Heritage groups back hotel bid for old Royal High

The old Royal High School has lain derelict and unused for almost 50 years. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The old Royal High School has lain derelict and unused for almost 50 years. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HERITAGE groups have backed plans to transform the famous old Royal High School into a luxury hotel because almost 50 years of inaction have left it in a “perilous” condition.

The Cockburn Association insisted the 1820s landmark was in decline and said its conversion into a “six-star” resort was likely to be the “only way to restore this splendid architectural piece”.

But the group’s director, Marion Williams, stressed that “the devil is in the detail” and they would pore over the blueprints when they are lodged in January.

This week, the News revealed plans by developers Duddingston House Properties (DHP) and the Urbanist Group to renovate the abandoned 19th century boys’ school into a world-class hotel to attract the some of world’s wealthiest visitors to Edinburgh.

The firms have already raised £55 million of investment to kick-start the project.

Once complete, the investors hope the hotel will command prices never before seen in the Scottish tourist market – on a par with some of the most exclusive hotels in Europe.

Citing examples such as the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, where rates for standard rooms start at over £800 per night, developers said the hotel would brand Edinburgh as a global destination and could help attract high profile conferences to the Capital.

Ms Williams said that while an “uber-exclusive hotel” might not provide the level of access she would prefer for the public, it was an acceptable compromise to save the old Royal High School building.

She said: “We have been on site and met with [architect] Gareth Hoskins and [developer] David Orr to discuss their plans for the RHS.

“We welcome early involvement with sites as significant as this. The building and grounds are in a sorry state and we welcome the ambitious plans that will restore and enhance the main building.

“It offers such a unique view of the city, both its built and natural landscape across the Old Town to Arthur’s Seat and the Crags.”

And she added: “I am keen to see the building made accessible for everyone to enjoy and, whilst an uber-exclusive hotel doesn’t make it obviously so, it may well be the only way to restore this splendid architectural piece with the compromise of occasional access.

“The devil is in the detail and we will discuss the detailed plans as they emerge in the new year.”

Diane Watters, an architectural historian at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical who has studied the building, said: “The Royal High School has always been recognised as possibly the most important 19th century classical revival building in Scotland.

“It’s almost universally accepted as a masterpiece of a revival Greek building in the UK.

“Also, from an educational history point of view, the status of the Royal High School has always been as one of the major educational institutions of Scotland.”