By Alexander Lawrie
TRAM workers and shop owners came to blows yesterday (Mon) after a light-hearted prank went wrong.
Beleaguered business owners on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk erected balloons and a two metre banner to ‘celebrate’ the first birthday of a huge hole outside their premises.
But the traders were shocked when eight burly workmen arrived and started tearing down the tongue-in-cheek decorations.
Tempers flared as the proprietors blocked the workers attempts to dismantle the makeshift birthday sign.
Police were called to the scene after one shop owner claimed she felt physically threatened by the mob of workmen.
During the ensuing struggle, businesswoman Diane Taylor suffered a badly twisted ankle after she stumbled into the hole.
Controversy has dogged the laying of the city’s new tram network for the past year as Edinburgh businesses claim their profits have been slashed in half because of the work.
Ms Taylor, 42, owner of card shop Snail Mail, said: “I’m a local trader and also live in the area, and the tram works have been an absolute disgrace. My business takings are down by over 50 per cent.
“A few of the owners thought it would be quite funny to put the banner up to highlight our cause.
“At first everybody thought it was really good fun, even the tram workers had smiles on their faces.
“But I couldn’t believe my eyes when eight or nine big guys then turned up to pull it all down. There was a bit of a stand-off after we got in between them and the fence.
“Balloons were being burst and it started to get very nasty when a woman grabbed me. I stumbled into the hole and although I’m not too seriously hurt, I did twist my ankle.
“It was at that point I had to phone the police before it really got out of hand.”
Keith Hales, 56, owner of the Leith Walk Barber Salon, was one of the organisers of the protest.
He said: “A fellow trader and I thought it would be a bit of fun to put the banner up. That hole has been there for over a year and basically we’re just getting fed up with the whole thing. My business has suffered terribly with the tram works and I’ve had to lay two people off in the last year.
“At first everybody was fine with it, but then the management told the workers to tear it down. And there was no way we were going to let that happen.
“A few of us managed to get in between the workers and the fence where the banner is tied to. There was then a lot of pushing and jostling going on.
“To be honest, it’s an absolute disgrace the workers acted in this way, and if we hadn’t phoned the police I don’t know what could have happened.
“It was very intimidating.”
Police then arrived and calmed the escalating situation, and although no arrests were made the banner protest has been allowed to continue.
A spokesperson for TIE (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) Limited said: “The safety of the public, our staff and our contractors is paramount in everything that we do.
“TIE is launching a full investigation into today’s incident to find out from Carillion exactly what happened and the reasons behind the initial complaint.
“Once we have the full facts we will take the necessary action to make sure our worksites remain safe for all concerned.”
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesperson said: “Police were called to an incident in Leith Walk at around 11am on Monday morning.
“No complaints were made and, at present, no further action will be taken.”
By Alexander Lawrie