Luxury hotel planned for Old Royal High School

The Old Royal High School, Regent Road. Pic: Toby Williams
The Old Royal High School, Regent Road. Pic: Toby Williams
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a World-class hotel capable of attracting a new breed of super-rich tourists to Edinburgh would be built on Calton Hill under plans unveiled today.

Three of the world’s leading luxury hotel chains, none of which currently operate in Scotland, have been shortlisted to run the venture which would offer accommodation on a par with Claridges and The Connaught in London or The Ritz in Paris.

The hotel will boast stunning views from Calton Hill. Picture: comp

The hotel will boast stunning views from Calton Hill. Picture: comp

The project would save the crumbling old Royal High School, once considered as a possible location for the Scottish Parliament, and deliver a £27 million annual boost to the Capital’s economy.

Duddingston House Properties (DHP) hopes to draw clientele from among the wealthiest international travellers by creating a hotel boasting stunning views sweeping across Arthur’s Seat, the Edinburgh skyline and East Lothian. The ambition to catapult the derelict building - which has lain largely unused since the former boys school moved to Barnton in 1968 - into the premier league of European hotels means that Edinburgh stands to gain a new level of luxury, demanding prices never before seen in the Scottish tourist market.

Similar historic five-star hotels in European capitals operated by major international brands, such as the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, charge nightly rates north of £800 for a standard room and more than £2700 for the best suites.

It is estimated that the hotel, which would open the grand building to the public on a regular basis for the first time in its 190-year history, would create 640 jobs and generate £32 million a year for the Scottish economy, including £27 million annually in Edinburgh.

£55m of private funding has been secured from private investors to ensure the project can go-ahead without public funding.

The A-listed building will remain publicly-owned with the city council having handed the developers a 125-year conditional lease following a competition in 2010. The hotel will be designed by the award-winning architect behind the renovation of the National Museum of Scotland, Gareth Hoskins, with the project being driven forward under the leadership of DHP chief executive Bruce Hare and hotelier David Orr of the Urbanist Group, the firm that helped bring Harvey Nichols to Edinburgh.

Mr Orr said he believed the hotel would have a similar impact on the economy of the city, cementing Edinburgh as a destination for “international diplomatic events” and global conferences.

He said: “What we are proposing to do is to add something truly special to the Edinburgh hotel market by bringing one of the best hotel operators in the world. This will not in any way diminish current hotel provision – indeed it will add another tier at the top, which can only benefit all of the city’s operators.

“By increasing the breadth of hotel offering, Scotland’s capital will be in a position to attract new visitors from the top end of the market as well as improve its ability to compete with other European cities for international diplomatic events and important global conferences.

“But importantly, one of Edinburgh’s architectural jewels in the crown will be sensitively restored and the public will have access to Hamilton’s superb building for the first time.”

Edinburgh-based tourism consultant Kenneth Wardrop said the plans would fill a gap at the very height of the city’s hotel market, which currently fails to provide for the most exacting international guests.

Mr Wardrop said: “The city doesn’t have the high-end hotels that it should have for the kind of destination that it is, therefore it’s missing out on key markets and key distribution channels because it doesn’t have those hotels.

“It gets you into a market that is under-served in the city.

“With new international air routes like American Airlines, Etihad and Qatar Airways, they have links into these kinds of hotel chains like Movenpick, Intercontinental and Four Seasons that their passengers 
expect to find at the destinations they fly to.”

An application for outline planning consent is due to be submitted next month, with a three-day public exhibition at the old Royal High School in February that will set out further details of the plans.

Wider proposals for improvements to Calton Hill and the surrounding streets are expected to be included in the final plans.

The plans have been backed by Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar, who said the hotel would help the Capital “market itself around the globe”.

He said: “Edinburgh’s success in world tourism requires that it keeps ahead of its competition and responds to the needs and demands of the tourist market.

“A world-class hotel will enable Edinburgh to market itself around the globe as a great place to live, work and study as well as attract further inward investment opportunities.

“This will also help sell Edinburgh to the airlines at a time when we are competing with many other European Airports to attract their investment into the Capital, both as a market and a destination.”

A spokesman for the council said: “The old Royal High School building has not had a continuous use since the school moved 46 years ago.

“We look forward to the pre-application process in January for this important project by the developers who won the council’s competition.

“Edinburgh is demonstrating its ability to attract significant inward investment across a series of important projects which are crucial to the positioning of the city in Europe and to the creation of new job opportunities.”

‘ONE OF THE FINEST BUILDINGS IN THE KINGDOM’

1826: Construction begins on the Royal High School, with a £500 donation from King George IV towards £35,000 building costs.

1829: The school, designed in a neo-classical Doric style by Thomas Hamilton, opens as a school for boys.

1866: Named by architect Alexander Thomson as one of the “finest buildings in the kingdom” for its Greek revival style.

1968: Royal High School relocates to new premises in Barnton.

1979: School’s former Great Hall converted into debating chamber for a new Scottish Parliament, but referendum fails to back its creation.

1994: Edinburgh Council reacquires the building and grounds from the Scottish Office for £1.75m.

2004: Heritage Lottery Fund and council support plan to create a Scottish National Photography Centre at a cost of £20m.

2010: Plan for ‘arts hotel’, costing £35m. Duddingston House Properties wins right to develop.

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnews.com