Just months after handing back the keys, blaming the ongoing disruption of the trams works for ruining business, their former shop is set to be taken over by a new tenant – a taxpayer-funded “Tram Shop”.
In a move described as “ludicrous”, the new occupants of No 6 Shandwick Place can be revealed today, along with the £160,000 price tag of setting up the drop-in information centre.
Up to six customer service staff will be based at the shop to answer queries and offer information on the scheme.
They will also deal with complaints, but a spokesman insisted there would be no toughened glass screens or “danger money” for operating in the area worst hit by the ongoing works.
Officials said there would be talks and exhibitions on the trams, and insisted the maroon-painted shop would be a focal point for the project. Local businesses had requested an “increased presence” in the area, they said.
However, Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association, disagreed. “This is not something we have asked for,” he said.
“A presence on the ground might have been requested, but that was as much about managing the site. There’s a Lothian Buses shop just across the road – I don’t know why they couldn’t just have put a desk in there.”
Mr Apter added that Sugacane – which took over the shop from Black & Lizars – had closed earlier this year, saying it could not continue trading because of the tram disruption.
The council is paying £30,000 a year for a two-year lease on the premises and fit-out work is expected to cost £100,000. The shop staff will be drawn from existing council customer service teams and the shop is set to open in mid-June and remain until the trams start running.
The basement will be used to provide office space for about ten other tram staff, including the communications team, currently based at Edinburgh Park, and a base for four members of the local street-cleansing team.
SNP deputy council leader Steve Cardownie said it was “ludicrous”. He said he had heard the idea was in the offing but had not been told about the costs. “This has never come near me for a decision. When we have tight budgets, on the face of it this does not look like value for money,” he said.
“I will be asking questions about this. I don’t see the rationale for it and I think the public will be dismayed their money is being spent in this way.”
After being approached by the Evening News, transport convener Gordon Mackenzie said he would be asking officials to justify the costs. He said the amounts of money involved were within officials’ delegated powers. “I’m all in favour of having a presence close to the traders in Shandwick Place, but I’m not prepared to justify that level of expenditure without a further detailed breakdown of costs,” he said.
Labour group transport spokesewoman Lesley Hinds said she had been aware of plans to open a shop but not the cost involved. “The public will think it’s a bottomless pit for the trams,” she said
But Tory group transport spokesman Allan Jackson backed the shop idea, saying: “I think it’s reasonable to have a presence in the area. I think the public will appreciate that.”
A council spokesman said: “We made a commitment to the West End business community earlier this year to increase our presence in the city centre – the idea being to offer traders greater access to support over the course of the construction works.”