Will government learn the lessons of light rail build for City West stage?

Ian Bushnell 7 May 2020
Artist's impression of light rail at intersection of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit

The intersection of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit depicted in the light rail Stage 2A plans. The ACT Government is keen to make construction less disruptive for businesses along the route than the Stage 1 experience. Image: Supplied.

Some of the worst impacts on businesses from Stage 1 of light rail may be avoided when construction on the next stage from the City to Commonwealth Park begins, if the ACT Government takes feedback from them on board.

The ACT Government has released a review of light rail’s first year which includes survey responses from businesses along the route from Gungahlin to the City, and the proposed Stage 2A line in City West.

Many businesses experienced a decline in footfall, revenue and visibility during the Stage 1 construction phase, and about half of them indicated they had been impacted by noise and dust pollution.

Key responses focused on avoiding disruptions to businesses and ensuring customers could still park and access shops and services.

Businesses surveyed said a more phased or staggered approach to construction, including fewer multiple road closures and limited lane and road closures during peak times, could have eased the hit to trading.

They suggested limiting simultaneous traffic programs, reducing the length of construction programs, and planning for all work to be integrated as far as possible to minimise reopening sites multiple times.

The government should also take advantage of traditional business shutdowns, such as the Christmas period, to accelerate construction work during these quiet times.

More than 70 per cent of City West respondents indicated they shut down during Christmas for two weeks, providing a window for more intensive work.

Stage 1 feedback also showed many businesses felt they were left in the dark about the project and that more effort could have been made to inform them so they could alert customers they were still trading.

There was a need for real-time, accurate and robust information about project time frames, using social media and email, as well as more marketing support for businesses and better use of wayfinding and signage to help direct customers.

The government should also use traders’ associations to achieve better engagement and get businesses on board, the respondents said

They also suggested relief from rates and charges and other financial support measures during disruptions to trading.

However, in the 12 months since light rail began operating, businesses reported improvements in these areas.

The review found that the total number of business in Gungahlin have been growing steadily, at 4 per cent on average during 2014-18, and that positive growth had continued during the light rail construction.

The review said that, generally, City West businesses were enthusiastic about the next stages of light rail but had little experience with construction in a built-up environment.

Concerns echoed those of the Stage 1 route businesses, but the survey revealed some impacts are already being felt pre-construction.

Vacancy rates in commercial properties were estimated at more than 10 per cent within City West – with a number of redevelopments pending that may further affect this number – and several businesses were unable to renew leases as landlords plan to sell, renovate or demolish buildings in anticipation of development in the area.

ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said the lessons from Stage 1 would help better support local businesses for Stage 2.

“Construction on major projects can be disruptive, but we will be enhancing our communication with those affected by future projects and will better advise them about construction schedules and plans,” he said.

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