Supporting businesses affected by SCIRT rebuild works was critical to help businesses continue to operate, and to maintain community confidence.
Rebuilding the crippled underground infrastructure in the earthquake-damaged Central Business District (CBD) put SCIRT under intense pressure. Government, developers and business owners needed SCIRT to complete its work first so they could follow on with the vertical rebuild work to get the city back on its feet as quickly as possible. Rebuilding the CBD was critical to support the city's recovery, along with maintaining investor and community confidence.
Government subsidies or compensation were not provided to businesses for loss of earnings due to rebuild work.
SCIRT's short but intense rebuild programme in the small central city area was highly disruptive for the businesses that remained in operation, their customers and suppliers, and commuters. Multiple roads and important business access ways were blocked. The noise, dust and vibrations from the many work sites in close proximity to each other made the CBD very challenging for people to get in to and through, and to keep supporting businesses.
The underlying focus was on infusing communication with empathy, and going the extra mile. SCIRT developed a range of initiatives to support business continuing to operate in the midst of the CBD underground infrastructure rebuild, including:
Staff training and co-ordination
- SCIRT staff received specialist training to understand and empathise with business needs and encourage them to adopt work practices, flexible working hours, traffic management, site set-up and communications that took business needs into account.
- A dedicated CBD Working Group ensured business needs were considered and objectives were met.
Working with businesses
- Prioritised face-to-face contact with business operators.
- Established a single point of contact for each business.
- Engaged early with businesses to understand and develop work-arounds to address pressure points, such as peak hours and delivery windows.
- Maintained regular communication with businesses before, during and after each rebuild project.
- A "business support pack" was given to affected businesses.
- Used honest, timely and plain language in all communications so businesses could understand and plan for any rebuild impact.
- Were frank about the intensity and time frame for any project, and shared the "big picture" of the rebuild sequence.
- Provided regular progress updates to give businesses confidence the rebuild was on track.
Business Support programme
- A Business Support programme encouraged a culture of community support for affected businesses through key messages in multiple communication channels.
- Issued regular traffic updates to the wider community that highlighted the "best way" to the city to encourage people to continue to support inner city businesses.
- Installed localised "Best way to ..." signage directing customers along the best routes to reach individual businesses.
Signage declared the area open for business
- 32 large "Open for business" signs were placed on all the main routes into the CBD, signalling to the community that the area was still a destination for shopping, dining and other activities.
- These large signs eliminated the need for Advance Road Work signs at every individual work site, removing rebuild visual clutter from the CBD and saving an estimated $500,000 in costs from the programme.
Subsequently added in other areas:
- "Support local businesses" advertising.
- SCIRT teams encouraged to support local businesses. For example, teams were encouraged to buy their lunch and any crew catering from the nearby affected café.
- Making it our Business campaign.
SCIRT learnt a lot from its early days in the CBD about ways to work with businesses to help reduce the impact of the horizontal rebuild on their daily operations. SCIRT teams didn't fully appreciate the extent of the impact of road works on business operations, especially for those in retail or hospitality. Crews initially took up carparks that were needed by customers. SCIRT typically worked to a two week notice period, when for business three months' notice would have been more useful to enable them to plan ahead. SCIRT learnt to really get to know a business: when their busiest times were; when their deliveries were usually scheduled; were their customers older and wary of uneven footpaths, or young, night owls? SCIRT learnt that there was no one-fit solution; and that there was a real need to be flexible.
SCIRT also learnt that regular face to face contact with the business owner was vital. It was not enough to simply talk with the person at the counter or the duty manager. It was important to be straight with them about the impacts, with no sugar coating (under promise and over deliver).
The CBD approach became a model that was built on in other areas where businesses were affected by SCIRT rebuild work.
While these efforts did make a difference, retail and hospitality businesses in particular in areas where SCIRT worked intensively over long periods continued to experience negative impacts of worksites at their door, and many reported an up to 30% decline in their takings when there were rebuild works affecting customers' access and creating an off-putting surrounding environment.