Struggling Auckland barber was left paying for CRL workers' tea facilities

Chris McKeen/Stuff

Chao Liang's​ central Auckland barbershop is so noisy thanks to the City Rail Link construction site on his doorstep that customers have stopped coming, and his business is struggling to survive.

But Chao, who goes by the name Riven​, has been unwillingly helping pay for the tea-making facilities for the City Rail Link (CRL) workers, whose work is killing his business at 98 Albert Street.

That’s because when the business next door moved out, Riven had to put the gas account the two units shared into his own name.

Riven was in the unusual position of helping pay for the tea-making facilities for the CRL workers, whose work is killing his business.
Chris Mckeen/Stuff
Riven was in the unusual position of helping pay for the tea-making facilities for the CRL workers, whose work is killing his business.

Then CRL took over the unit as a break room, and he was left footing the bill as the project’s workers helped themselves to the hot water.

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“Since CRL moved to next door, they never talk about ... the hot water heater, so we have to pay the bill,” Riven said.

But since being contacted by Stuff about the issue, CRL has contacted Riven’s landlord, and agreed to shift the bill into CRL’s name, Riven said.

CRL, which is a project jointly funded by the Government and Auckland Council, was contacted for comment.

Riven is one of the business owners trading from shops in Albert Street and Victoria Street West whose businesses are struggling to survive as noise, dirt, graffiti and pokey pedestrian walkways have driven their customers away.

They have come to believe that CRL, the Government, and Auckland Council only respond to their suffering when faced with negative media coverage.

On Thursday and Friday, an anti-tagging squad was sent in to clean up the graffiti blighting the area, after CRL workers observed Stuff reporters photographing it.

The graffiti-defaced door of the CRL smoko room is next to that of Riven’s barbershop.
Chris Mckeen/Stuff
The graffiti-defaced door of the CRL smoko room is next to that of Riven’s barbershop.

The businesses in the area have been begging for financial assistance to survive until the CRL project is completed in 2024.

But Transport Minister Michael Wood has now been considering their pleas for more than six months, and businesses are failing, with three, including Da Vinci’s restaurant closing in the past month as the Government ponders whether to give any.

Riven is surviving with the help of his family and friends.

“Some of my friends have said borrow money from us. That’s the Asian culture, you know. We know you are in a bad situation, so we will lend money to you,” he said.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff
Andy Ariano is closing the doors on his restaurant Da Vinci’s in central Auckland after a decade. He says he is a victim of the Auckland City Rail Link construction works which have killed his business.

He and his wife, who is ill with cancer, are living very simply, renting a room from a friend.

But few people can tolerate getting a haircut in a barbershop where they have to endure high levels of construction noise.

“Before they started the work, every day I had at least 10 clients for a hair cut, and at least three clients for colouring. Now, in the whole week, I don’t have ten clients for a haircut,” Riven said.

Local offices have emptied because of the noise and disruption from the CRL construction, and there’s little passing foot traffic as shoppers shun the area.

Though it looks like Riven is standing in a corridor, he is actually standing outside his shop in the middle of the day.
Chris Mckeen/Stuff
Though it looks like Riven is standing in a corridor, he is actually standing outside his shop in the middle of the day.

“Now, we are almost bankrupt,” Riven said.

He had dreamed of owning a house with his wife, but no longer thinks that at all likely.

His mother in China cannot understand how the New Zealand government could let businesses be driven to ruin by a government project.

“Why does the Government do this to us?” he asked. “This is New Zealand. It shouldn’t happen here. Shouldn’t happen.”

In China his mother had some arguments with the government, and when she complained, the problems were fixed, Riven said.

“My mum said, ‘If I can get the help from the Chinese government, how come in New Zealand you couldn’t find anyone to help you?”

Riven is proud that he and his wife have not asked for social benefits, but he says: “We are only fighting to survive.”