Traders will be banned from selling goods on the Playfair Steps – as the busy route is set to close for a major overhaul of the National Galleries.
Street traders have been operating on the Playfair Steps and walkway, though Princes Street Gardens, for the last 38 years. The sellers have had their licences suspended and now fear they will not be able to return once the building work is completed.
The steps will be closed to the public from September 24 until April 30, 2020 while the museum and gallery is redeveloped.
In May, the council halted traders from operating at four pitches on the High Street. Now, the traders are looking for a new home amid fears the council is attempting to drive them out of the city. The Mound Precinct will also be closed to the public from January 6, 2019 until April 19, 2019.
Chandra Mather, chairperson of the High Street and Playfair Steps Street Traders Association, described the decision as “another blow for city centre street trading”. She said: “We have right of appeal which we are looking into, and we are trying to discuss a relocation to the Mound.
“Right now we had less that six weeks notice for the suspension of licenses that have been there for 38 years. As craft people we got ready for Christmas trading , and it’s all happened very suddenly.”
Ms Mather added: “I sell designer silver jewellery and have traded in Edinburgh city centre for 25 years. The local council and councillors don’t understand we are experienced, serious business people with innovative, unusual, good quality products that tourist love.”
A total of 16 traders, including Ms Mather, operate on the walkway approaching the Playfair Steps and the Mound Precinct.
Licensing Sub-Committee Convener, Cllr Cathy Fullerton, said: “The decision was taken at the latest Licensing Sub-Committee to suspend street trading at the Playfair Steps in order to ensure public safety during forthcoming construction work at the National Gallery. These suspensions will take effect later this month. While we do value the contribution street trading makes to the local economy we are planning to review longer term plans for street trading at the Mound and Playfair Steps and will consult the traders as part of that.”
As part of the work, the north staircase will be widened, which council officers said is “under severe strain” at peak periods.
In a letter to the council’s licensing officers, the gallery’s project manager Ann Wilson said the Mound precinct and Playfair Steps was a a”difficult site logistically”.
She added: “We appreciate the challenges this may pose but there is no other option as the safety of the wider public is at the forefront of this request with the extent of the construction work to be delivered in this extremely busy central location.”
A spokesperson for the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “The issuing of licences to street traders is the responsibility of the council as is any decision about the continuation of licences after the completion of the SNG project.”