Royal High hotel plan is out in front but could fall at the final hurdle – Kevin Buckle

News that Carol Grigor, often labelled as Scotland’s most generous arts patron, was leaving Scotland after changes in the UK’s “non-dom” tax laws threatened to wipe out the family fortune came just as ministers will be starting to consider the fate of the Royal High School Hotel after the public inquiry.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 2nd March 2019, 11:10 am
Updated Saturday, 2nd March 2019, 11:42 am
A decison must be made soon to prevent further deterioration of the old Royal High School building. Picture: Scott Taylor

Those for the hotel were quick to point out that if Grigor withdrew support for the music school it would increase uncertainty about its viability – and of course it hasn’t helped – but any decision really should be based on the fact that both will go ahead if given the opportunity.

In fact this applies even more so to the hotel proposals than the music school plans. Just recently I saw a tweet claiming Cliff Hague of the Cockburn Association had demolished the hotel’s economic plan when of course he had done no such thing. Just about any economic forecasting can be contradicted if enough variables are challenged but that doesn’t prove anything.

There is a need for more high-end hotels confirmed by Essential Edinburgh just recently and in particular six-star hotels occupy a unique market attracting those who only consider the highest standard of luxury.

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Arts patron Carol Grigor is qutting Scotland. Picture: Getty

The truth is calculating how many extra guests will be attracted by such luxury and how many will upgrade from a mere five-star hotel is a calculation that cannot be proved but the evidence is there to show the hotel’s predictions are not unreasonable.

For sure some capacity will be taken from other hotels and how much of that is an overall loss to those hotels is another figure that can only to some extent be surmised. Especially given its location, the benefit of any doubt has to go with the fact that a six-star hotel in such a stunning setting will be popular with those who want more than just excellent service.

Determined to back more than one horse, those opposed to the hotel also then claim it may very well not be a luxury hotel at all. Despite the repeated wording in any document saying it will be such, it is true that planning cannot stipulate the class of hotel. However, at the inquiry when this was raised the hotel’s QC, Gordon Steele, offered that they would agree the room numbers could not be increased to fit a budget hotel. Back came the opposition saying that large rooms could be filled with bunk beds! Again Mr Steele said that the number of occupants to a room could be limited.

What was clear was that the developers have every intention of building a luxury hotel and were even prepared to make it impossible for it to be converted to a budget hotel at a later date.

The final doubt about the hotel’s intentions was that all their talk of supporting the arts would go by the wayside. Again the operator for the hotel, Rosewood, has clear support for the arts in every one of its hotels all over the world so to claim that for some reason the Royal High School Hotel would be different was simply daft.

A slightly more sensible argument was that while it was agreed there would be public access the public wouldn’t be able to afford to frequent such a luxury hotel, and while this may be true to some extent there are many who do visit such places on special occasions and again Rosewood has a history of generating a good income from non-residents.

Overall there was no reason to doubt that the hotel had a sensible economic case, that a luxury hotel would indeed be built and it would generate a decent amount of money for the Edinburgh and Scottish economy while supporting the arts. In fact, the case for the hotel so far has only got stronger with time.

Those who oppose the hotel fall into two camps. Some would rather have a music school and that is a perfectly reasonable wish that is complicated by the council having originally asked for a hotel. Once legal contracts are signed you can’t just change your mind because another possibility arises.

Others, though, are simply against the hotel and that was made clear at the inquiry when Colin Liddell of the Royal High School Preservation Trust and Carol Grigor’s Dunard fund were happy to declare in front of the reporters that the trust was initially set up to “save” the old Royal High from the clutches of the six-star hotel and the idea later that it could be used by the music school was simply “serendipity”.

Nothing in life is certain beyond death and taxes and yes Carol Grigor may fall out of love with Scotland and having declared her intention to “close the books” on UK funding not fulfil the commitments she has already made. Similarly there may be a seismic shift in the luxury market that nobody saw coming. However, both these possibilities should not influence the final decision.

Even those against the hotel have privately admitted that not enough of a case was made to stop the reporters recommending it go ahead so their hopes lie with the ministers, who despite all the evidence and the reporters’ opinion can decide to refuse planning permission.

With no sign that would be the end of it and leave the way open for the music school that would be a disaster if for no other reason than that the building desperately needs more attention than the basic care it has received for some years now.

Ally McBeal would fit right in

I’m enjoying my daily trips to Waverley Mall preparing the new shop for opening on Monday. The help and support I’ve received from the artist Gerry Gapinski in what is really a new project rather than an Avalanche Records revival is reflected in the name Avalanche Gapinski.

I could not have been happier when Armstrong Vintage also agreed to be involved and did briefly consider Avalanche, Gapinski and Armstrong but it was felt that sounded too much like a firm of New York lawyers.

Having said that I may well pitch for a TV pilot at a later date a la Ally McBeal about a team of lawyers who also love music, art and vintage clothing.

It’s business as usual at the council

I watched the transport and environment committee council webcast on Thursday, when “Connecting our city, Transforming our places’ Findings of Public Engagement and Next Steps” was presented by Daisy Narayanan and her team. There were lots of interesting ideas to digest.

Plenty was said about active travel and local residents but not so much about local businesses, who it appears are just assumed to benefit from the measures being suggested. Hopefully there will be more consultation with businesses as the project moves forward.