Traders oppose plans for revamp of thoroughfare

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TWO in every three small business owners in the city centre are against a major revamp of the Princes Street area, it emerged today.

The city council has set out a five-year action plan to revamp the heart of Edinburgh that could see traffic removed from some parts and pedestrians given much greater priority.

But a new survey by the Federation of Small Businesses has found that the vast majority of its members oppose plans to shake up traffic in the city centre.

They say that removing traffic could mean shoppers bodyswerve the city centre and turn to out-of-town shopping instead.

And they insist that any proposals should be put on hold until there is greater clarity about when the tram will be delivered, and where the line will run.

Gordon Henderson, development manager for the FSB in the east of Scotland, said: "We have got members on both sides of the fence here but the numbers show that in general people are against major work in the city centre whilst there is uncertainty about the tram.

"The pain small businesses have had because of trams is massive. They are only just getting to the point where balance sheets are improving again.

"A lot of people have said to me that this council is anti-car. If you make it impossible to get into the city centre then people will go elsewhere and businesses will follow them.

"If you want to do lots of shopping or want to buy something big then you can't have all that on your knee on the way home. If they take away parking in George Street there needs to be a new multi-storey car park somewhere else to replace it."

Of the 29 businesses that responded to the FSB survey, 19 said they were against the proposals, while eight were in favour, although half of those in favour had concerns.

Sarah Connelly, director of William Street-based lingerie and swimwear shop Odyssey Boutique, said creating modern and widely used spaces like parks, outdoor seating and kiosks can be beneficial, but added: "Thought must be given to the recent impact of massively reducing vehicles within Edinburgh since the start of the tram works, which did and continues to hamper business development within the area."

The council is pressing ahead with temporary projects such as improving kiosks on Princes Street and creating more public space on George Street. Longer-term proposals include rerouting some buses away from Princes Street and removing parking from George Street.

But one FSB member that supported the plans was Kelvin Donaldson, director of Grassmarket architects Gilberts. He said: "City centres can never compete with out-of-town retail on accessibility or convenience, but can offer a far greater amenity and character and with that, quality.

"It does need investment, however. It will not come cheap and the council need to be prepared to put in the infrastructure. They are lousy at doing this - just look at the trams. They must have the courage of their convictions and put their money where their mouth is."

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, the city's transport leader, said: "We are still at the early stages of the consultation process and are about to embark on a wide ranging information programme to ensure that businesses, members of the public and all other consultees are well informed. As the consultation progresses, I expect we will see those views help us shape the future of the centre."