Tram chiefs pledge more cash to support businesses

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Tram chiefs have pledged a further £210,000 to support beleaguered businesses ahead of the closure of Princes Street for essential repair works.

Negotiations are also expected to get under way over reduced rates for businesses which suffer as a result of the disruption.

The measures are to be considered at Thursday’s meeting of the city council, at which members will decide whether to endorse funding proposals which will bring the total cost of the project to £1 billion.

Work to repair defects between the rails and the road is set to begin on September 4 and continue until July 2012.

But there will be a break for the duration of the Christmas period, from the switching on of the Christmas lights on November 24 until January 4.

The £210,000 funding package includes direct funding for the three town centre coordinators covering the City Centre, Leith Walk and the West End, at a cost of £20,000 for each area per year.

Also included is £70,000 of support for Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay programmes.

Added to the annual contribution of £90,000 for the town centre co-ordinators already coming from the tram budget, it brings the total amount spent on business support annually to £300,000.

But chairman of the West End Traders’ Association and director of Paper Tiger, Michael Apter, has described the financial support as a “drop in the ocean” – adding he fears businesses could fold as a result.

“The fundamental issue is there was hundreds of thousands, in fact close to a million, put aside during the first stage of the tram works for business support.

“We’re looking at another phase of work in the city which is going to be as long in duration as the first stage.

“The impact of the work three years ago was devastating. There were businesses that ceased trading when the utility works at the West End were carried out, and they cited the tram works as a factor in them going under.

“It’s of deep concern that at this stage in the economic cycle, many more businesses – who have managed to trade successfully through the previous tram works and through the recession – will suffer from a deep and devastating impact on their ability to trade.

“It’s the people that live in Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians who are put off the idea of shopping in the city as a result of the tram works.

“The city needs to make a magnificent gesture to ensure Edinburgh still has the range of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants that it has now when the trams are running in 2014.

“The concern this time is there is a global recession that’s having an impact of companies in Edinburgh – the level of support being offered is virtually non-existent.”

dawn.morrison@edinburghnews.com