DEVELOPERS behind controversial plans to turn the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel have vowed to “preserve and celebrate” the city’s heritage standing.
Their comments come after a scathing 136-page report by council officials argued the £75 million project would cause “permanent and irreversible damage” if it went ahead.
Bosses said their proposal was the “only viable option” for the site – and insisted councillors could look to their record in other sensitive World Heritage sites for reassurance.
If it gets the go-ahead next week, the ambitious project would see dramatic “Inca-style” terraces built on either side of the A-listed Calton Hill structure, with the main building left largely intact.
Boasting a range of public spaces including upmarket restaurants, bars and lounges, the completed 147-room hotel would be operated by luxury chain Rosewood.
The Texas-based company already runs two other facilities within World Heritage sites – Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco and Rosewood San Miguel de Allende – as well as others within listed and historic areas.
Rosewood president Radha Arora said the chain was “well-versed in managing properties around the world that are either listed or in UNESCO World Heritage Sites”.
And Taco van Heusden, managing director of Urbanist Hotels – which is driving the project – said: “We are glad the planning department has acknowledged the many positive benefits to the city within the proposal and that the architectural design is a sophisticated response to the site’s sensitive context. We are confident the application is very much in line with the brief from the council to restore the former Royal High School building for use as a world-class hotel and to create hundreds of jobs in the Capital.
“Indeed, the planners recognise the creation of such a hotel as the only viable option. We appreciate this is a significant judgement for councillors and feel it is one they can make with the reassurance of what the hotel operator, Rosewood, has achieved internationally in equally sensitive World Heritage sites.”
Designed by Thomas Hamilton in 1826, the neoclassical old Royal High School – often considered one of the best buildings of its type anywhere in the world – has lain largely unused for almost 50 years after the former boys’ school moved to Barnton.
In a report to councillors ahead of the decisive planning meeting next week, council officials admitted the hotel would be “of the very highest quality” and would boost Edinburgh’s economy and tourism.
But they added: “The adverse impacts on the character and setting of listed buildings, the New Town Conservation Area, the landscape of Calton Hill and the outstanding value of the World Heritage site would not be mitigated by the sophisticated design of the proposed extensions.
“Put simply, too much building is being proposed for this highly sensitive site.”