Return of Leith tram works will hurt business, trader warns

The return of tram works to Edinburgh's Leith Walk could sound the death knell for some local businesses, one long-established trader has warned.

The return of tram works to Leith Walk has caused some to fear that local businesses could be destroyed.

Councillors will decide next month whether to go ahead with the £165 million extension of the tram route from York Place to Newhaven, which would involved Leith Walk being reduced to just one lane during construction.

But Gordon Burgess, owner of the Bed Shop, who lost half his trade during the works carried out for the original project, said many businesses would struggle to cope with the disruption.

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“It may well sound the death knell for some businesses round here,” he said. “A lot of businesses went down last time. The disruption means people will avoid the area – and that’s habit-forming: they find other places to go and they don’t come back.

“Coming on the back of Leith Street being closed for ten months – and you can be sure that will go on longer – Leith Walk is being hit by a double whammy.” Mr Burgess said he was “extremely disappointed” with the SNP. “They were against the trams from the word go but they have done a U-turn.”

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Harald Tobermann, vice-chair of Leith Central Community Council, said he was not opposed in principle to the extension down Leith Walk but had doubts about “the capacity of our council to deliver that”.

He said: “I’m all in favour of trams – but only if there are people who can do it.

“I would prefer to see a full report from the inquiry about the lessons that need to be learned rather than just bland statements from politicians that ‘lessons have been learned’.”

Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said although no decision had been made yet, it looked as if the extension would go ahead.

He said businesses would be divided. “There will be staunch views against and others who feel it is an opportunity with the trams bringing large numbers of potential customers to the area. I’m pleased there is going to be some form of business compensation and the council leader has said he is aware it cannot just be business rates relief because so many small businesses don’t pay rates.

“We must do all we can to help them get through this.”

Tory transport spokesman Nick Cook said the extension as proposed was too expensive and would take too long.

But Green transport spokesman Chas Booth said: “It’s now time to finish the job. If there’s any part of the city where tram makes sense, it is York Place to Newhaven.”