Music school tipped for Royal High School takeover

THE iconic Royal High School building could finally have found a permanent use after lying empty for almost 50 years

Tuesday, 21st April 2015, 4:18 pm
The Royal High School site on Regent Road. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Royal High School site on Regent Road. Picture: Greg Macvean

Edinburgh’s oldest independent music school, St Mary’s, has been tipped to take over the building.

Many hoped the building, near the east end of Princes Street, would become a permanent home for the Scottish Parliament.

But rather than the harsh noise of political debate, the building is set to be filled with the sound of the choristers of St Mary’s.

The debating chamber in the Royal High School's Main Building. Picture: Neil Hanna

The school was founded in 1880 and trains the choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in the city.

St Mary’s Music School emerged as the favourite candidate of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, a new charity formed to resist proposals for a six star hotel on the site.

The Trust’s plans could mark the end of one of Edinburgh’s most bitter and protracted planning disputes, which has seen the council branded “philistines” after they backed the hotel plans.

Hotel bosses want to add two modern wings to the main body of the Neoclassical masterpiece, which critics say is equivalent to “putting Mickey Mouse ears on the Mona Lisa.”

The proposal for St Mary’s to take up residence at the site was described as an “unexpected but welcome development” for the school, with one supporter hailing the two institutions as “a perfect fit.”

One inside source said: “What is being proposed is a school within a school. What could be more appropriate?”

“It works extremely well and uses the listed building brilliantly. There is a small concert hall in the centre, there are practice rooms in the two big anterooms, there are classrooms.”

A spokeswoman for St Mary’s confirmed that the school had been actively seeking a building with space for teaching and performance.

She said: “The board is actively considering whether this should be an extension of at our existing premises or a move to another building in Edinburgh.”

“The possibility that the school could move to the former Royal High School building is an unexpected development but a welcome one.”

She went on to say: “It is very early days and we will have to see what happens, but perhaps it is fitting that a landmark building should become the home of a national institution.”

Proposals for the luxury hotel are ongoing with DHP, the company making the plans, expected to present their intentions for work on the site by the end of next month.

Edinburgh City Council. which owns the A-listed building, has already granted DHP a 125-year lease on the property, but it is conditional on their proposal gaining planning approval.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust was created after a rowdy public meeting in February of this year, when 300 residents gathered at a hearing to criticise the hotel plans.

A source from the trust said: “The aim first and foremost is to protect and preserve the building. If the music school wasn’t in the frame, the trust would be looking for another sustainable use.”

Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, said: “There are two viable options on the table and that gives Edinburgh City Council a challenge.

“After many decades it seems likely that this hugely important building will be brought back to life, reinvigorating a part of the city centre which has been too long neglected.”

The 189-year-old Royal High School building was rejected as a home for the Scottish Parliament on the grounds that it was too small and would be hard to defend from terrorist attacks.