Decision date set for Royal High School development

An artist's impression of the hotel plan
An artist's impression of the hotel plan
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DECISION day on the future of one of Edinburgh’s most iconic buildings has been fixed for December 17.

Councillors will determine the fate of the old Royal High School on Calton Hill at a special meeting at the City Chambers the week before Christmas.

Developers have drawn up controversial plans to turn the 19th century neoclassical pile – once earmarked to become the home of the Scottish 
Parliament – into a top-class hotel.

But the £75 million proposals include adding two “wings” – six-storey extensions – either side of the landmark, which have provoked fierce 
criticism.

Opponents claim if the hotel goes ahead, it could put the Capital’s Unesco World Heritage Site status at risk.

One council source described the application as the most controversial planning decision for decades.

It comes after rows over a series of major developments in the city, including the Caltongate scheme for hotels, shops and offices given the go-ahead in the Old Town, the demolition and redevelopment of the St James Centre and the dozens of new homes approved at the historic Craighouse campus.

The special December 17 meeting of the 15-strong development management sub-committee to decide on the Royal High proposal is to be held in the main council chamber, starting at 10am, suggesting a large number of people are expected to attend and it could last several hours.

Community groups, conservation campaigners and even representatives of Unesco are tipped to be there.

The committee’s meeting to approve the Craighouse application last year stretched to nearly eight hours.

One insider said: “If you thought Craighouse was controversial, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Edinburgh-based developer Duddingston House Properties (DHP) won a contest in 2010 to lease the old Royal High School from the city council. The plan at that stage was for a smaller-scale “arts hotel”. But that idea was shelved and last December DHP and partners Urbanist Group unveiled the current proposals.

American operator Rosewood has been lined up to run the new hotel, which the company hopes to open by 2018.

More than 2000 objections have been lodged with the city council over the scheme.

Historic Scotland has claimed the two proposed wings would “dominate and overwhelm” the building,

And Edinburgh World Heritage said the plans would ruin “an outstanding piece of neo-classical architecture”,

But the developers say a survey they commissioned of 400 Edinburgh residents found more than 80 per cent in favour of the hotel plans.

The 1829 Royal High building, designed by architect Thomas Hamilton, was last used as a school in 1968.

It was chosen to house the proposed Scottish Assembly, due to be set up after the first devolution referendum in 1979, but it never came about.

It was bought by the city council to preserve it as the home for a future parliament.

But when the then Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar inspected it ahead of the 1997 devolution referendum, he concluded it was not suitable for a modern parliament.

An alternative to the hotel plan was unveiled earlier this year – using the building to house Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Music School.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com