National heritage leaders wade into Royal High row

An artist's impression of the plans for the old Royal High site. Picture: BIG Partnership
An artist's impression of the plans for the old Royal High site. Picture: BIG Partnership
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Controversial plans for a “world-class” luxury hotel at the old Royal High School have been dealt a blow after the nation’s heritage agency lodged a damning criticism.

The objection by Historic Scotland means ministers will be able to “call in” proposals for the £75 million scheme and order a public inquiry if it gets the go-ahead from the city council.

It is a major blow for developer Duddingston House Properties, which lodged a planning application for the scheme at the beginning of the month after spending five years working on a viable design.

It plans to turn the abandoned school into a five-star hotel featuring dramatic “Inca-style” grass-roofed terraces.

The design leaves the original A-listed building largely intact, with glass galleries leading to guest rooms on the terraces. But Historic Scotland has condemned proposed extensions that are central to the redevelopment. Heritage managers say the massive wings will “dominate and overwhelm” the 200-year-old building, which is famed around the world for its Greek Revival architecture.

The letter of objection to city planners states: “The proposed extensions to the listed 
building, by their height, scale and massing, would clearly dominate and overwhelm the listed building, challenging its primacy on the site and diminishing significantly the building’s status as an internationally acclaimed exemplar of Greek Revival architecture.”

Fears were raised over the effect on natural features and historic landmarks such as the National Monument and the nearby art deco headquarters of the Scottish Government.

It continues: “The proposals would impact on the key characteristics and landscape features of the hill, as well as the carefully planned setting and relationship between the hill and the former school, the latter having been thoughtfully designed and positioned to harmonise with the natural contours of the site.

“In turn, the development would impact too on the monuments on the hill and their important relationship with the former school, and on other adjacent listed buildings including St Andrew’s House.”

Historic Scotland’s intervention offers hope to conservationists, who have warned the designs – as well as a new “walnut whip” hotel planned for the nearby St James Quarter – could threaten the Capital’s World Heritage Site status.