Unesco adviser slams Royal High hotel plan

The old Royal High School. Picture: Toby Williams

The old Royal High School. Picture: Toby Williams

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RADICAL proposals to transform the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel is a “single-focused plan” to deliver profit, a world heritage adviser has warned.

Susan Denyer, an adviser to the Unesco World Heritage committee, said the £55 million plans to convert the landmark into a six-star hotel prioritised the potential economic windfall above the cultural significance of the design.

And Mrs Denyer, secretary of the International Council on Monuments and Sites UK, compared the project with Caltongate – one of Edinburgh’s most controversial recent developments that was branded “not horrendous enough to refuse” planning permission.

Heritage groups have previously insisted the Royal High School plans risk ruining a classic example of Greek revival architecture and raised concerns over plans to add extensions and windows to the main wings of the building.

Speaking at a public meeting to debate the development, Mrs Denyer urged planners to construct a “vision” for the Capital to ensure decisions complemented the city’s heritage.

And she railed against the current hotel plans by Duddingston House Properties.

She said: “Do they deliver social, cultural as well as economic benefits? And do they support and strengthen the outstanding universal value [of the city]? In my view, the answer to all of these is no.

“This is what might be called a rather single-focused plan which is being put forward which delivers economic benefit, but not the wider benefits that are needed.”

And she questioned whether it was “acceptable” to hand over “one of the most important buildings in Edinburgh” to private use before drawing comparisons with the contentious Caltongate development in the Old Town.

Mrs Denyer said: “Caltongate was judged, famously, not horrendous enough to refuse – is this the way the Royal High School should be judged?”

The meeting, called by the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, also featured speeches from architectural historian Professor Alistair Rowan.

He said any proposals for the site’s future “must respect entirely those characteristics from which its monumental character derives”.

He added: “It would be a scandal if we ignored the quality of the whole of Calton Hill.”

And David Black, chairman of Southside Association, slammed the proposals as “the architectural equivalent of putting Mickey Mouse ears and a moustache on the Mona Lisa”.

Duddingston House Properties Ltd could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.