Tram works will stay on Princes Street for Festival

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PRINCES Street will remain closed to traffic during this year's Festival as part of a bid to catch up on delayed tram works, city leaders confirmed today.

Abandoning a planned roadworks embargo will let tram firm TIE shave six weeks off its construction programme, allowing Princes Street to be fully reopened by early November in time for Christmas and Hogmanay.

It is anticipated that buses will return to Princes Street when work is finished, though calls for the busy shopping route to be fully pedestrianised mean this is not yet guaranteed. Officials are to identify sections of the street where work will be completed by August, and can be opened for pedestrians and Festival performers.

The Festival Fireworks will continue as planned on September 6, though spectators will be encouraged to use other vantage points such as Inverleith Park.

Discussions are continuing with Historic Scotland regarding the proposed use of Holyrood Park as an alternative venue for the Festival Cavalcade.

Minor construction work will also continue around St Andrew Square during August. Moves to continue working through the embargo, which are expected to be rubber-stamped by councillors next week, have been welcomed by the city's business community.

Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce deputy chief executive Graham Birse said: "The business community has been very clear from the start that we want the Edinburgh tram project completed as quickly as possible.

"By working through the Festival period we understand that the all-important Christmas and New Year embargo will apply."

Isabella Miller, general manager of John Lewis in Edinburgh, added: "I am delighted the council has found a way forward to minimise disruption for the Festival and allow the tram work to progress, so we can get Princes Street open as soon as possible."

Some of Princes Street's big retailers were keen for tram works to continue through the planned August embargo in a bid to avoid any danger of their lucrative Christmas trade being hit by over-running works.

Once work on the tram rails is completed in November, tram workers will return in 2010 to install the overhead electricity cables but the street will not need to be closed to traffic again.

City leader Jenny Dawe said: "We are proud to be building a modern, green tram system to promote Edinburgh's continued economic prosperity and the quality of life Edinburgh offers."

A feasibility study into banning traffic on Princes Street was ordered last month. And it is likely that any pedestrianisation plans would copy the format used for the tram works, with buses and taxis diverted along George Street.

apicken@edinburghnews.com