Backers of a luxury hotel development earmarked for one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated public buildings have admitted a rival scheme will be an “elephant in the room” at the planning appeal which will decide its fate.
Developers pursuing the proposed £75 million transformation of the former Royal High School on Calton Hill for the Hong Kong-based Rosewood chain have accused the team behind a planned new home for a music school of attempting to “snipe from the sidelines” during the hearing.
They have vowed to “confront” claims by the Royal High School Preservation Trust, which is also proposing to create new concert hall facilities in the A-listed building.
Gordon Steele, the QC acting for developers Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group, has revealed he intends to “cross-examine” the rival team who will attempt to make the case for the building to become a new home for St Mary’s, Scotland’s only full-time specialist music school.
However, Colin Innes, the laywer acting for the charitable trust, said it wanted to demonstrate during the inquiry that there was a viable alternative for the building, which dates back to 1829, but has been lying largely empty since the late 1960s.
The hotel vision, which has been pursued for the last six years, was dealt a huge blow in December when the local authority turned down a planning application.
It later emerged that the Royal High School hotel scheme had been cited by world heritage body Unesco in a damning dossier expressing “strong concern” over the handling of major developments within Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. A key advisory body, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, said the scheme “should not be approved”.
The main evidence is not expected to be heard until late November after Mr Steele requested more time for the developers to prepare their case following the death of architect Gareth Hoskins in January.
Colin Innes, lawyer for the trust, said: “We have an alternative proposal which has been part of our objection to this application to the outset.
“Given the nature of this proposal and the likely effects . . . alternatives do come into play for consideration from a cultural and heritage policy perspective.”
However, Mr Steele told planning reporter Scott Ferrie: “What is before you is our scheme for recommendation by you and approval, hopefully, by ministers.
“Lurking in the background, like the proverbial elephant in the room, is a possible proposal by the trust.
“I will submit in due course that it is utterly irrelevant and has no foundation at all. We would much prefer to confront it head-on, ask questions and lead evidence about it, rather than have it lurking somewhere behind us.
“We’ve got nothing to hide.”