PRINCES Street is set to remain free from traffic after the current tram works are complete as part of new trial into permanent pedestrianisation.
The move would mean buses and taxis would continue to be diverted on to George Street until after the summer festivals.
If the trial is approved, council chiefs will use it to gather feedback before deciding whether to push ahead with a permanent closure within two years. That would mean all traffic – except the eventual tram – banned from the street.
Diverting traffic away from Princes Street was one of the recommendations of a controversial city centre blueprint by Danish-based Gehl Architects.
Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, the city’s transport leader, said nothing had been decided.
He said: “The pedestrianisation of Princes Street is not an aim of Gehl, it is an option and [director of city development Dave Anderson] has said he is willing to try out different things.
“We will have to look at the impact on Lothian Buses and traffic around the city. Pedestrianising Princes Street could have a huge impact on Lothian Buses and they have to be part of that decision.”
The trial would allow for Princes Street to be traffic-free during August to allow for street performances during the summer festivals, as well as a series of kiosks selling a range of gifts and merchandise.
Princes Street has been pedestrianised since late November when tram works were lifted for Christmas and New Year.
Contractors moved in again over the weekend as works in St Andrew Square also resumed, with Shandwick Place activity to begin this weekend. Princes Street works are expected to continue until July.
Some hope that the pedestrianisation of Princes Street would revive the city centre’s fortunes in the same way as making Buchanan Street traffic-free did for Glasgow.
Gordon Henderson, regional organiser for the Federation of Small Businesses in the east of Scotland, said: “Some businesses will have concerns so I hope there will be a consultation.”
Among those to have benefited from the extra activity in a traffic-free Princes Street over the Christmas period was the One World Shop at St John’s Church at the West End.
Rachel Farey, the shop’s business manager, said: “Most shops did better [over Christmas] than last year so a pedestrianised Princes Street really worked, although there were a couple of comments that some people missed the buses.
“I’d be all for doing it again in July because there would be a summer atmosphere, people using the gardens and people strolling along Princes Street creating a festive atmosphere.
“Just having lots of free shows and street performers would be great because the Royal Mile gets very busy and it would be great to bring some of that to Princes Street.”
George Street has benefited from extra footfall caused by bus passengers being diverted there, but not all traders think that it has been beneficial.
Patrice McHenry, who works in Hamilton & Inches and is secretary of the George Street Association, said: “It does not really benefit the individual shops and often can be of detriment because suppliers can’t get in to park. Though there’s increased footfall, it’s not necessarily increased revenue.
“Buses on George Street have also led to a lot of vibrations on buildings. We’ve had plaster falling off and we’re not alone.”
City centre management company Essential Edinburgh said it welcomed the debate but that issues like traffic management and parking needed to be included in the trial, along with the concerns of businesses.
Should Princes Street be pedestrianised?
Chris Woodward, 19, student, Haymarket: “I think it’s a good idea. It should be fine. Edinburgh’s a small city anyway.”
Ben Irvine, 29, civil servant, Leith: “It would be a complete waste of money. It would probably be even more congested around Princes Street.”
Lauren Cook, 24, student, Musselburgh: “I’d like Princes Street to be pedestrianised. It would be good if it wasn’t so busy on the pavements, you wouldn’t need to dodge people.”
Liam Hunt, 25, senior sales manager, Granton: “It would be a pain in the backside like it is now. It would be even more of a pain - it’s just something you’ve got to put up with.”
Peter Smith, 70, retired lecturer, Meadows: “It would be quite nice to have it pedestrianised, but you have to have a mix, even if just to relieve the congestion elsewhere.”
• Compiled by Kate Thomson