Steve Cardownie: New faces must put Royal High hotel bid to bed

For the majority of committee members, this will be the first time they have been confronted with the Royal High hotel scheme
For the majority of committee members, this will be the first time they have been confronted with the Royal High hotel scheme
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This Thursday the development management sub-committee of the planning committee will convene for a hearing into a planning application for the development of a hotel on the site of the former Royal High School on Regent Road.

A presentation will be made by the Chief Planning Officer detailing the application and the reasons for the decision by him to recommend refusal.

A late-night pina colada relly hit the spot

A late-night pina colada relly hit the spot

Given the significance of this site it is not surprising that it has generated a great deal of interest and this is reflected in the number of deputations that will be stating their respective cases both for and against the proposal. They include, the New Town, Broughton Community Council, Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh World Heritage, the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh Airport and Scottish Development International (Scottish Enterprise), which serves to underline the importance of this issue.

The applicants will also state their case and after potential questions from Committee to all of the above, Committee members will debate and then vote on the matter.

The development of this site has featured on the pages of this newspaper many times before but what makes it more interesting is that the majority of members on the committee have only been elected to the council since May this year and will be confronted with this issue for the very first time.

Given the position and nature of this site it could be entirely likely that this may be the most important item they be asked to deliberate for the duration of this administration. It is a responsibility which should rest heavily on their shoulders and one which, I am sure, many would have preferred to have arisen some time further into their term of office. Alas they will not be afforded that luxury.

The proposal for a change of use to a 127-bedroom hotel with separate drink and leisure uses must be determined on its own merit and alternative uses, such as a Music School which has been granted planning permission, should be put to one side, although it will be difficult to separate the two in the minds of some (if not all) committee members.

Although the original building known as the Hamilton Building will be incorporated into the design, the additions of two new five-stsorey hotel bedroom wings has caused the most controversy. As it falls within the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage site and is also located in the New Town Conservation Area the proposal has generated interest world-wide as can be witnessed by the volume of correspondence on the matter.

Of course, there is a need for additional high quality hotel accommodation in Edinburgh but weight must be given to what impact such a proposal would have on the environment and heritage, which is of crucial importance to this city of ours.

The report to the committee includes a paragraph which will surely sound the death knell of this proposal. It states: “The former Royal High School is an architectural masterpiece and one of the most significant buildings in Scotland. The proposed wings would have a significant adverse impact on the composition, integrity and special character of the listed building. The quantum of development is excessive and the design does not achieve the world class architectural response required of this site. The resulting harm caused by the proposed extensions significantly outweighs the economic benefit and benefit of bringing the building back into long-term use. The proposal will also have detrimental impacts on the setting of the category ‘A’ listed St Andrew’s House. The development will damage the unique views of this highly visible and highly sensitive site by introducing an additional quantum of development on a hillside of unique individual structures, damaging the composition of the buildings, monuments and the landscape.”

Some decisions made by this committee will have an impact for generations to come and irrespective of how new some of the councillors are to the job, I am confident that common sense will prevail and the Chief Planning Officer’s recommendation of refusal will win the day.

A pina colada with extra bite

AS the summer festival season draws to a close one of the lasting memories I will have was of a visit to a bar after a show.

After leaving the Ladyboys of Bangkok on Friday I ended up in Baddabing drinking a large pina colada whilst listening to the piano player/singer performing Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London at my request. The perfect end to a great night.

The coalition deal is a real hoot for some

At last Thursday’s meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council the coalition administration was successful in getting its five- year business plan adopted despite howls of protest and hoots of derision (howls and hoots, a potent blend) from some opposition quarters.

It is hoped that the coalition will last the whole five years up to the next election (as the previous two coalitions did, one Lib Dem/SNP and the other Labour/SNP) as it is important that a period of stability ensues for the good of the city.

The opposition to the coalition have identified the “weakest link” (according to Wiktionary; the part of a system that is most likely to fail or cause problems) and will waste little time in exploiting this opportunity.

The coalition escaped defeat on a couple of issues by dint of the Lib Dems not being full-strength and the Lord Provost’s casting vote, demonstrating all too clearly the weakness of the coalition at times. The last thing it needs is for one of its members to adopt the mantle of renegade and cast doubt on its longevity.

The coalition needs unity not division or it will be doomed to fail.