Royal High vote ‘will come down to the wire’

The old Royal High School site. Picture: Scott Taylor

The old Royal High School site. Picture: Scott Taylor

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TODAY’S decision on the future of the former Royal High School will “come down to the wire” and could be swayed by a single vote, according to council sources.

Councillors who sit on the city’s planning committee are due to meet to decide whether to approve a £75 million bid to turn the A-listed neoclassical landmark into a luxury hotel featuring dramatic “Inca-style” terrace extensions.

Planning officials have already recommended the proposal be rejected, claiming it would “diminish significantly the building’s status as an internationally acclaimed exemplar of Greek Revival architecture”.

But developers at Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties (DHP) say the scheme could create more than 600 jobs and inject £27m into the economy every year.

Fully-funded alternative proposals to turn the site into a new home for St Mary’s Music School have also been submitted.

The Evening News has been told today’s vote on the hotel plan is likely to be “on a knife-edge”.

A council source said: “From speaking to members of the committee, I think tomorrow’s vote will be extremely tight.

“I understand a number of members of the committee will be backing the proposal.

“I think it’s going to be very much a split decision. There may only be one vote in it. It’s going to be close to the wire.

“Each of the party groups within the committee are likely to vote along different lines because there does not seem to be a consensus [on this] within each group.”

Highlighting economy leader Councillor Frank Ross’ support for the proposal, the source added: “Cllr Ross will have a lot of sway with other members and I certainly know he is in favour.

“It’s a proposal that will allow the council to bring in revenue for the city. [Cllr Ross] is a pragmatic man.”

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 in March 2018.

Council figures have said it is imperative that a long-term use is found for the building, which has lain neglected for decades.

Cllr Dominic Heslop, a member of the planning committee, said: “I will be asking a lot of searching questions of those who are opposed to the development and I will be interested to see how many of them have been round the building’s existing interior.”

Cllr Ross admitted he was a supporter of the project but denied trying to influence fellow SNP members on the planning committee.

He said: “I certainly am a backer in terms of my position as convener of economy.

“It’s a major investment for the city, not just in terms of money but also job creation. The SNP members on the committee are all independently-minded.

“I have not directly influenced anyone on the committee, other than to make my support for the development known generally throughout the council.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com