Edinburgh developers accused of ‘Trump tactics’ over Royal High

William Gray Muir with a model of the proposed Music School at the Royal High School. Picture: Ian Georgeson

William Gray Muir with a model of the proposed Music School at the Royal High School. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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DEVELOPERS bidding to turn the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel have been accused of “Trump tactics” after they asked the Scottish Government to override the council and decide on the project.

Councillors turned down proposals for a 147-bedroom hotel at the Calton Hill site in 2015, but the developers have appealed and also submitted a revised application for a scaled-down version of the hotel.

Now they want Ministers to “call in” both sets of proposals along with a rival scheme – which the council has already approved in principle – for the Royal High to become the new home for St Mary’s Music School.

Duddingston House Properties Ltd and Urbanist Hotels Ltd are using the same legal team – advocate Gordon Steele QC and planning lawyer Ann Faulds – which acted for US president Donald Trump when he succeeded in getting the plans for his controversial golf course in Aberdeenshire called in by the Scottish Government.

One critic said: “What they are doing here is the equivalent of what happened with Trump in Aberdeenshire. They got the golf course called in by the Scottish Government, which is why they got it through.”

In their letter to the government, the developers say: “Given the national importance of the RHS building and the need to secure its future, sustainable beneficial use, all three proposals should be properly scrutinised to ensure that a suitable and viable development is delivered as soon as possible.”

But the council is resisting the move.

It said: “It is a long established part of the Scottish planning system that decisions on planning applications of all sizes and importance should generally be determined at a local level by the council that is the relevant planning authority.”

The council pointed out the revised hotel application. with 20 fewer bedrooms, was only lodged with the council on February 21 and there had been no time for public consultation or proper assessment.

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said the developers were trying to avoid the normal planning process.

She said: “They want to bypass the local authority which is outrageous. They are trying to run rings round the planning system.”

William Gray Muir, of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, which is behind the music school proposal, said: “Duddingston House have now revealed their true colours. Trying to get these three applications dealt with together in one appeal is an attempt to defeat local planning democracy.

“They are seeking to overturn the council’s unanimous decision in favour of our scheme and, perhaps more alarmingly, seeking to circumvent the local scrutiny of their new scheme.

“If they were successful in their request, the public, statutory consultees and local politicians would all be prevented from having any input except through the very expensive process of representation at a public inquiry.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com