April opening in Princes Street Gardens for big wheel

An artist's impression of the wheel in West Princes Street Gardens
An artist's impression of the wheel in West Princes Street Gardens
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EDINBURGH’S big wheel is on the move – and may be up and turning as early as next month.

The 60-metre high Wheel of Edinburgh is now planned for the edge of West Princes Street Gardens in what is said to be a bid to aid traders in the West End suffering as a result of the tram works.

An image of how the towering structure would look was released today as more details about the attraction emerged.

The wheel will have enclosed pods similar to the London Eye, and it is expected to take 1000 passengers per day on a 15-minute ride to experience views across the city.

Private firm Great City Attractions (GCA) will pay all the costs of building and operating the wheel. The firm is seeking permission to operate from April 1 until October 31.

Around 40 jobs could be created and city chiefs hope the wheel will result in £1.4 million extra being spent in local shops and restaurants.

At a provisional price of £6.75 per ticket for three revolutions, the ride would be cheaper than in others such as the Wheel of York, also operated by Great City Attractions, which cost £8.50.

The original location of East Princes Street Gardens drew criticism from heritage bodies who feared it would become a blot on the landscape.

But deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, who has been behind plans to bring the structure to Edinburgh, said the move was about helping the West End. He said: “This option is an improvement on the original idea to bring the wheel to East Princes Street Gardens. We didn’t feel the original was obtrusive, but this is even less so and West Princes Street Gardens has a history of having hosted successful events.

“Its location doesn’t obscure views of the Castle and it will bring a much- welcome increase in pedestrian traffic for traders in the West End whose businesses have suffered as a result of the tram works.”

He also criticised heritage groups for portraying the site as a cheap fairground Ferris wheel.

He added: “I would like to stress this is not, as some ill-informed critics would have it, a fairground. It is an observation wheel, a 15-minute experience where historic landmarks will be pointed out to visitors through an audio tour, and we’re delighted to see this come to our city.”

The number and size of the pods has yet to be decided, but it will be either 21 or 42, including one VIP capsule.

City leaders hope the arrival of the structure will bring in visitors from outside the city, and result in more passengers leaving trains at Haymarket and using amenities in the West End. Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Traders Association, said the decision to bring the wheel to the area would bring more visitors. He said: “If this animates the city and brings customers and visitors it’s most welcome. It’s pleasing to see that the west end of the gardens is being used for this kind of activity.

“The concentration of events in East Princes Street Gardens over the last decade, the German market and Edinburgh Sparkles for example, has been to the detriment of all other parts of town,

“I’m sure some of those visiting the wheel will come and circulate in the bars and restaurants of the West End.

“Anything to help people circulate around the city is helpful.”

Among the cities to benefit from a big wheel is York. The National Railway Museum had around 750,000 visitors a year prior to the wheel being built and 900,000 visitors in the first year of operation. The 53-metre wheel helped to attract 1.2 million visitors to the museum between 2006 and 2008 and returned to the city in December for three more years.

The Wheel of Edinburgh will require planning permission from councillors before April.