Glenfield Mall owner rages at 'naïve' Government over retail restrictions under COVID-19 alert level 3

The co-owner of an Auckland shopping mall is raging at the "naïve" Government for continuing lockdown restrictions on retailers despite some 400,000 workers returning under COVID-19 alert level 3.  

Dallas Pendergrast, who co-owns Glenfield Mall on Auckland's North Shore with her husband Ross, told the Epidemic Response Committee that forcing their tenants to endure another two weeks of lockdown is "unacceptable". 

"This will cause many of them to fail and at the same time push them to the point where they can no longer contain the significant amount of stress that comes when people are put into situations that are out of their control." 

Pendergrast said she and her husband have halved the rent and operating expenditure for their tenants to assist them, forcing them to dip into their own savings. 

"Our Prime Minister is asking landlords to show compassion. We're already doing that. We're already trying hard to support our tenants in every way," Pendergrast told the committee. 

"It's naïve to say 'show some compassion'. Compassion doesn't pay our bills. Doesn't the New Zealand Government realise the landlords' overheads continue as well? Clearly, they have completely failed to take it into account."

Prendergrast said she cannot understand why retailers are not able to open at alert level 3 when there's a "handful of new cases" and "no risk to anybody". 

"It's been dramatized out of proportion."

Labour MP Michael Wood acknowledged the "compassionate and pragmatic" approach taken by the mall owners towards their tenants. But he questioned Pendergrast's call for the retail restrictions to be eased. 

"The strategy there is yes, this is difficult and quite restrictive at this time, but if we can do that and properly eliminate this virus, then we can more quickly get back to a more normal mode of operation," Wood said. 

"The alternative is not properly getting on top of it and having a situation where it comes back and we go in and out of high levels of restriction."

He asked Pendergrast if she thinks it's better to have the "short, sharp, go early, go hard, knock it on the head and transition back to normal" approach, or have a lower level of restrictions now and risk going back into lockdown. 

Pendergrast replied: "Michael, the virus is contained in New Zealand, let's be real about this...To prolong it because another person might pop up out of a cluster is insane.

"There are so few people who have been affected by this virus in New Zealand and the worst is over. From the ordinary person on the street's point of view, we are all gobsmacked that we are not able to open our mall."

Wood said that is "different from the advice" the Government has had from health officials. 

It comes as the Ministry of Health reported just two new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday. But Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said New Zealanders must "remain vigilant". 

Pendergrast said there "is just not a good enough reason" to keep retailers closed. 

She said it was an "insult" when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern thanked small businesses during one of her press conferences last week for enduring the lockdown restrictions. 

"It surely shows how out of touch the Government is with the reality and lack of understanding as to what these people are actually going through," she said. "They don't want thank you - they want to get back to work." 

The Government has so far spent more than $10 billion subsidising the wages of about 1.6 million New Zealanders as most businesses were ordered to close during the lockdown. 

Pendergrast said the wage subsidy scheme was "fantastic" but that it is "not a huge amount and wouldn't even put enough food on the table for some of these families". 

"Many of our retailers are able to offer hygiene... we installed hand sanitizer at every door way, we've created distance situations in our office and also at our concierge desk," she said. 

"They want to be open, nobody can understand why they can't be open, and it just seems to me prolonging the agony and making it 10 times worse for them all."

The Prime Minister said on Tuesday the Government will continue to look at ways to support small businesses and encouraged landlords to be compassionate. 

The Government is expected to keep New Zealand at alert level 3 for two weeks and then Cabinet will decide if the nation can shift into alert level 2, where most businesses will be able to open again.