Music plan for Old Royal High hits right note

String practise at St Mary's Musich School. Picture: Neil Hanna
String practise at St Mary's Musich School. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Edinburgh’s oldest independent music school would move into the historic Old Royal High School under plans put forward by campaigners fighting its conversion into a luxury hotel. St. Mary’s Music School has emerged as the favourite candidate of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, a new charity formed to resist proposals for a six star hotel on the site.

The idea would offer an alternative to developer Duddingston House Properties’ vision to turn the empty building into the most luxurious hotel in Scotland.

Duddingston House want to add two modern wings to the main body of the A-listed Neoclassical building, which critics say is equivalent to “putting Mickey Mouse ears on the Mona Lisa.”

The school was founded in 1880 and trains the choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in the city. Last night’s proposal for St. Mary’s to take up residence at the site was described as an “unexpected but welcome development” for the school, with one supporter hailing the two institutions as “a perfect fit”.

One inside source said: “What is being proposed is a school within a school. What could be more appropriate?”

“It works extremely well and uses the listed building 
brilliantly.

“There is a small concert hall in the centre, there are practice rooms in the two big anterooms, there are classrooms.”

A spokeswoman for St. Mary’s confirmed that the school had been actively seeking a building with space for teaching and performance.

She said: “The board is actively considering whether this should be an extension of our existing premises or a move to another building in Edinburgh.”

“The possibility that the school could move to the former Royal High School building is an unexpected development but a welcome one.”

Edinburgh council - which owns the building which has been without a settled use for decades - has already granted developers a 125 year lease on the property, but it is conditional on their proposal gaining planning approval.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust was created after a rowdy public meeting in February of this year, when 300 residents gathered at a hearing to criticise the hotel plans.

A source from the trust said: “The aim first and foremost is to protect and preserve the building. If the music school wasn’t in the frame, the trust would be looking for another sustainable use.”

Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, said: “There are two viable options on the table and that gives Edinburgh city council a challenge.

“After many decades it seems likely that this hugely important building will be brought back to life, reinvigorating a part of the city centre which has been too long neglected.”