BUSINESS leaders have welcomed news that Edinburgh is to be free of tram works by the end of next month for the first time in six years.

Edinburgh City Council also said passengers would be travelling on trams by next May at the latest, two months earlier than the previous scheduled completion date.

The trams are scheduled to be running by May but city transport convener Lesley Hinds said yesterday she was "keen for it to be finished even earlier if possible".

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Tram testing between the airport and Edinburgh Park will begin early next month and test trams will be running along the entire route by early December.

The project has been hit by problems, including a long-running dispute between the council and its contractor. Work restarted last year on a more expensive but much shorter line.

It was originally intended trams would run from Edinburgh Airport to Newhaven in the north for £545 million. However, they will now stop in York Place and cost £776m.

John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, which promotes a wide range of firms, said: "We welcome the good news that the city centre will be clear of tram disruption ahead of the busy festive period and launch of Edinburgh's Winter Festival celebrations in November.

"The trams will open up a lot of exciting benefits to Edinburgh in 2014, not only easing visitor journeys from the airport but for commuters and businesses operating at Edinburgh Park. The Park has already seen a dramatic increase in office space taken this year from high profile organi­sations, such as Sainsbury's Bank, ahead of the tram completion."

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said the trams would benefit all travellers by helping cut connecting journey times.

He said: "This is fantastic news. Trams will offer those arriving in Edinburgh an efficient, consistent and modern way to access the capital.

"Not only that, but when the links with our national rail network at Haymarket, Edinburgh Park and Gogar are complete, it will provide real integration and slash journey times across Scotland.

Ms Hinds said: "I have asked that all of these time frames are reassessed at the beginning of next year so any further gains in progress can be factored into our plans.

"Our target for launch is now May 2014, but we will bring this forward if we can and will announce a start date for the tram service when we are 100% sure.

"There is a major testing, commissioning and driver training programme to be done, work to be done on tram stops and a Scottish winter to get through."

Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown said the announcement "puts an end to the misleading speculation over recent weeks about when the trams would be finished and provides much-needed clarity to businesses to plan ahead with confidence".

He also said: "This is good news for people and business in Edinburgh and we are all looking forward to a city centre free of road works and major disruption ahead of the busy Christmas period."

About 150 tram journeys will be checked every day during the testing phase.