Comment: Old Royal High must pay its way

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The old Royal High School is undoubtedly one of Edinburgh’s architectural gems.

In a city blessed with more beautiful built heritage than almost anywhere on the planet, it still stands out as something remarkable.

Everyone agrees that it must be preserved for future generations. The only question today is how best to do that.

Should we embrace the current plans for a luxury hotel or mothball the building in the hope a better rescue package can be pulled together?

There are two choices on the table, or at least that is how it appears on the surface. In reality, it is hard to see more than one.

There is no doubt that the best way of preserving historic buildings is to find a viable ongoing use for them.

A building that is occupied will be maintained. If it is run as a business, it will pay rates, create jobs and add to the life of the city.

The plans put forward by Duddingston House Properties may not be perfect. There is a debate to be had about the details and what is and what is not acceptable for a listed building of this status.

But there is much to commend them, from the £32 million boost it promises to deliver annually to the Scottish economy to the fact it will open the building to the public for the first time.

What’s the alternative? The city is spending £70,000 a year to stop the building falling into further disrepair. The corrosive effect of the elements can be seen on its damaged stonework.

That cost is only going to rise – and the damage get worse – the longer the building sits empty. It is true that some tenants have occupied part of the building in recent years, but for almost half a century since it closed as a school it has yet to find a settled permanent use. The building needs to find a way to pay its way, not be mothballed and left to ruin.

There is already a folly on Calton Hill, let’s not make another one.