TRADERS have predicted customers will flock back to York Place when the key city centre route reopens to all traffic tomorrow for the first time in 14 months.
Businesses were today celebrating as one of the Capital’s busiest arteries prepared to free itself of the shackles of the tram works in a major milestone for the city’s troubled £776 million transport project.
York Place, which is at the end of the eight-mile long tram line, has been shut since July last year while contractors laid tracks, poured concrete and built the final stop at the junction with Broughton Street.
The city council has confirmed the road will now be opened to all traffic via three light-controlled junctions at North St Andrew Street, Elder Street and Broughton Street.
In the clearest sign yet the tram works are coming to an end, buses will also start running along York Place from Sunday, returning to their previous routes.
Access to and from the main bus station will be available from both the east and west via the Elder Street junction.
Motorists will be able to drive into the St James Centre multi-storey car park from York Place via Elder Street in a boon for shoppers heading for John Lewis department store and surrounding businesses.
York Place’s reopening means the West End section from Shandwick Place to Haymarket is the only significant stretch of tram works left.
Harvey Nichols store director Gordon Drummond labelled the reopening “terrific news”.
He said: “It’s another signal that the tram construction phase is nearing completion. One of the biggest effects for us has been that customers haven’t been able to find our car park. Reopening it will just allow people to use the old familiar routes of coming along York Place and up Elder Street. It’ll make a difference.”
Tommy Sheppard, owner of York Place’s Stand Comedy Club, said: “It’ll make a difference. Our numbers are definitely down. I’m looking forward to the street reopening and people seeing where we are again.”
Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal said the move would be great for business, adding: “We’ve seen footfall steadily increasing over the last few months as the disruptions of the trams has begun to subside. We’re obviously not completely clear yet, but it’s a very clear indication that as we move away from the disruption people will come back and start to spend in the city centre.”
Underground cables will still need to be pulled through already installed ducts under York Place, meaning a series of overnight shifts and work on the tram stop will still continue over for several weeks.
Money is also expected to be spent fixing neighbouring roads – including Broughton Place and Albany Street – that have had their surfaces damaged by diverted traffic over the past year.
A programme of works is being discussed, although it is understood the council intends to take a sensitive approach to avoid further prolonged roadworks misery.
Irene Kivlin, of Charles Kivlin Hair Studio in Albany Street, said traffic had been “horrendous”, with work on potholes and changes to parking welcome.
City transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds believes the city centre has come “a long way in 12 months” with Princes Street opening and St Andrew Square fully accessible. She said: “Our target remains to have a service up and running by summer next year, but we’ll bring this date forward if we can. However, there is still some construction work to be completed and, following that, a major programme of testing, commissioning and driver training.
“We are now in the final stages of the tram project construction phase and while this is a relief, it’s also an opportunity for our city. We want to develop a new approach where transport options are fully integrated – a system that will benefit residents and visitors while ensuring that Edinburgh is well positioned in the eyes of potential investors who can create jobs for residents.”
Green transport spokesman Councillor Nigel Bagshaw hopes the hoopla around the roadworks ending will not detract from the green debate needed on pollution problems.
Transport Minister Keith Brown lauded the milestone, saying: “We remain committed to ensuring there are no further delays, that any opportunity to increase progress is exploited and that costs are contained.”
Lothian Buses chief executive Ian Craig thanked customers for their “considerable patience”. He said: “The reopening will, of course, mean that a number of our most popular routes will now be altered, so I’d advise our customers to check our website.”
AUTUMN END DATE NEARS FOR CONSTRUCTION
MAJOR construction works on the tram line extending from York Place to Edinburgh Airport could finally be finished by as early as the end of this month.
The reopening of York Place has left the stretch from Shandwick Place to Haymarket, which has been dug up three times, as the final piece in the construction puzzle.
Edinburgh Trams interface manager Alasdair Sim has previously said the “target” was to complete repair works at Haymarket by September. City officials have cited autumn as the end date, although it is understood they do not expect concrete repairs to extend beyond next month. A revised time-frame and likely start date for the trams will be revealed at the next full council meeting on September 26. The council is aiming to open the route before summer next year.
‘It seems to be a long time and a lot of money to get this far’
Malcolm Broadhurst, 40, Longniddry: “The road being open again is going to please a lot of people, but I don’t know how it’s going to work with the trams being on it.”
James Boyd, 45, Leith: “I’m really under-whelmed. It seems a long time and a lot of money to get this far and not have trams.”
Catriona Petrie, 58, Craigmillar: “I go to the church here on York Place, so the re-opening is super. The noise factor is down as well.”
Alan Jamieson, 87, Grange: “I think they’ve done a wonderful job, but it’s costing a billion pounds. What is that per mile?”