Lothian Buses chiefs have warned that ambitious plans to overhaul how people move around the city centre are “likely to have a substantial impact on our operations”.
Edinburgh City Council has unveiled a 10-year ambitious strategy which will include extending the tram south to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and a loop of the city centre, closing some Old Town roads to traffic and setting up a free hopper bus.
The proposals also include reducing the volume of buses stopping on Princes Street and “thinning” the number of stops.
But Lothian Buses has warned that while the company, which is owned by the council, is in favour of the transformation, it is concerned the changes could negatively affect the performance of the firm.
The council’s £207m tram extension to Newhaven, which will begin construction this year, is financially dependent on a £5m dividend from Lothian Buses, thought to be subject to the company remaining profitable.
Nigel Serafini, Lothian’s commercial director said: “We welcome the council’s commitment to improving both the public realm and the environment within Edinburgh city centre.
“As a business, we look forward to the council sharing the detail of their proposals with us in the coming months whilst recognising that it is likely to have a substantial impact on our current operations and finances.”
Businesses have called for the needs of traders to be pivotal to the city centre transformation.
Garry Clark, Federation of Small Businesses’ development manager for the east of Scotland, has urged traders to take part in the council’s public consultation.
He said: “We all want a safer, cleaner city that is easier to get around but we must not lose sight of the fact that many of the businesses that create the jobs and wealth that Edinburgh needs are based in the city centre area. This is particularly true of retail and hospitality businesses which rely on our roads to get customers in, to receive essential deliveries and to dispatch goods.
“It’s one thing to ban cars for one day a month as a trial, but it’s quite another to propose a permanent car ban within 10 years, particularly as there has been no time to learn the lessons of ‘car-free Sundays’. It is also likely that cars will become cleaner over the next decade, with the council investing millions of pounds in a new electric vehicle charging network, so many of the environmental arguments just don’t stack up.”
The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce also called for a balance to be struck in order for businesses to operate effectively.
Chamber CEO Liz McAreavey said: “Whilst congestion, pollution and sustainability are key priorities that businesses wish to address, the solutions are not without challenge.
“Businesses need to continue to operate effectively, but we must balance economic growth with a responsible and sustainable business approach. The business community has an important role to play in sharing ideas and innovations to help produce the solutions.”