Royal High School hotel plans ‘to be rejected’

The plans have been controversial

The plans have been controversial

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CONTROVERSIAL proposals to transform the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel have been dealt a serious blow after planning officials urged councillors to reject the scheme.

The £75 million bid, set to go before the planning committee next week, would see dramatic “Inca-style” terraces built on either side of the A-listed Calton Hill site.

Put simply, too much building is being proposed for this highly sensitive site.

Royal High School report

But conservation bodies have lined up to criticise the project, which they argue would harm the character of the historic structure and damage the city’s World Heritage status.

Now council officials have condemned the plans as “detrimental” to the Capital – and insisted the development “would cause permanent and irreversible damage” if it went ahead.

COMMENT: Councillors must take a broader view

In a damning 136-page report to councillors, they said: “The adverse impacts on the character and setting of listed buildings, the New Town Conservation Area, the landscape of Calton Hill and the outstanding universal 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.”

If it gets the green light, the finished hotel will be run by luxury chain Rosewood, which also operates the Carlyle Hotel in New York and the Hôtel de Crillion in Paris. Offering 147 rooms and a variety of public spaces, it would open to the public in March 2018.

Last month, developers told the Evening News that their vision for the site would see upmarket eateries, bars, lounges and reception areas in the main building – with early plans for a year-round concert venue at its heart.

Council planners admitted “it is clear that a hotel of the very highest quality is proposed”, and that the scheme could bring “significant benefits to the city’s economy and tourism”.

And they said the design of the site – drawn up by architect Gareth Hoskins – represented “a sophisticated response to the site’s sensitive context”.

But they added: “The benefits to the city’s economy and to tourism through bringing an at-risk building back into a sustainable long-term use are not outweighed by the very significant harm to built heritage and landscape of the city.”

They also blasted plans to demolish two listed buildings within the site – the gymnasium and the lodge.

Their report, which was published last night, comes after a survey carried out by the developer found more than 90 per cent of Edinburgh residents back the luxury hotel scheme.

Duddingston House Properties declined to comment on the planners’ verdict until its team has studied it in detail.

Designed by Thomas Hamilton in 1826, the neoclassical Royal High School – often viewed as one of the most important buildings of its type in the world – has lain neglected for almost 50 years after the former boys’ school moved to Barnton.

Fully-funded alternative proposals to turn it into a new home for St Mary’s Music School are being submitted to the council this week.

Councillors previously ignored the advice of officials to push through plans for a striking “ribbon” hotel at the centre of the nearby £850m Edinburgh St James development.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com