ONE of the Capital's busiest shopping streets is set to close to traffic for up to 18 months as the next phase of the tram project gets under way.
Work is expected to begin on Shandwick Place from 4 January, with the whole road closed to traffic from February until mid-2011.
Traders today expressed their disappointment that the schedule for the work had apparently slipped after being promised it would be completed by the end of 2010.
There is also uncertainty surrounding whether the track laying work will even go ahead as planned, as that part of the route is understood to be among the disputes currently outstanding between tram firm TIE and its contractor.
A series of traffic diversions will also be in place around the Haymarket area for much of 2010 as work continues to construct a viaduct and new tram stop.
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association, said traders would press TIE for compensation similar to that paid during the last phase of work in 2008.
He said: "We've expected that Shandwick Place will be closed for most of 2010 for much of this year, but we're very disappointed they are now talking about mid-2011 to have it finished.
"The city centre has endured tram works since the beginning of 2008, the fact that the schedule (for Shandwick Place) has rolled back to 2011 is a great concern."
He said that the utility diversion work in 2008 had led to a number of independent shops in the West End closing, with as many as six empty shop units on Shandwick Place alone at one point.
He added: "We know from experience that business saw a significant drop during the last tram work on Shandwick Place, well in excess of 20 per cent. We are asking for significant mitigation work to keep our businesses viable and want them to get down the tracks as fast as possible."
Mandy Haeburn-Little, director of communications for the tram project, said: "We are now beginning detailed discussions with each of these businesses to understand exactly what they have planned for the next twelve month period so that we can schedule and tailor the work to support them."
TIE said eastbound traffic would be diverted along Manor Place and Melville Street, with buses heading out of town re-routed along the West Approach Road and Morrison Street.