Edinburgh tram extension would see 200 Leith graves exhumed

An artist's impression shows how a tram would look travelling along Constitution Street
An artist's impression shows how a tram would look travelling along Constitution Street
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UP to 200 bodies would be exhumed from a 14th-century graveyard in Leith if plans to extend the Capital’s tram network down to Newhaven are given the final go-ahead, it has been revealed.

City of Edinburgh council has launched a consultation process on the expansion of the controversial tram line down Leith Walk, but under current proposals an excavation of the burial ground at South Leith Parish Church would have to be undertaken before work can begin.

It is understood thousands of men, women and children were buried at the site on Constitution Street between the 14th and 17th centuries.

Workers at the “archaeologically rich” site have previously uncovered historic findings. In 2008, tram workers digging in the area found a number of well-preserved human remains thought to be at least 200 years old.

Tentative plans put forward by the authority – which will get under way in mid-2019 if approved in the autumn – also involve deconstructing and completely rebuilding an A-listed, 18th-century wall surrounding the graveyard.

The boundary of the burial site previously ran right across Constitution Street before it was laid down in 1790, when the wall was erected to separate graves from the street level.

A council spokeswoman said, in the event of any excavation, the bodies would be carefully curated by the council along with their established collection of archaeological remains – including human remains from other digs within Edinburgh.

Part of the consultation is also set to include further discussion on potential financial reparations for businesses situated along the route of the tram works.

Plans for the expansion include closing three lanes of road to traffic on Leith Walk for up to 18 months while work is ongoing, but local traders are furious over a potential catastrophic drop in footfall for the area.

However, project director Rob Leech has suggested compensation in the form of rates relief or money from a set fund could be allocated to businesses as a means of offsetting a loss of income.

Mr Leech said: “There is a very direct impact to businesses on Leith Walk and Constitution Street and we are looking at some form of financial support to underpin that.”

He added: “There will be instances where, particularly with smaller businesses, there will probably need to be some sort of financial support and we certainly have not ruled that out at this stage.”

Views on traffic management and current phasing of the project are also set to be sought during the consultation period, which opens on March 19.

Public information events at the Leith Theatre, on March 23, McDonald Road Library, on April 3, Leith Community Education Centre, on April 12 and Ocean Terminal on April 21, will also be held as part of the consultation.

newsen@edinburghnews.com