DRIVERS face diversions and delays when a major city centre thoroughfare closes to traffic for ten months as part of the St James Centre redevelopment.
Leith Street will be shut in both directions between Calton Road and Waterloo Place from September 4 – while cyclists, pedestrians and emergency services will still get access.
Developers say the closure – timed to begin after the festival – is the only way to safely install £6 million worth of improvements including new gas and water pipes.
Plans seen by the Evening News show diverted routes for cars, taxis and 23 bus services along Regent Road and York Place.
A spokesman for Lothian Buses confirmed the company had been working with developers to “minimise disruption” to passengers.
“Large-scale developments such as this will inevitably have a short-term impact on roads and infrastructure but we need to be aware of the long benefits that they will bring to the city,” he added.
“We will be exploring options for the re-deployment of our services during the proposed closure and once finalised will announce details of these to allow our customers to inform their travel plans.”
Work in Leith Street will include new sewers, cycle paths and bus stops, in addition to gas and water pipes.
Plans mean digging a six-metre deep trench along Leith Street with trucks ferrying earth from the site.
Developers came up with the road closure plan to ensure the safety of workmen and pedestrians, the latter to be channelled along the east side of Leith Street.
Measures installed in a bid to keep traffic moving will include traffic lights replacing the roundabout at the junction of London Road and Easter Road.
With more cars using the Mound and Hanover Street, George Street between Hanover Street and St Andrew Square could become one-way eastbound.
A dedicated right-turn traffic light will be considered at the junction of Hanover Street with Queen Street.
Meanwhile, traffic lights throughout the area will be monitored and adjusted from the council’s traffic centre to ease congestion and pedestrian crossings kept.
Conservatives city centre councillor Joanna Mowat stressed the need for diverted bus routes to get commuters to work and customers to be able to get to businesses on Leith Street.
“I think what is most important is that we have a closure for the shortest possible time – and that it’s a closure the city can adjust to,” she added.
“When they say it’s for 44 weeks, then it should be for 44 weeks or less and we should hold them to account.”
Neil Greig, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said he believed drivers would quickly adapt to the changes.
He said: “What usually happens is complete chaos for a day or two then things settle down and drivers get used to it.”
Work began on the £1 billion project to revamp the St James shopping centre in October after a ten-year wait prolonged by recession, the Scottish independence referendum and Brexit.
Demolition of the existing 1970s block has begun and is expected to take 18 months before building work begins.
Scheduled to reopen in 2020, the new centre will create up to 3000 permanent jobs with 85 new shops, 20 restaurants, 150 flats and a “deluxe” multiscreen cinema.
Three new public squares will be created, as will 1600 car parking spaces while a five-star “ribbon” hotel will be the centrepiece.
City transport and environment leader Cllr Lesley Hinds said: “St James Quarter is a hugely important development for the city, creating thousands of jobs and delivering millions of pounds to the local economy.
“But a project of this scale is bound to have an impact on the local area during construction, which is why we have been working closely with the developer to manage this as best we can.”
Plans were drawn-up to allow contractors to carry out all essential works at the same time to reduce disruption, she added.
A report outlining the diversion will be considered by the city’s transport and environment committee on March 21.
“Whatever plan is finally agreed, the council will continue to work very closely with the developer to monitor the impact of this work and to ensure they keep the public properly informed throughout,” said Cllr Hinds.
A taskforce comprising developers, council officers, Lothian Buses and emergency services met to come up with the plans.
It recommended closure to traffic for the safety of workmen and pedestrians after “lessons learned” from previous projects, including the tram scheme.
Timings and duration of the Leith Street work is “critical” to delivering the city’s flagship St James project, developers insisted.
“These works will allow us to reconfigure and renew the whole Leith Street corridor and help facilitate the wider regeneration of Picardy Place and the East End in a way that minimises disruption for residents, businesses and the travelling public,” said Martin Perry of developers TH Real Estate.
“By renewing and enhancing local infrastructure as part of the Edinburgh St James scheme, we are also greatly reducing the requirement for future works and repairs, thereby minimising future disruption around the completed environment.”
Mr Perry said the summer festival season was avoided to “mitigate any unnecessary disruption” to the Capital.
“This proposal will allow the contractors to carry out all of the works simultaneously, reducing disruption,” he said.
Business will still be given access to Greenside Row and Calton Road.
Mr Perry said: “Subject to further discussion with the council on this recommendation, the development team will engage with the local community to ensure that the works are well publicised and that any temporary arrangements are fully understood.”
£6m to revamp street above and below ground
WORK at Leith Street as part of the St James scheme will cost £6m and take up to 44 weeks.
Below ground, a six-metre trench will be dug along the road for workmen to install new gas, water and sewage pipes.
The main reason for the closure to traffic, say developers, is to ensure the safety of workers and pedestrians as trucks ferry earth to and from the site.
Those behind the scheme claim the overhaul of Leith Street will mean less roadworks in the future as infrastructure is renewed in one hit.
Above ground, new surfacing will include granite kerbs and Yorkstone in keeping with the Capital’s heritage, say developers.
The central reservation will be removed, while footpaths will be widened.
On completion of the project, pedestrian crossings will be improved and cycle lanes extended to Calton Road.
New bus stops will be installed for passengers to use once the traffic restriction is lifted.
Should the work overrun, developers have vowed Leith Street will be reopened to traffic during the 2018 festival season and reclosed afterwards for work to be completed.
“Major essential works on Leith Street are required to deliver this development and the developer has worked very closely with the council and the
Citywide Traffic Management Team, which includes representatives from the emergency services and bus operators, to identify the best way of carrying out these works safely,” said Councillor Lesley Hinds.
Business as usual despite diversions
WHILE Leith Street will be off-limits to drivers during the course of the work, it will be business as usual for shops, pubs and cafes.
Diners will still get to visit the Omni Centre’s various restaurants and Vue cinema as they remain open for the 44-week period.
As will John Lewis on the opposite side of the road, though a spokeswoman declined to comment on the works yesterday.
Leith Street will be shut between Waterloo Place and Calton Road – the latter staying open for traffic and access to Waverley Station.
Key to the plans for city chiefs and developers was trying to co-ordinate work in a bid to lessen the economic impact – not least by avoiding festival season.
“The option proposed is to close Leith Street from the Princes Street junction to the entrance to Calton Road to cars, buses and vans for 44 weeks,” said Cllr Hinds.
“This would allow the contractors to carry out all of the works simultaneously, reducing overall disruption,” she added.
“The street would remain open to pedestrians and cyclists, with access for emergency services maintained throughout.”