City Council to make decision on Royal High School’s fate

Duddingston House Properties are hoping the council will approve the plans to create a hotel in the Royal High building. Picture: Esme Allen
Duddingston House Properties are hoping the council will approve the plans to create a hotel in the Royal High building. Picture: Esme Allen
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One of the Capital’s most bitterly fought planning battles of recent years faces decision day on Thurday with claim and counterclaim ringing in the air.

The developers behind the plans to turn the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel questioned the credentials of a rival bid to to create a music school in the building, saying only their proposals can guarantee its future “architecturally and financially”. Heritage watchdogs in turn repeated their warnings that the hotel plans would put the city’s World Heritage Site status at risk.

We have taken time to listen to a wide range of stakeholders and heritage experts...

Councillors are being urged by their own planning officials to refuse the hotel plans at a meeting today. Such a move is likely to prompt an appeal to the Scottish Government.

David Orr, chairman of developers Urbanist Hotels, said: “We need to be very clear about what is now at stake for the very future of the Old Royal High School. Our revised proposal is the result of 18 months intensive work and considerable investment in order to fulfil our contractual obligation with the Council.

“During this time we have taken time to listen to a wide range of stakeholders and heritage experts and taken their views on board. It has been very disappointing that we have also faced an unacceptable level of deliberate misrepresentation from organisations that are opposed to our scheme.

“We now have a design solution which not only protects and promotes the magnificence of Hamilton’s centrepiece building but also has a viable and long-term investment plan in place to maintain it as part of the city’s living and breathing heritage.

“We are responding positively to the requirement by the Council, following ratification of our contract in 2014, to revive a building which has been allowed to slip into a state of disrepair and neglect for more than 50 years.

“Hamilton’s masterpiece has been publicly owned since 1829, but never publicly accessible. Our design will restore and regenerate this national treasure with a new use as a world-class hotel. Heritage and conservation are central to our plans.

“This is the only proposal that can realistically guarantee the future of the Hamilton building – both architecturally and financially. Without it, we risk another 50 years of disrepair and misuse, which would be catastrophic for both the building and the city. I am confident that those who genuinely care about Edinburgh’s future, and can look through the emotional rhetoric and see the hard facts, won’t let this happen.”

A Edinburgh World Heritage spokesman said: “This is an important day for Edinburgh. The hotel proposal being reviewed today, in our opinion, does not differ substantially from the initial submission, remains inappropriate for a building of such cultural and historical significance, and represents a threat to the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site.

“Specifically, the visual impact of the proposed modern extensions to the east and west of the site remain overbearing and will damage the classical landscape setting. On balance, we maintain that the alternative proposal is a better option for the site and the city.”