90 per cent reported reduced turnover since the construction of light rail. Reductions of up to 20 per cent were reported by 32 per cent of businesses. 

The biggest majority, 37 per cent, reported reduced turnover of between 20 and 40 per cent. 

“It is significant, for small business, it’s a lot, “Mr Neilson said. 

As a result of the downturn 55 per cent of respondents reported cutting staff. Others said they were working longer hours and discounting stock to try to stay afloat.

Delivery of stock was reported by 67 per cent of respondents as one of the major issues. 

“Because of the congestion and the road closures and all the works they just can’t get deliveries in, that’s having a big impact,” Mr Neilson said. 

Another 94 per cent identified parking as a key cause of  trade downturn, while 80 per cent said the construction itself was stopping customers due to noise and dust. 

Newcastle Now would like to see the introduction of more 15 minute parks. 

“One of the big issues was loading zones. To introduce loading zones is complex,” Mr Neilson said. “But the council through their local traffic committee have the ability to introduce free 15 minute parking zones.

“We would love to advocate that there be lots of them around so people pull up, unload and in 15 minutes you are out of there.”

Financial support was also identified as a priority by those surveyed.

“We will work with the Small Business Commissioner to explore whether there are opportunities for financial support,” Mr Neilson said. 

Newcastle Now plans to build a strategy around the key issues identified by the survey:  access, parking, marketing, communication and coordination, and financial and business support. 

It will also establish a working group made up of business representatives, Newcastle Now, Hunter Development Corporation, Newcastle City Council and The Business Centre.  

Find out more: newcastlenow.org.au