Heritage chiefs slam Royal High hotel plans

Artist's impressions of the former Royal High School site.
Artist's impressions of the former Royal High School site.
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SCOTLAND’s national heritage body has warned controversial plans to transform the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel would have a “significantly damaging” impact on the landmark building, in an escalation of previous 
criticism.

In a damning 18-page document objecting to the proposals, Historic Scotland lashed out at new-build extensions planned for either side of the Calton Hill structure, arguing they would “diminish significantly the building’s status as an internationally-acclaimed exemplar of Greek Revival architecture”.

And they insisted the 
£75 million scheme would have a “significant adverse impact” on a “key building” within the city’s World Heritage Site – giving weight to fears the city’s coveted status could be at risk.

The move follows previous criticism from the agency that the massive new wings would “dominate and overwhelm” the 200-year-old structure, and will come as a fresh blow to developers Duddingston House Properties.

They spent five years drawing up plans to turn the A-listed former school into a five-star hotel featuring dramatic “Inca-style” grass-roofed terraces, but leaving the central building largely intact. But conservation groups warn the designs, combined with the new “walnut whip” hotel planned for the nearby St James Quarter, could threaten the Capital’s World Heritage status.

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “If something as important as the Royal High School is damaged, against all the local authorities own policies to protect it, we should be very, very worried.”

Historic Scotland’s full objection, which was lodged yesterday, also slammed the effect of the development on the landscape of Calton Hill and on nearby A-listed buildings such as St Andrew’s House.

And it insisted it was impossible to deliver a hotel of this scale on the site, adding: “We are convinced that this over-development of the site is significantly harmful to the character and special interest of the listed building and its wider setting, and do not believe that this scheme represents the only option for the future of the Royal High School.”

Campaigners hope Scottish Government ministers will now “call in” the hotel proposals and order a public inquiry if the development gets the go-ahead.

Historic Scotland’s detailed intervention will also give hope to supporters of alternative proposals to turn the building into a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

Last week the Royal High Preservation Trust announced a formal legal £1.5m bid to buy the site for the music school, but the council cannot consider rival offers until a decision is made on the hotel plans in December.

Duddingston House Properties currently has a 100-year “conditional” council lease on the site, dependent on being granted planning permission. If ushered through, work on the luxury hotel is set to begin next January, with an opening date of March 2018. Duddingston House Properties could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk