Festivals and shops collide over break in tramworks

A ROW is brewing over whether Edinburgh's tramworks should be halted during the capital's summer festivals.

Edinburgh city council officials are under pressure to decide the fate of Princes Street during August amid fears of the disruption that major venues and attractions may suffer.

Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie yesterday called for a planned pause in works during the festival to go ahead unless it adds millions to the tram project or risks Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations having to be cancelled. But The Scotsman can reveal that business leaders in the capital want the six-week embargo to be shelved to ensure work is finished in time for the festive shopping season.

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The council and its tram firm, TIE, are facing a major new headache despite persuading the German-led consortium in charge of laying tram lines on Princes Street to start major work this week.

It is not yet known how many of the contractor's demands for compensation for delays and problems discovered along the tram route have been met by TIE, which yesterday insisted it would be sticking to a fixed-price contract. The deal agreed last May was on the basis of city centre work being halted for the summer festivals.

Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce yesterday said the "top priority" should be for major works on Princes Street to be completed as quickly as possible to curb disruption for retailers and try to keep the costs down.

The Scotsman understands there is little chance of Princes Street being reopened to traffic for the summer festivals season, which runs from late July to early September.

The dilemma is whether to halt all tramworks in the centre to provide a boost to shoppers and visitor attractions, and try to ensure about 25,000 people can get on to Princes Street for the cavalcade and end-of-festival fireworks.

It is understood that works on Princes Street are running only a week behind schedule – despite the month-long stalemate between the German construction giant Bilfinger Berger and TIE.

Retailers were already arguing for work to continue on Princes Street during the festival to try to get it finished ahead of schedule in early November.

But officials at the National Galleries of Scotland, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Assembly Rooms have been among those arguing for the embargo to remain in place.

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Mr Cardownie said: "There are clearly a number of factors to consider, including what kind of impact an embargo would have on the overall programme of works on Princes Street, and the cost implications of major delays.."

However, Ron Hewitt, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "The priority has to be to get these works over with. We don't see any benefit in having Princes Street closed to traffic in August without any tramworks going on."

Lothians SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said: "There is an urgent need for the council and TIE to sit down with the business community and festival organisers before a decision is made on this."