Tram works deal lets Princes Street open for festivals

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PRINCES Street is expected to be reopened for the city's Summer and Winter festivals, following the resolution of a dispute over tram works.

It had been feared delays to the project caused by the cash-wrangle between tram firm (TIE) and German contractor Bilfinger Berger would mean the City's famous thoroughfare would have to remain closed during the Fringe and International Festivals.

There were also concerns it would still be closed off for Hogmanay, killing off one of Edinburgh's biggest annual events.

After a last-minute deal was struck on Friday night, TIE said everyone involved in the project is still hopeful that the original timetable can be met.

Despite Princes Street being closed for almost a month without any work being done on laying the track, it is understood that only ten days of work have been lost.

TIE said Bilfinger Berger would begin moving its equipment on to Princes Street this week.

Work to begin laying the first sections of tram track – which will be the first in the city in more than 50 years– is not expected to begin for at least a fortnight, as the crew first has to prepare the street.

Three weeks of heated talks between TIE and the construction consortium of Bilfinger Berger, Siemens and CAF, were brought to a dramatic conclusion at around 8.30pm on Friday when a deal to get the 512m project back on track was announced.

Details remained unclear today, with the situation still understood to be "extremely delicate".

TIE only said it now hoped the terms of the original contract would be adhered to. Sources have suggested the dispute had arisen because Bilfinger wanted to implement an invoicing system.

A spokesman for the German firm, which has recently been involved in a similar dispute in Canada, had claimed the conflict with TIE was over the provision of temporary bus lanes in Princes Street and involved thousands, rather than millions of pounds, But this claim was rubbished by industry sources, who said it was unthinkable that the council would have allowed such a major project to be so publicly derailed over such a small sum.

While it is thought the extra Princes Street costs from Bilfinger Berger's proposed invoicing system would have amounted to at most 500,000, it was claimed that over the three years of the tram project the changes would have cost an additional 80m.

If the original contract terms are to be adhered to, it would mean no extra money will be paid out to Bilfinger Berger.

Ron Hewitt, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "We are delighted all parties have come to an equitable arrangement and that is the sole outcome we have been seeking."

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