TRAFFIC will return to the West End of Edinburgh for the first time in 18 months on Saturday when tram barriers are lifted following extensive civil engineering works.
The Manor Place to Shandwick Place stretch will re-open marking the first time in six years that the centre of Edinburgh will be without diversions stemming from the controversial tram project.
Businesses in the West End have said the move will be a welcome boost. Many traders have closed in recent years citing a huge drop in footfall due to the track laying and barriers.
Edinburgh City Council, which manages the project, said it accepted residents and businesses had suffered as a result of the works but said the trams would also bring new opportunities to the area and it would benefit from the location of the West End-Princes Street stop.
Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, said: “We know it’s been very difficult for people living and working in areas affected by the tram works and it will be a big relief that the majority of disruptive works in the city centre are now over.
“Now is the time to look forward to the opportunities ahead and to embrace the benefits that a modern, integrated transport system, incorporating all transport options, can bring to our city.”
Test runs will soon take place throughout the city ahead of the launch of the £776 million route next May.
Sam Withall, a business owner, had to close her two West End clothes shops as a result of losing “thousands of pounds every week” from a slump in footfall.
However, she reopened her William Street shop and said she and her fellow traders are now looking forward to a revival in the area.
She told The Scotsman: “We had run a successful business for 15 years but when the work began several years ago trade stopped overnight. Many of the stores here closed as well.
“Now there is a very positive feeling among the traders. There are only two main stops in the city centre and one is right in the West End so we believe that will really liven up the area.”
The council said changes to traffic arrangements in the West End will come into force with changes to public transport and vehicle access. These include a return to two-way traffic at Manor Place.
Transport minister Keith Brown said: “We cannot forget the disruption that those living and working in the West End have had to endure for too many years, but we can welcome this step forward.”