Scottish Government rules out involvement in Royal High plan

The old Royal High School building.

The old Royal High School building.

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HOTEL developers have failed in their bid to get the Scottish Government to override the city council and rule on their fresh plans to transform the Old Royal High School.

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

In February, they asked 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. But now the Scottish Government has ruled that there is “no reason” for ministers to become involved in the revised hotel application.

Heritage groups and those involved in the St Mary’s scheme hailed the decision.

In a letter to representatives of the Duddingston House Partnership and Urbanist Hotel Group (DHP/UH), the Scottish Government wrote: “As you are aware, the general principle under which the planning system operates is that decisions should be taken at the most local administrative level unless there are compelling reasons.

“This is consistent with the government’s general policy of leaving local issues to be decided by local authorities.

“Ministers are satisfied that the current applications are for the City of Edinburgh Council, as planning authority, to deal with and there is no reason for ministers to become involved at this time.”

Duddingston House Properties Ltd and Urbanist Hotels Ltd used 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.

Speaking on behalf of the developers, David Orr, co-founder of Urbanist Hotels said: “We fully respect the significance of bringing forward our vision for the future of Hamilton’s Old Royal High School building on both a local and national level. We will continue to engage with the City of Edinburgh Council in making our proposals a reality.

“Our revised proposals will restore conserve and enhance the setting of Thomas Hamilton’s original building and vision. We believe the restoration of this national treasure with a new use as a world-class hotel will benefit the citizens of Edinburgh and beyond. We have worked hard to create a proposal which reflects the building’s iconic status and respects its location, combining the highest standards of design and whilst restoring and protecting for generations the unique features throughout the building.”

Willie Gray Muir, from Royal High School Preservation Trust, which is behind the music school proposal, said: “It would only seem appropriate that it is Edinburgh council representing the people of Edinburgh who make the ultimate decision about its fate.

“We trust that the city’s representatives will take the views of the many thousands of objectors into account when making what will be a momentous decision. The choice the council makes will clearly indicate whether we care about our past or just want to make a quick buck out of it.”

Developers had told the Scottish Government that future use of the A-listed building on Calton Hill was of “national importance” and that the planning application should bypass the city council.

But Nicholas Hotham of Edinburgh World Heritage said: “This is not only good news but also a reinforcement of democracy.”

fiona.pringle@jpress.co.uk