THE bitter battle for control over the former Royal High School has entered a dramatic new phase after a rival bidder revealed it had made a formal offer to buy the iconic A-listed Neoclassical building.
Revised plans for a £75 million luxury hotel were unveiled earlier this month by developer Duddingston House Properties, which included controversial “Inca-stlye terraces” on either side of the Thomas Hamilton-designed school on Calton Hill.
Heritage bodies immediately attacked the scale of the new proposals, and another for the nearby Edinburgh St James project, saying they could threaten the city’s World Heritage status. Objections by Heritage Scotland mean the plans could be called in by the Scottish Government.
The developers have a 100-year “conditional” council lease on the site, dependent on being granted planning permission for a hotel.
A council decision is due on this issue in December and it cannot consider the rival offer at the moment.
But yesterday the Royal High Preservation Trust announced a formal legal £1.5 million bid to buy the buildings to turn them into a new home for St Mary’s Music School.
The trust’s offer will come to nothing if the council agrees to the new hotel development.
The trust described its offer – backed by the philanthropic Dunard Fund, a major supporter of the Edinburgh International Festival – as “one of the single largest philanthropic arts gifts in modern Scottish history”. It added that the bid exceeded the value of the council-owned building.
The trust has also appointed award-winning architect Richard Murphy to develop designs to turn the site into a music school.
William Gray Muir, trust chairman, said: “It is important people know that if the council does not grant planning permission we are standing nearby with our offer.
“The old Royal High School buildings are crucial to the character of Edinburgh and part of the architectural heritage that attracts people to this wonderful city.
“The trust was set up specifically to conserve and protect this masterpiece for the long term and what better way than to restore it to its original purpose as a school?
“St Mary’s Music School needs a new home and if we are successful, not only will this move ensure the school will have more teaching and performance space but as a new venue and destination for talented musicians it will also create opportunity to add to Edinburgh’s cultural economy.”
A council spokeswoman said: “Old Royal High School is not on the market as the council has a legal agreement with Duddingston House Properties to lease it. The site is now subject to a planning application for a hotel, which has been submitted to the council and will be considered in due course.”
A spokeswoman for the developer declined to comment.