Leader: Who decides what’s appropriate for RHS?

Artists' impression of the proposed plans for the Royal High School. Picture: Contributed

Artists' impression of the proposed plans for the Royal High School. Picture: Contributed

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the ongoing battle between developers and the Capital’s heritage lobby often feels as old as some of the city’s historic buildings themselves.

Questions about what should be built and where always stir tremendous passion in Edinburgh – and that is undoubtedbly a good thing.

Our amazing built heritage is one of the things that makes this city so special and it is worth fighting every inch to protect it from inappropriate modern development.

But what is and isn’t appropriate in a historical city centre like ours? And, just as importantly, who decides that?

The scrutiny of the city’s planning decisions by the little-known but influential International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) should be welcomed.

No-one has the monopoly on wisdom and the views of international experts who advise Unesco, the overseers of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site status, should be nothing if not thought-provoking.

There is a suggestion that concerns about recent planning decisions may be so great that the very future of Edinburgh’s status as a World Heritage Site could be at stake. That is surely melodramatic.

But a critical report by Icomos which echoed some or all of the concerns raised by local campaigners would heap pressure on the councillors making contentious planning decisions in the future.

Our current planning committee has proved itself independently-minded in the face of concerted opposition in the past, but this would take the spotlight on them to another level. It would undoubtedly be harder to take controversial decisions like those on the St James Quarter in those circumstances.

Few would envy those councillors their job as they prepare to rule on projects like the proposed redevelopment of the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel.

Unlike conservation groups, they cannot afford to look at such projects through a single lens. Their task is to weigh up the competing, and extremely important, demands of protecting our heritage and ensuring Edinburgh continues to thrive as a living, working city. That is not easy, and informed debate can only help in the process.

One complaint regularly heard in recent weeks is that the voice of the “man on the street” is drowned out by all the sound and fury.

That is why the final decision on such developments should rest with our locally elected representatives. They can listen to all sides – without being cowed by any – and reach a conclusion for the overall good of the Capital.

And if we don’t like how they do their job we can kick them out in a little over 18 months’ time.