Decision on Old Royal High School future just weeks away

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The future of one of the Capital’s most iconic landmarks, which has been left empty for 50 years,  will finally be determined – with a six-week public inquiry set to kick-off later this month.

The saga over what to do with the former Royal High School at Calton Hill will be decided by Scottish Government reporters – as developers attempt to push plans forward to transform the site into a luxury hotel.

The Old Royal High School. Picture: TSPL

The Old Royal High School. Picture: TSPL

Scott Ferrie and Dannie Onn have been appointed as the two reporters by the Scottish Government for the inquiry, which will kick-off at Heart’s Tynecastle Park stadium on Tuesday, September 18. The inquiry is set to cost at least £6,000 a day, with more than 350 documents to sift through and 25 witnesses expected to be called.

Duddingston House Properties (DHP) and Urbanist Hotels are appealing against Edinburgh council’s decision in August 2017 to refuse planning permission and listed building consent for revised proposals to bring a Rosewood hotel to the site of the Old Royal High School.

The co-developers are also appealing the initial council decision in December 2015 to refuse their first planning application and listed building consent.

Proposals by campaigners to develop the site for St Mary’s Music School were given the green light in 2016 with a seven-year expiry date on consent due to the unique situation with the hotel plans being 
appealed.

Despite the approval of the music school plans, St Mary’s currently has no right to the building because of an agreement between the council and the hotel developers, which is understood to run until 
2022.

DHP has opted for a full public inquiry, enlisting lawyer Ann Faulds and Gordon Steele QC, who President Donald Trump used for legal battles over his Aberdeenshire golf course.

David Orr, co-founder of Urbanist Hotels said: “We are progressing with the appeal because we are wholly committed to bringing a world-class hotel to the site – in line with our contractual agreement with Edinburgh council.

“We are confident that the appeals process will allow many of the complex technical 
issues raised with both previous planning applications to be 
considered thoroughly, with due consideration of the substance and detail of our proposals and the expertise of our teams.

“Put quite simply, it is the right forum to discuss such a complex and emotive issue.”

He added: “The appeal will provide the focus to present a large array of expert witnesses who agree with our scheme. We have chosen to bring these witnesses to the inquiry 
because such an important building deserves to have its destiny debated on the basis of solid facts and expertise rather than conjecture and emotion-fuelled sound-bites.

“Our legal team has represented a wide variety of public and private clients on a range of major infrastructure and development projects. They are a well-respected firm used by government, private businesses and counsel and we’re confident they have the expertise to guide us through this process.”

The music school plans have won the backing of a host of high profile artists including author Alexander McCall Smith and television presenter Alexander Armstrong.

Mr McCall Smith said: “This building is of immense importance to Edinburgh and the entire country.

“It is not something that should be lightly turned from a unique treasure into yet another hotel. It must be used for the benefit of the nation.”

The first part of the inquiry will deal with the heritage impacts of the proposals, and is expected to last up to four weeks.

The second section of the inquiry, focusing on the tourism and economic benefits could take another two weeks.

The developers are set to call up to 17 witnesses, while the council will invite three people to give evidence. Four witnesses could be called by Historic 
Environment Scotland – while 14 other witnesses could also be required to have their say.

The concept of turning the building into a hotel won a council-run design contest eight years ago, but the plans faced a backlash from campaigners after it emerged the proposals included multi-storey extensions. The revised plans reduced the number of hotel rooms from 147 to 127 and lowered the extensions.

Mr Orr added: “Our proposals guarantee the future of the Old Royal High School both architecturally and financially, bringing much needed investment to Edinburgh and Scotland. A 2017 economic impact assessment report by Oxford Economics stated the Rosewood Hotel project is predicted to generate £35.1m in gross domestic product annually for Scotland’s economy, sufficient to support 850 jobs on average and to generate £13.3m in taxation annually.

“This conservation-led flagship project will create an accessible world-class destination, bringing much-needed investment, jobs and new opportunities to Edinburgh and Scotland whilst respecting the original Hamilton building and its unique setting.”