Auckland CBD business association asks workers to return

The association has attacked the Auckland Council, but the council has bit back.
The association has attacked the Auckland Council, but the council has bit back. Photo credit: Getty.

By Nick Truebridge of RNZ

Auckland's city centre business association has attacked Auckland Council, claiming it's not doing enough to get its workers back into the CBD and supporting the local economy.

Heart of the City says, while the government has urged workers to head back to their city offices, Auckland Council hasn't followed suit.

That's prompted Auckland Council to bite back, saying Heart of the City's claims are not completely correct.

Meanwhile, the new work from home culture isn't the only thing hurting central city business, with one business owner told Checkpoint mass roadworks meant some of his clients now refuse to travel into town for meetings.

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck says over the past couple of months, inner city spending is down $100 million compared to the same period last year.

She says it's vital those in the public sector flood back to their city offices, instead of working from home, to help the city's cafes and restaurants recover.

"We asked both Council and the government to ensure that the messaging was there to bring people back."

And the government responded, with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern on June 8 telling media the State Services Commission had been tasked with telling public sector workers to return to their offices.

Despite action from the government, Beck says she's still waiting on the same from Auckland Council 

"The government certainly did make that point clear, we haven't seen the same approach from Auckland Council and we're very disappointed in that," she says.

Beck has raised the issue of council staff returning to their CBD offices at numerous meetings and in public statements.

The matter has also been raised with Mayor Phil Goff and former chief executive Stephen Town.

"We think they should be taking a leadership role on this and ensuring that their ratepayer-funded staff are back supporting the economy, because it will be a much bigger impact if they don't do that," Beck says.

But the council has hit back at Heart of the City's accusations of inaction.

In a statement, chief executive Jim Stabback says the council's responsibility has been to ensure staff are safe and have access to government guidance as they move back into their CBD offices.

"Following the government's announcement last week that Auckland would be moving back to alert level 1, we have been encouraging our people to return to our buildings. Around half of our staff are based in the city centre, many others work at our hubs around the region," he says.

Meanwhile, Checkpoint has heard from numerous residents who say they don't bother entering the centre city due to disruptions in the form of widespread roadworks.

Auckland CBD-based property manager Klim Andreev says his customers don't want to come into town for meetings or to drop off things like keys because it's simply too difficult due to the constant streetscape changes and the lack of parking.

"I have to go somewhere in the nearby suburbs to meet with them in a cafe somewhere there and not in a cafe in Auckland central," Andreev says.

Andreev says he's had two recent meetings where his clients have wanted to meet in Kingsland and Mt Eden, taking potential business for central city coffee shops elsewhere.

So while Auckland's second lockdown is a thing of the past, the City of Sales has turned into the City of Snails as it struggles to regain its usual hustle and bustle.