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Sydney cafe shuts: Owner blames light rail

A Sydney cafe owner who’s shutting the doors on her 16-year-old business blames the much-delayed eastern suburbs light rail project for its demise.

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Angela Vithoulkas claims her cafe in the heart of the CBD was once the state’s busiest but it’s been unable to withstand a drop-off in customers caused by construction works along George Street.

“If we can’t make it on the corner of what is supposed to be the CBD’s busiest street, how do the other businesses cope?” the cafe owner and independent city councillor told reporters on Friday.

Cr Vithoulkas said customers didn’t want to be bombarded with noise and covered in dust as they sat just metres from workers drilling into ‘s oldest street.

“Why would you go there when you can go somewhere else?” she said.

“This has been the big question from day one.”

The light rail, linking the CBD to the city’s eastern suburbs, was budgeted at $1.6 billion but has ballooned to an estimated $2.1 billion amid delays and contract disputes.

Transport for NSW says it’s paid $9 million in rental assistance to help 86 business along the route cope with lost revenue.

But Cr Vithoulkas says the eligibility criteria were too narrow and any help was “a band-aid for open heart surgery”.

Opposition leader Luke Foley says hard-working small-business people were struggling in Surry Hills, Kensington and Randwick.

“What have they got in return? They’ve had their teeth kicked in by a heartless government,” the Labor leader told reporters on Friday.

NSW Small Business Commissioner Robyn Hobbs told a parliamentary inquiry into the project this week her office had been “constantly speaking” to businesses.

She said rental data from 2013 showed “real consistency” with current lease rates along the light rail route and cited Kensington as an example.

“If you looked at the raw data, you would say, ‘Kensington looks like it is a difficult area’,” Ms Hobbs said.

“But when you drill down, they have always had a very high vacancy rate in Kensington.”

TfNSW recently widened rental assistance criteria to small businesses employing between 21 and 49 full-time equivalent employees.

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