the debate surrounding the future of the old Royal High has been a passionate one.
When it was built almost 200 years ago, the school’s imposing Greek pillars were about as typical of Edinburgh as a glass of ouzo. But generations since then have taken the building to their hearts and today everyone recognises it as one of the city’s crown jewels. And everyone has a view on the best way to cherish and preserve it.
That debate has been described in recent weeks as a battle for the city’s soul. That is over-dramatic. But at the same time it would be wrong to diminish the importance of this decision for the Capital.
We are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and everyone has an interest in keeping it that way. Of course, we all want our children to be able to enjoy the city as much as we do, but for so many of us these days, our jobs are tied up with the tourist trade which relies on our stunning built heritage for its success.
Everyone agrees that Edinburgh would be foolish to sacrifice its beauty – even for the £32 million a year and 640 jobs that the luxury hotel is expected to generate.
But a question that is rarely asked is who decides what makes Edinburgh beautiful? The debate so far has been dominated by a small handful of architects and professional heritage lobbyists. The general consensus – at least from the most vocal of them – seems to be that the “Inca terrace” hotel design would spoil an architectural masterpiece.
They are of course very knowledgeable, highly educated people, and entitled to their opinion as much as the next person. But their views are only that – opinions.
And today’s survey of 5000 people on the city streets suggests they are wildly out of step with public opinion on the old Royal High. If Edinburgh belongs to anyone, it belongs to its people, and their views cannot be brushed aside.