Gina Davidson: Music school’s plan really strikes a chord

Model of the new proposed Royal High. Picture; Ian Georgeson
Model of the new proposed Royal High. Picture; Ian Georgeson
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INTERESTING news from Hull this week. That fine urban sprawl on the banks of the Humber has asked its residents to throw open their doors to those who will flock there next year when it takes on the mantle of the UK’s City of Culture.

The organisers want the population to become bed and breakfast entrepreneurs for the year; to make the event more personal they stress, to get everyone involved. Nothing to do with there not being enough hotel beds.

That may well be true. Having never been to Hull I’ve no idea how many hotels it boasts, five, four, three star or otherwise. I’d bet money on there being several Travelodges, though.

But there’s a certain mysterious science around hotel bed numbers and just how many are enough and what price category they need to be in to attract the right mix of tourist.

Edinburgh, for instance, apparently doesn’t have enough – especially in the five-star bracket. Yet according to the council’s Edinburgh by Numbers statistical account of the city, there are 173 hotels offering 12,315 beds with the average room rate being £84 and the average occupancy rate standing at 80 per cent.

Those statistics are from 2014, so the number of beds available will undoubtedly have risen as hotel developments continue apace.

But they suggest that, unless there’s a socio-economic theory behind keeping occupancy rates at 80 per cent, Edinburgh actually has enough hotel supply for the year-round demand.

Of course, rooms will be hard to find at Festival time or Hogmanay, but is that an argument for building more and more hotels? Maybe, like Hull, we should be asking the locals to get more involved and offer B&B in their own homes.

Still, developers and tourist bosses will say more hotels are a must. The council too – which is why it was so keen to give the lease for the old Royal High School to developers, Duddingston House Properties, in the sure knowledge the Calton Hill site would be transformed into a top hotel.

And if ever there was a great location for a luxury hotel, then the old Royal High is it – a historic building in a World Heritage Site, within walking distance of the town centre, near the railway . . . it sounds perfect.

Such a shame, then, that the design produced made a mockery of the Unesco title with it’s “mickey mouse” ears and Inca terraces. There were so many objections councillors were right and uncharacteristically bold to throw it out.

And now, in another twist, plans lodged by St Mary’s Music School for the site have been approved.

The design seems sympathetic to the building, keeps the educational tradition going and is for the people of Scotland rather than just our – admittedly much-needed – economic visitors.

Quite how the council now gets itself disentangled from its long-term lease of the building with Duddingston, though, will be interesting to watch.

But just as the question of whether Edinburgh really needs another big hotel is moot with most people, the building should not necessarily be given to a private school with no provisos added.

While a large number of the talented kids who attend St Mary’s are there through an assisted places scheme – funded by the Scottish Government – and the plans for the site include a lot of public access, it would be great if there was more scope to open out the school to Edinburgh’s children.

Music education in schools has taken a hammering because of cuts – there are fewer and fewer kids learning instruments. Many of them who may have wanted to at least try to learn to play are no longer even given the chance.

How do they – or we–- know if they have a talent? And how likely is it that their parents would even think about a specialist school?

St Mary’s could be asked to help with this. If the council can find a way to approving its plan for the old Royal High and somehow manage to give it the lease then the school should be asked to work with the local authority to encourage more children into music.

It seems a fair quid pro quo.