Light at the end of the tunnel for plan to reopen old rail link

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WORK to reopen a historic tunnel in the heart of the New Town is set to get under way before the end of the year, 150 years after it was closed to the public.

Plans have been submitted to remove brickwork from the front of the Scotland Street Tunnel, with longer-term proposals to open a youth club in one part of the structure.

Funding has been secured from Edinburgh World Heritage for the initial work, which is to be carried out by a range of community groups and local police officers under the name of Friends of King George And Scotland Yards.

If additional funding can be secured, another planning application would be submitted, seeking consent to open up part of the tunnel for use as a youth club, and to install heating and lighting. Andrew McRae, an associate at Simon Laird Associates, who worked on the initial planning application, said: "At this stage, we're looking for listed building consent to take away the brick that is there at the moment and start improving the area at the tunnel mouth.

"The ultimate aim is to have some space that can be used in a controlled fashion, such as youth organisations using it.

"Local residents and everyone else are aware of problems in the area with people congregating and not having anything to do.

"The hope is that we can produce something that can counter that sort of antisocial behaviour.

"The ambition of the project is to do something that enhances that part of the park, which is quite neglected and run down.

"A lot of people in Edinburgh know about the tunnel but get quite annoyed that it doesn't lead anywhere or come out anywhere. It is just a wasted space."

The Scotland Street Tunnel was initially built in the mid 19th century and runs for a mile to Princes Street.

The tunnel, which measures 24 foot in width and height, has had a number of uses since it stopped being used as a railway link between Edinburgh's waterfront and the city centre as a result of the steep gradient. Among them have been mushroom growing and storage space for railway wagons.

A number of ideas have been proposed on how to revive the tunnel, although Mr McRae said that the steep gradient is usually responsible for the ideas failing to come to fruition.

He said: "People do get very upset and feel this has been a wasted opportunity over all these years, although it is because a lot of things are just not possible or feasible.

"What the youth tunnels project aims to do won't preclude anything happening in the future. That is a provision of the project – that the tunnel is retained for potential use by the city in the future."

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, which provided 5,000 of initial funding, said: "We're delighted to be able to support this excellent, community-led project.

"The Scotland Street Tunnel is a beautiful structure with a fascinating history, and it deserves to be conserved as a part of the city's industrial heritage.

"However, making it a focal point of this community initiative will both improve its setting and help the kids, who not only enjoy using the area, but are central to the future of this neglected space.

"We hope that others will follow our example and chip in to support it."