SHOPs hit by tram works could have their rates bills slashed as more traders face being driven out of business.
Edinburgh and Lothians assessor Joan Hewton has launched a survey of current rates in the West End to measure the impact of the project.
Depending on the results, shops in the area could have their rateable values adjusted to reflect the damage they are experiencing.
The city council, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and traders have all pressed for rates reductions as concerns mount over shop closures.
Ms Hewton said rates already took disruption into account – as they were last calculated in 2008 when work was under way – but added she was willing to take another look.
Ms Hewton said: “I believe the current values do reflect the tram works in existence in 2008, but their argument could be correct that it is more severe this time. I need the evidence before I can do anything.
“What we want to know is what has happened since then. Are landlords giving concessions – rent-free periods, reductions in rents or letting people pay in arrears?
“And we need to strip out the effects of the general economic situation by looking at what is happening to rental values in a similar street elsewhere.”
She said if it was clear that the tram works had depressed rental levels, she would look at adjusting the rateable values for those properties.
She said: “I feel we have taken it into account, but I’m willing to look at the facts and figures. When we feel there is enough information that is reliable, we will analyse it and try to come to a conclusion.”
The works escalated last weekend when they were expanded from Shandwick Place and Haymarket to West Maitland Street, creating almost continuous roadworks from Haymarket to Waverley.
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association and director of Paper Tiger in Stafford Street, welcomed Ms Hewton’s move – but said rates might not reflect the full extent of the problems traders faced.
He said two more shops in the area were due to close.
He said: “The reality is businesses are closing and people are losing their jobs and livelihoods.
“A lot of landlords need the rents to pay for the loans on the property and it’s a Mexican stand-off to see who will blink first.”
Grant McKeeman, who runs the Copymade shop in West Maitland Street, said trams had cost him £2000 a week.
He said: “If you look at our accounts for the last few years you can tell straight away when the tram works were on.
“We welcome any reduction in rates, but it’s only a token gesture. If things go on as they are, there will be no businesses to pay any rates.
“We’re really looking for financial compensation.”