CONSTRUCTION work for a £207 million extension to Edinburgh’s tram line will kick off next month as around 200 historic human remains are expected to be exhumed.  

Diggers will move into Leith on November 18 as part of the first phase of the new route down Leith Walk and along to Newhaven, passing through some of the most archaeologically rich sites in the city.

Officials expect all construction work to finish in summer 2022, with passenger services timetabled to begin in spring 2023.

The long-running public inquiry into Edinburgh's previous tram project, which opened three years late, substantially reduced in scope and significantly over budget, is yet to report back.

Edinburgh’s transport convener Lesley Macinnes said the first wave of work will take place on Constitution Street in Leith, from the Foot of the Walk to Constitution Place.

She said: “Given Leith is one of Scotland’s richest sites for urban archaeology, particularly Constitution Street, it’s key that we allow ample time for this aspect of work to get under way.”

Officials say they expect to exhume bones from as far back as the 14th century.

The remains form part of an old burial ground linked to nearby South Leith Parish Church, which boasts a history taking in the “Rough Wooing” of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Siege of Leith in 1560.

Project director Rob Leech said work will advance in close consultation with the city archaeologist, John Lawson.

He said: “The programme between Foot of the Walk and Coatfield Lane is the section where the bodies are, which is adjacent to the parish church there.

“There’s quite a long period of time that we’re in that area, and that’s partly because of the fact that we will be exhuming bodies.

“We anticipate there being round about 200 bodies to exhume. We obviously don’t know exactly how many, but that’s what we’re currently planning for.

“So all those works have been planned very, very closely with the city archaeologist, and the city archaeologist will obviously be very much a part of that archaeological dig, which is essentially what it is.

“We’ve always planned from day open to exhume those bodies, and we’ve always allowed time in the programme to allow that to happen.”

Mr Leech, who is credited with turning Edinburgh’s tram project around during its previous troubles, said a number of areas of archaeological interest had been identified.

Mr Lawson said it had the potential to be the "largest excavation through the historic town and port of Leith"

Traffic management measures will be in place on Constitution Street from November 15, before excavation and utilities work starts on the 18th.

A logistics hub to support businesses and residents will be set up on Mitchell Street to allow them to receive and despatch deliveries.

Meanwhile, full details of a £2.4m support package for businesses in Leith will be unveiled early next year.

Enabling works are also scheduled to get under way on Leith Walk on November 18 to prepare the access lane for traffic ahead of the main construction work, which begins in spring 2020.

This will involve the removal of parking and loading bays on the street on the city-bound side of the road.

During these works, traffic will continue to flow in both directions. Bus stops will be shifted slightly, but timetables will remain as they are.

Leith Walk will be reduced to one lane when construction work begins, with city leaders hoping their support package will assuage the fears of businesses facing prolonged disruption. 

Ms Macinnes said: “Throughout this whole process, we’ve taken a robust, prudent, open and transparent approach, keeping residents and businesses fully informed at every stage and incorporating their feedback directly into the plans so that they are truly community-based.

“The project’s independent adviser praised our plans as the most closely scrutinised he had ever come across in decades of work in the light rail industry, while community council leaders welcomed our work to involve and engage with communities along the route.”

Edinburgh Council's deputy leader Cammy Day said city bosses would strive to keep disruption to minimum.

He added: “Taking trams to Newhaven is going to be transformative for Leith, north Edinburgh and the whole of our fast-growing city, opening up new economic, social, housing and development opportunities and connecting thousands more people sustainably to major centres of employment, without putting pressure on existing council budgets.”

Concerns were previously raised when it emerged the cost of the new, 2.8 mile extension has risen by 25 per cent to £207m.