EDINBURGH Council is to undertake one of the largest public consultations in its history as it attempts to find out the real feelings of local people about the controversial trams extension.

Members of the public, the business community and a wide range of stakeholders will be asked to help shape plans for taking the tram to Newhaven, should the project be approved by the council towards the end of this year.

Starting later this month, the major local consultation exercise will seek feedback on traffic management and business support plans for the construction period and the outline road layout for Leith Walk and the rest of the route to Newhaven.

A recent independent survey carried out in Leith showed that the majority of respondents believe Leith would benefit from the introduction of a tram. Some 59 per cent of those who gave an answer said they felt Leith would benefit, with 56 per cent saying they would use the new line.

From March 19, six weeks of public consultation and engagement will take place. Views will be sought on traffic management and phasing currently proposed, including proposals for the closure of Leith Walk northbound and a single lane open southbound, along with the closure of sections of Constitution Street, for approximately 18 months during construction.

The traffic management proposals have been drawn up following in-depth traffic modelling and discussions with key partners and stakeholders, including bus companies, local community groups businesses and elected members.

The plans include support for businesses who will be most affected by the works, including provision for parking and loading between worksites, an Open for Business campaign, on-street customer service staff, logistics hubs and financial support.

Views will also be sought on the plans for the permanent design of the street along the route, including a dedicated public transport-only lane on Leith Walk for tram and bus during morning and evening rush hour.

The Council say this is the first stage in a consultation process that is scheduled to continue through to the end of 2018.

Council transport convener, Lesley Macinnes, said: “When the outline business case was approved by council in September we pledged to dedicate the following year or so (ahead of the final decision) to establishing mutually beneficial relationships with local residents and businesses who would be most affected by construction works. We’ve been working very closely with the local community and our partners ever since to model traffic management plans and look at options for supporting businesses as much as possible if the project goes ahead.

“These plans have been developed taking on board lessons learned from the first phase of tramworks and the current traffic management arrangements in place around Leith Street.

“The recent Leith survey showed that a majority of residents think trams will make a positive difference to Leith. However, there are clearly some very real concerns about disruption and congestion during construction. This consultation gives people the chance to help shape how we manage things if and when work gets under way.

We hope as many people as possible will have their say, either at one of our four information events or via the Consultation Hub, which will host the consultation from 19 March.”

Some 28,000 letters will be delivered to residential addresses and there will be four public information events.

In the survey, 59 per cent agreed that the line would benefit Leith with 58 per cent saying it would be easier to get around and 42 per cent saying it would be good for local business.

Some 91 per cent were satisfied with current transport provision on Leith Walk but when asked what would improve public transport in Leith Walk, the most popular response at 38 per cent was to ‘introduce a tram service’.