CITY leaders today pledged fresh help for traders in the West End as one business leader warned the tram works could have “catastrophic consequences” for local shops, bars and restaurants.
A £250,000 pot of cash has been earmarked for activities and promotions to help attract shoppers to the city centre in the run-up to next Christmas, and a big chunk of the money will be focused on the West End, where roadworks will still be under way once Princes Street reopens to buses in the summer.
A report to tomorrow’s meeting of the city council’s policy and strategy committee outlines how £425,000 has been spent in the current financial year under the Open for Business campaign to promote the city centre.
It says £165,000 out of next year’s budget for the campaign is being set aside for the Christmas 2012 campaign.
City development director Dave Anderson said Essential Edinburgh and Edinburgh Marketing were expected to top up the amount to around £250,000.
He said the focus for help would switch to the West End from Princes Street – which last Christmas saw a Christmas village, a Santa train, an ice sculpture and horse and carriage rides as well as music and dance performances, street markets and fairs and snow sports.
He said: “We would acknowledge that because of the desire to drive footfall into the city centre, Princes Street was the focus of most of the attention.”
But the West End now faces prolonged road closures as the tram project develops.
Mr Anderson said: “From the end of next month, from Haymarket all the way to Shandwick Place will become one continuous work site and it’s important we give support to all the traders along that route.”
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Traders’ Association and director of Paper Tiger in Stafford Street, said track laying in the area was due to be completed by spring 2013.
He said: “We understand work has progressed well on Princes Street and we are hoping to see significant inroads into the work in the West End. If we don’t, it’s going to have catastrophic consequences for businesses in this part of town.”
He said last Christmas, the special activities designed to mitigate the effects of the tramworks had focused on Princes Street.
He said: “These events did work and were deemed a success for Princes Street. I would hope we will get a slice of that activity this Christmas.”
But he added: “All the mitigation in the world doesn’t make up for the thousands of people missing from the West End.”
Brian Roberts, one of the owners of hairdressers Headline in Shandwick Place, said casual business – people walking in off the street rather than booking appointments – had completely dried up.
And he said many businesses would rather have direct cash help than promotional campaigns.
“Anything they are trying to do is welcome, but I don’t think they grasp how desperate some of the people here are,” he said.
“The Sony shop closed the other week, citing the trams. A lot of people are hanging on by their fingernails.”