THE body set up to oversee Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site has accused developers of virtually doubling the size of a controversial hotel project since they won a contest to take over one of the city’s most prestigious landmarks.
Edinburgh World Heritage has told the city council – which agreed five years ago to lease out the former Royal High School on Calton Hill – that a luxury hotel earmarked for the site bears little relation to early plans for the protected site.
The charity is warning that views of the 19th century landmark, which it describes as “an outstanding piece of neo-classical architecture”, will be ruined by the proposed hotel.
It says the 1829 building, designed by architect Thomas Hamilton, would be reduced to “an object” if it was surrounded by two planned six-storey extensions.
American operator Rosewood has been lined up to run the £75 million hotel, which the company hopes to open by 2018.
Developers behind the project claim it will create 260 jobs in a “distinctive hotel of international standing”.
But Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson says there is “no way” the luxury hotel can be created on the site without having a “major impact” on the building.
The trust, which advises on potentially sensitive developments in the early stages, has been involved in talks about the future of the Royal High School since 2008 – the year before a contest was held to find a “long-term, sustainable” use for the site.
The winning concept, announced in February 2010 and won by Edinburgh-based developer Duddingston House Properties, was for an “arts hotel”. However, this idea was shelved by the time new plans were announced last December – by Duddingston and project partner Urbanist Group – to create a “world-class hotel”.
The scheme was dealt a hammer blow last month when it emerged government agency Historic Scotland was objecting to the scheme. It has warned that two proposed wings would “dominate and overwhelm” the building, which has been lying largely empty since 1968.
Mr Wilkinson’s objection to the city council states: “From the outset we have accepted that the site can accept a degree of development in support of the restoration and reuse of the main building.
“We have given these proposals more time than any other development in the last five years, and have, from the outset, sought to give clear and consistent advice.
“It became clear the level of development proposed for the site was far greater than as originally proposed – perhaps twice as large. This is a building of exceptional and unquestionable architectural interest, carefully composed and positioned. The proposals are exceptionally insensitive to the importance of the building.”
A spokeswoman for the developers insisted the amount of floor space had only increased by 25 per cent.
She said: “The broad proposal for the original competition included accommodation in some of the former classrooms, however, as part of the refinement of the architectural design we were keen to provide public access to all areas of the main building. Therefore these rooms were moved to the new wings.”