Kevin Buckle: Mobile phone mast to replace Royal High School?

The old Royal High School saga rumbles on. Picture: Scott Louden
The old Royal High School saga rumbles on. Picture: Scott Louden
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The last time the old Royal High School hotel idea was discussed, the planners recommended its refusal and councillors agreed unanimously.

The last time the old Royal High School hotel idea was discussed, the planners recommended its refusal and councillors agreed unanimously. The previous hotel proposal only narrowly lost, eight to seven, despite being for a larger hotel. But I think the latest refusal is more to do with the intervention of the St Mary’s Music School proposal, than a greater dislike of the new hotel plan.

Already, though, it looks like the developers have not learned any lessons from their previous forays.

It can hardly be surprising that they have hired the best they can in Ann Faulds, who was at one time the Scottish Government’s chief planner, but it is unfortunate that she has also worked for Donald Trump – something others will make the most of.

Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties may well win their appeal when all the facts are judged more dispassionately, but they also need to win hearts and minds.

While they might argue that all their thoughts and finances have to be focused on actually getting planning, they have done little to engage with the public or the arts world.

Despite the scaremongering that the six-star hotel will somehow end up a budget hotel and their declared support for the arts will disappear in the event of planning permission being granted, there is no evidence for this at all.

While there have been assertions otherwise by some, the operator which will run the hotel, Rosewood, has a reputation second to none and will undoubtedly add to what Edinburgh has to offer.

I think we all get by now that the developers “will continue to fulfil their obligations to the council” with regards to the lengthy contract they have. Given the abuse they have suffered from several quarters, they could not be blamed for defending themselves and pointing to what they regard as failings in the rival proposal, but there also has to be some positivity and so far that has been lacking.

There are many folk who actually like the design of the hotel and even more who feel it would be a benefit to Edinburgh’s economy, but a climate has been created in which people are genuinely worried about speaking up. Both sides have made quantifying support harder by claiming 90 per cent-plus are on their side. The truth, of course, is that most people really don’t care and what we are talking about here are relatively small numbers on both sides who have an opinion.

The largest majority of people I suspect would be happy for either plan to go ahead so long as the building was saved. Just as an aside there are far more people than you might think who wouldn’t care if the old school was knocked down, especially if something useful – like a large mast that improved their mobile phone reception – was put in its place.

Thankfully I don’t doubt that all sides do have the building’s interests at heart and hopefully there will be a resolution sooner rather than later.