Public backing for music school plan for old Royal High

The Perfect Harmony campaign supports plans for a music school in the Old Royal High School. Pic: Neil Hanna
The Perfect Harmony campaign supports plans for a music school in the Old Royal High School. Pic: Neil Hanna
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Public opinion has swung behind a bid to turn the old Royal High into a new music school and concert venue, according to a new poll.

Eighty per cent of residents back the idea, with just 10 per cent of people in the city in favour of a rival project, which would see it turned into a luxury hotel, an Ipsos Mori poll has found.

It was commissioned by the Royal High School Preservation Trust – set up two years ago to pursue alternative plans, even though the hotel developers have a lease agreement with the city council.

Planners rejected plans for the hotel and then backed the relocation of St Mary’s Music School from the west end of the city to the Calton Hill site. The council is now set to consider new hotel proposals.

A previous poll released by the developers working with the Rosewood hotel chain found that 88 per cent of people were in favour of the Old Royal High becoming an “international hotel”.

However, respondents were not asked about the music school scheme, which has been backed by heritage groups and musicians including percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Almost half of those surveyed by Ipsos Mori earlier this year criticised the “unattractive design” of the proposed hotel – which would see multi-storey extensions built on either side of the historic building for the hotel’s five-star accommodation.

More than two-thirds said the main benefit of allowing the music school to use the 1829 landmark would be the nurturing Scottish talent, with 41 per cent saying it would be in keeping with its original use.

Tourism benefits were cited by nearly half of respondents as the most important gain with Scotland’s first Rosewood hotel.

More than a quarter of people were most impressed by the 250 jobs that would be created and the £35 million economic boost it is expected to bring.

However, 42 per of the 500 people polled between April and June this year said the city did not need another major hotel.
The findings were released ahead a rally for the music school’s “Perfect Harmony” at Canongate Kirk on Thursday.

Trust chair William Gray Muir said: “We thought it was important to take an objective reading of public opinion.

“We asked Ipsos Mori to present our plans and those for the hotel with both sets of designs as part of face-to-face home-based interviews.

“The vast majority of the people of Edinburgh do not want another hotel at this site and there is little enthusiasm for the perceived benefits.

“Instead they see the exciting opportunities a national music school within the prestigious and historic surroundings of one of our most important buildings would bring in terms of nurturing young talent.”

David Orr, co-founder of Urbanist Hotels, one of the firms behind the hotel scheme, said: “We remain 100 per cent committed to our revised proposals which maintain the historic centrepiece of the original Thomas Hamilton building as the heart of the new Rosewood Hotel, making it publicly accessible for the first time since 1829.

“Our design will conserve the original building and vision, restoring and regenerating this national treasure.”