Royal High School plans will ‘destroy’ building

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ONE of Scotland’s leading filmmakers has warned that plans to turn an A-listed landmark in Edinburgh’s world heritage site into a five-star hotel will “completely destroy” how it looks.

Murray Grigor, a former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Sir Sean Connery’s biographer, says designs showing how the former Royal High School on Calton Hill will be transformed look like “something out of Las Vegas.”

The Old Royal High School. Picture: Neil Hanna

The Old Royal High School. Picture: Neil Hanna

Mr Grigor made the acclaimed “Sean Connery’s Edinburgh” film with the Bond star and has also directed documentaries on celebrated Scottish architects like Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander “Greek” Thomson.

Appearing in a new short film made at the site of the proposed hotel, Mr Grigor bemoaned the plans, which he said would be “an extraordinary misappropriation of a sublime building,” and also attacked the city council, the owner of the landmark, for allowing it to fall into decline in recent years.

Mr Grigor said the former Royal High School was as important to 18th and 19th Edinburgh as Stirling Castle was to the city in the 15th and 16th centuries, and argued for it to be converted for educational or cultural purposes instead.

Controversial plans by Duddingston House Properties, which agreed a 125-year lease with the council in 2010, and the Urbanist Group, which worked on the city’s Harvey Nichols department store, involve building two large extensions on either side of the building, which dates back to 1829. The £55 million scheme is said to have attracted interest from “three of the world’s top hotel operators”.

The main debating chamber. Picture: Neil Hanna

The main debating chamber. Picture: Neil Hanna

The building has been lying largely empty since 1968 when the school relocated elsewhere in the city. Heritage campaigners say they would rather it was “mothballed” than see it turned into a hotel if alternative uses cannot be found.

Mr Grigor, whose film has been posted on YouTube, said: “The Royal High School really marks the climax of what we call the Edinburgh or Scottish Enlightenment.

“It is a building of absolute consummate beauty. It’s considered to be the greatest neo-classical building in Britain and is the cornerstone of Calton Hill. It is an absolutely vital building.

“It’s very sad situation that the ‘City of Enlightenment’ has allowed this building to deteriorate so much. But the final blow to it would be to make it into a hotel. It would be an extraordinary misappropriation of a sublime building.

An artist's impressions of how the proposed hotel development  may look

An artist's impressions of how the proposed hotel development may look

“To have blocks on either side of it would completely destroy the curtilage and the whole symmetry of the building as it sits on the hill. The plans that they’ve shown have no connection with the Enlightenment. They are like something out of Las Vegas.

“To put this wonderful building back to the way it was would cost around £12 million. That’s not a great deal of money nowadays. It could be a school, a museum, an art gallery, an exhibition of the Enlightenment or even a music academy. It could be a destination monument in its own right. We don’t need to spend all this money to ruin it.”

David Orr, co-founder of the Urbanist Group, said: “We welcome comments and suggestions from all sections of the community.

“Even though the two public consultation events at the school have finished we are still keen for people to contribute their ideas and views. We will respond to these opinions as we continue to refine the designs as part of the planning process.

“However, our vision for this hotel could not be further from ‘Las Vegas’ as Mr Grigor suggests. From the moment anyone walks into this hotel, everything they see, touch, hear, smell and taste will reflect a very Scottish ‘sense of place’.

“Visitors and local people alike will be able to enjoy the very best of what Scotland has to offer and this includes the very best of our arts and culture.

“We’ve made it clear to the hotel operators that showcasing Scotland’s fantastically talented artists, musicians and designers is fundamental to what this hotel is all about.

“Furthermore, developing hotels with strong cultural connections is something the hotel operators we are in discussions with understand. They can demonstrate a strong track record in restoring and operating historic buildings in cities which have world heritage site status.”

READ MORE: Fears grow over future of old Royal High School

READ MORE: Brian Ferguson: Battle brewing over Royal High School

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