‘Highly negative impact’ of Royal High revamp warning

An artist's impression of the hotel plans for the old Royal High School. Picture: comp
An artist's impression of the hotel plans for the old Royal High School. Picture: comp
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A LEADING heritage body has warned controversial plans to transform the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel would have a “highly negative impact” on the city’s World Heritage Site status.

The UK committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), which advises Unesco, slammed the scheme and insisted it would “seriously threaten the fusion of buildings and landscape that make up Calton Hill”.

The comments come after Historic Scotland lodged a damning 18-page objection to the proposals last week, arguing they would “diminish significantly the building’s status as an internationally-acclaimed exemplar of Greek Revival architecture”.

And last month Icomos-UK sent a strongly-worded letter to the Scottish Government stating the “ribbon” hotel at the centre of the nearby £850 million St James development would also have “a highly negative impact” on the city’s heritage standing.

The moves will spark worry among those who fear the Capital’s coveted World Heritage Site could be at risk.

In a matter of weeks a small team of specialists from Icomos-UK is set to carry out an “informal fact-finding mission” in Edinburgh to assess the impact of recent planning decisions.

Icomos’ experts have the power to refer any criticisms to the body’s international committee, which could then prompt Unesco to launch its own investigation – and eventually strip the city of its heritage status.

Icomos-UK’s objection to the Royal High School plans, which were lodged yesterday, insists the building and its surroundings are a crucial part of Edinburgh’s heritage.

It reads: “In Icomos-UK’s view, the current proposals would seriously threaten the fusion of buildings and landscape that make up Calton Hill and, in turn, impact highly adversely on one of the key spacial attributes of OUV [Outstanding Universal Value].”

It further urged the planning committee to “demand a use for the building that supports its significance”.

Duddingston House Properties spent five years drawing up plans to turn the A-listed former school into a five-star hotel. But campaigners hope recent interventions mean ministers will now “call in” the hotel proposals and order a public inquiry if the development gets the go-ahead.

A fully-funded alternative proposal could see the building turned into a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com