Princes Street reopens as York Place closes for a year

PRINCES Street will re-open to buses within days – just before one of the busiest routes into the city centre closes for more than a year.

The Evening News can reveal today that York Place will close to all vehicles except buses from July 14 before being completely shut in September to make way for the latest stage of tram works.

It also emerged today that the bus station will be closed for more than a year to allow the laying of tram tracks.

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York Place will not re-open until the end of 2013, meaning motorists are likely to face hold-ups and a winding diversion through the lanes of the New Town for up to 16 months.

Transport chiefs believe the cobbled streets will be able to cope with the huge increase in traffic and will alter parking arrangements, including banning “nose-in” parking to widen the road. They claimed it would result in delays of only around five minutes.

However, city leader Andrew Burns admitted the next step of the project was significant and would be “difficult”.

In his report to the city council he wrote: “Painful doesn’t even begin to describe the experience so far of the building of the trams and I have no doubt there is more to come in some areas.

“But, let’s not lose sight of the benefits they will bring in the longer term, increased footfall and visitors to the city centre and much better connectivity with other forms of transport including buses and park and ride.

“With my colleague Councillor Lesley Hinds in charge I think you will be noticing a step change in how things are done very quickly. York Place is the next big area to sort out and it will be difficult.”

The bus station will close from September until the end of next year to allow contractors to begin on-street in the York Place area. Departures and arrivals will be transferred to other sites, with Waterloo Place and St Andrew Square being considered.

Despite the concerns over disruption, it is expected that traders in the city centre will benefit from buses returning to Princes Street on Saturday after months of closure.

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Essential Edinburgh, the organisation representing businesses in the city centre, welcomed the fact that the works had been lifted a month early. They were expected to run on until the end of July.

City transport leader Cllr Hinds said: “Edinburgh tram works are being managed to a clearly defined programme, with this work scheduled to start now in order to deliver the project by the summer of 2014. Meanwhile, the re- opening of Princes Street, west of Waverley Bridge will come as a welcome boost to business at what remains a challenging period for traders.”

From Saturday until September buses will run from Lothian Road and Queensferry Street down Princes Street, cutting through St Andrew Square, through York Place and towards Leith Walk.

After September, when York Place shuts completely, work outside the Balmoral Hotel at the east end Princes Street will be cleared to provide a new route and buses can flow past the St James Centre, down Leith Street towards the Omni Centre.

The Mound – already open to buses, taxis and cycles – will be open to all traffic as of Saturday, which will allow motorists to drive through the city centre. On Picardy Place, drivers will take Broughton Street rather than York Place and have to navigate Abercromby Place and Albany Street to reach Queen Street and George Street.

A tram spokesman said traffic modelling had shown it was manageable and that traffic lights could be adjusted to avoid jams.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce said the very fact that work was beginning at York Place was “a clear indication of continuing meaningful progress”.

“The bus station will be required to be temporarily re-located later in the year,” she said. “This will happen following the conclusion of detailed discussions with bus operators and bus station management. We have managed a similar relocation before and are confident this process will be a relatively smooth transition.

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“We appreciate the continued support of the public as work gets under way on this latest phase of the project.”

Shopkeepers eye welcome trade boost

THE reopening of Princes Street will be greeted with relief by shopkeepers.

A spokesman for city centre business group Essential Edinburgh said there was no doubt the tram works had hit trade.

“A reduction in footfall inevitably leads to a reduction in business,” he said.

But he said the removal of the roadworks would make a big difference.

“It’s very positive that it is reopening ahead of schedule and will now start delivering that vital increase in footfall.

“It will be welcomed by retailers in Princes Street, but also by the shops in George Street because they can look forward to the de-cluttering of some of the stuff for the diversion of traffic along there.”

Last year, it was revealed that the number of shoppers visiting the city centre had slumped since tram works were reinstated on Princes Street.

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The average number of people passing through the city centre each week had fallen by nearly 14,000 to 102,000 within a fortnight of work starting last September.

The full timetable

June 16: Utility works began on Broughton Street for four weeks. Closed at York Place junction.

June 30: Princes Street reopens to buses, taxis and cycles west of Waverley Bridge. The Mound reopens to all traffic.

July 14: Broughton Street. reopens. Tram works begin on York Place.

September: Work outside Balmoral ends and Princes Street reopens to buses east of Waverley Bridge. York Place closed to all traffic. Bus station services relocated.

December: St Andrew Street reopens to traffic and will be considered for additional bus service site.

Late 2013: York Place reopens and bus station services resume.