Royal High hotel developers lodge last-ditch appeal

An artist's impression of the proposed Rosewood Hotel on the site of the former Royal High School. Picture: contributed
An artist's impression of the proposed Rosewood Hotel on the site of the former Royal High School. Picture: contributed
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Developers behind a controversial hotel project at the centre of a probe into Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site have mounted an eleventh-hour appeal.

The Scottish Government will be asked to rule on the £75 million scheme earmarked for the former Royal High School on Calton Hill.

An appeal has been lodged just before an official deadline despite city planning officials and heritage bodies delivering damning verdicts on the hotel, which would see six-storey extensions built next to the existing landmark, which dates back to 1829.

Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group had their vision for the A-listed building thrown out by councillors in December after a storm of controversy over the proposed designs,

It later emerged that the project was one of several cited in a damning dossier to world heritage body Unesco, which has said it is “deeply worried” over the quality of new developments in the city.

An alternative proposal has been lodged with the council to convert the old Royal High, which has been largely unused since 1968, into a new home for a music school and a concert hall for the city.

The developers behind the hotel scheme – which has been in development for six years – had been expected to return to the drawing board due to the level of opposition to the project.

They have a long-term lease agreement with the council to take over the running of the building, which is subject to planning permission being secured. Around 260 jobs had been expected to be created if the 147-room hotel, which was pencilled in to open in 2018, went ahead.

But it has been embroiled in controversy since images showing the impact of the extensions – which have been compared to “Mickey Mouse ears” and Inca terraces by critics – were released around 12 months ago.

A spokeswoman for the hotel consortium said: “Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group can confirm that they have lodged an appeal with the Scottish Government following the decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to reject their planning application to restore the old Royal High School and create a world-class hotel to be operated by Rosewood.”

Unesco intervened earlier this year after a team of international advisors warned them of a “significant threat” from new developments in Edinburgh. The International Council on Monuments and Sites said the Royal High hotel project, which attracted more than 2000 objections, “should not be approved”.

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “Given the comprehensive grounds on which the hotel proposals were rejected, this doesn’t seem to be a great use of public funding.

“Furthermore, the ground has shifted significantly in relation to Royal High School, with the letter from Unesco’s World Heritage Centre really focusing us all on the absolute importance of the building and its setting as a part of what makes our city so special.”

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “We had anticipated an appeal but it is disappointing that, given the brief for a boutique hotel, they continue to pursue this quantum of development.

“We also expect revised plans at some point but I think they have proved for themselves that the site does not accommodate a hotel.”

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk