Royal High: music school rejects ‘no clout’ claim

An artist's impression of the St Mary's Music School plans for the old Royal High site. Picture: comp
An artist's impression of the St Mary's Music School plans for the old Royal High site. Picture: comp
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BOSSES behind alternative proposals to transform the old Royal High School into a new home for Scotland’s only independent music school have hit back at claims their bid has “no clout”.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) submitted a fully-funded planning application to turn the A-listed Calton Hill site into a base for St Mary’s Music School last week – and insist they would be ready to take it over “within months”.

But their proposal is in direct opposition to an alternative plan to convert the neoclassical structure into a £75 million luxury hotel, to be operated by five-star chain Rosewood, which will go before councillors later this week.

In an article published in the Evening News earlier this month, Rosewood issued the legal opinion of John Campbell QC, who has previously represented Donald Trump in his wind farm battles with the Scottish Government.

Mr Campbell argued the contracts between hotel developer Duddingston House Properties (DHP) and the council “are firm and binding long-term”, and “simply don’t allow others to ‘step in’” if the current application is knocked back.

He accused the music school scheme of “deliberate misdescription”, and added: “If the [hotel] applications are refused, the legal agreement allows for submission of an appeal. If unsuccessful, the council would need to restart the procurement exercise from the very beginning.”

But William Gray Muir, chairman of the RHSPT, insisted Mr Campbell’s claims are wrong.

And now the council has confirmed to the Evening News that the procurement process would not need to be restarted – with the authority left to consider its options if the hotel’s planning permission is refused.

The council, which owns the neoclassical building, granted DHP a 125-year conditional ground lease after the developer won an open competition five years ago.

Mr Muir said: “Another long procurement process is not inevitable because the process is not governed by EU rules as [Mr Campbell] implies.

“The Public Contracts Scotland website makes clear that the competitive tendering process for the High School was not part of an EU procurement process. Specifically, it notes that this contract is ‘not subject to the EU Procurement Regime notwithstanding it was advertised’. A disposal is not ‘procurement’.

“If the hotel scheme fails to get consent the council would be at liberty to dispose of the building as it sees fit, in line with its normal policies. This typically takes a matter of months. So no lengthy delay.

“I believe that this gives us ‘clout’ and if the hotel application were refused, the Trust is eager to enter any new competitive process to acquire this crucial public building for a truly suitable public purpose.”

Designed by Thomas Hamilton in the early 19th century, the A-listed Royal High School has lain neglected for almost 50 years after the former boys’ school moved to Barnton.

It is seen as one of Edinburgh’s most important buildings and considered a key part of the city’s World Heritage site.

Plans to turn it into a luxury hotel – which would see two huge “Inca-style” terraces constructed on either side of the structure – will go before councillors on Thursday.

City leaders cannot consider alternative plans until the hotel scheme has been voted on.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com