Passenger Rail

Minister clashes with retailers at George Street presser

It was supposed to be a ribbon-cutting photo-op to open Sydney’s George Street for Christmas shopping, but it quickly devolved into a verbal sparring match between the minister for transport and a pair of angry retailers.

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance last weekend looked to shut down complaints from retailers who showed up to his press conference to show off the newly pedestrianised George Street, complete with six gigantic wreaths and more than 5,000 lights to celebrate the festive season.

Retailers have become disenfranchised with the Sydney CBD & South East Light Rail project, after construction hoardings impacted foot traffic for many George Street and nearby businesses.

The State Government has provided rent assistance to some of those impacted, and has reiterated the project will be a boon for retailers and property owners in the long term.

But many retailers, like jewellers Mark and Jennifer Duff, are still very unhappy.

“We are talking about collateral damage that you don’t care about,” Ms Duff told Constance at the press conference, according to the ABC. “That’s what we are.”

“Well your business is about to pick up massively,” Constance rebutted, “because guess what, here it is!”

After the Duffs pointed out this predicted pick-up in business would follow two years of light rail construction cutting into revenues, the transport minister rolled his eyes, and told the pair the Government had done its part via rent assistance.

“We have provided rental assistance,” the minister said. “I hope you applied.

“I’m here to answer questions from journalists … Run your own press conference mate.”

With over half of the light rail project’s 25-kilometre route now built, the State Government has provided 30 retailers with rent assistance, after 51 applied. According to the ABC, at least one business received over $100,000.

Hoardings have now been removed along the festive stretch along George Street, between King and Park streets.

“Digging up one of Australia’s oldest streets has certainly had its challenges, but it’s clear to see it has all been worth it,” Constance said. “We thank those businesses who have been patient as construction has continued along George Street.”

Finishing work is still planned along the stretch, including small areas of paving, intersections, smart poles and systems, as well as construction of the QVB light rail stop, Transport for NSW said.

Sydney Business Chamber executive director Patricia Forsythe welcomed the development.

“This opening and Christmas activation comes as a Christmas gift for businesses who have been impacted by the light rail construction work,” Forsythe said.

“The NSW Government has fulfilled the commitment it made to business that these zones would be open from December 3. Consultation with businesses and stakeholders on the progress of the CBD and South East Light Rail project has been thorough with regular briefings for representatives of key business groups.”