THE Royal Mile in Edinburgh is set to be given a £2 million facelift as it is cleaned cobble by cobble.
Councillors are due to approve plans to completely reconstruct the street at a meeting next week.
But instead of buying new stone setts for the historic road, they are proposing to remove tens of thousands of existing ones, clean them, and put them back one by one.
The operation will actually be more expensive than purchasing new stones, but will ensure the original character of the High Street is maintained.
It will also avoid the need to ship in stone from abroad, as happened last year when contractors used Chinese granite to help repair the Royal Mile at its junction with George IV Bridge.
The latest project will take place along the High Street between North Bridge and George IV Bridge - an area packed with Festival-goers every summer.
The council is waiting for the verdict of a public inquiry on plans to pedestrianise the area before announcing when work will start, although it is not expected to begin until after 2007.
New setts would cost an estimated 1.35 million, but the city development department has recommended using the existing stonework. This project has been priced at 1.46 million, but costs could rise to 2.07 million at a later date.
This is because some of the existing stones may not be suitable for re-use.
When the setts are removed from the road, they will be closely evaluated to determine which can be properly cleaned. The stones will then be cut to a uniform depth, so they provide an even surface.
City development director Andrew Holmes said: "The natural appearance of original setts would maintain the organic character of the Old Town as a whole.
"These setts have subtle variations in colour, tone and shape that have developed over time and blend sympathetically with the variety of historic buildings."
"The same effect could not be achieved by the use of new setts.
"[This option] would be best placed to maintain the street's historic character and appearance."
The maintenance of the Royal Mile has been a long-running and controversial subject.
The authority is still pursuing a legal action against two firms - Page and Park, and Bovis - that were involved in a 4.5 million revamp of the Royal Mile, which was initially completed in 1996 after two years' work.
The project, which was jointly funded by the council and Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, was supposed to ensure the Royal Mile would remain at the highest possible standard for at least 20 years.
The council does not believe this work was carried out properly, as within two years it became obvious the scheme had gone badly wrong when sections of the road could clearly be seen subsiding and crumbling, in spite of claims by the contractors that they had followed the council's specifications.
As a result, the council spent 1 million recobbling patches where tarmac had been laid to prevent the surface from giving way under the weight of vehicles.
"We simply don't want residents and tourists to see the Royal Mile in this kind of shape," Donald Anderson, the council leader, said yesterday.
"It is a judgment call on whether we use new setts or the existing ones, but the recommended option [of cleaning the setts] is the most pragmatic way.
"We have invested many millions of pounds on this street and it is tragic that the work wasn't successfully carried out. The Royal Mile is one of the most beautiful streets in the world."