COUNCIL leaders in Edinburgh may be forced to back down on plans to ban motorists from one of the city’s main routes for 18 months because of tramworks.
A revolt from businesses and residents is expected to trigger a rethink over the closure of York Place from the middle of next month, with motorists diverted into the New Town.
The council has admitted further talks are planned with community and business groups to try to head off concerns, despite major work being announced earlier this week.
Councillors are thought to be privately furious at being left to defend proposals which have been on the drawing board for months, but were not widely known by shop owners and community councils.
Among the concessions being considered are allowing motorists to use Princes Street, which is due to reopen to buses from tomorrow, keeping a lane of traffic open on York Place while tramworks are ongoing, and scrapping plans to close the bus station at St Andrew Square for more than a year.
Insiders say senior council officials have warned there is a risk major tramworks could still be needed in the early part of 2014 unless a full closure of York Place is agreed.
One source said: “There is concern that although these proposals are likely to cause huge disruption, the work could take a lot longer and be much more expensive to carry out, and have a significant knock-on impact.”
The Labour-SNP administration yesterday admitted the council had mishandled its communication of the planned tramworks, with some work getting under way in the New Town before residents had been alerted to the programme.
Transport leader Lesley Hinds said: “The communication was not as good as it should have been.
“We have a number of meetings planned to address the concerns people have been expressing to us.
“There is a balance to be struck between trying to get the work finished as quickly as possible and minimising disruption.”
Tory councillor Joanna Mowat, who represents the New Town, said: “Some business groups tell me they found out a week ago about this and some residents claim work was starting outside their homes before they knew anything about it.
“The council needs to look at putting measures in place to mitigate what is being planned. I think people should be allowed to drive along Princes Street.” Gordon Henderson, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “People are concerned about the closure of the bus station when there don’t appear to be any plans for a temporary replacement.”
York Place, earmarked for closure in the middle of next month for motorists, is not due to reopen until the end of 2013, meaning drivers are likely to face hold-ups and a 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 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.