Whatever happened to the old Royal High School hotel? – Kevin Buckle

The council faces challenging times – but doesn’t seem to recognise the scale of the issues, writes Kevin Buckle

Saturday, 9th November 2019, 6:00 am
The fate of the former Royal High School building on Regent Road remains undecided. Picture: Scott Taylor
The fate of the former Royal High School building on Regent Road remains undecided. Picture: Scott Taylor

It would probably be very easy to write a column about the Christmas market every week until the end of the year and certainly it will be an interesting meeting of the culture and communities committee next week when there is a motion for the market to be moved from the Gardens.

However, something that has met with similar controversy and yet has disappeared off the radar is the future of the Old Royal High School. A decision from the Reporters for ministers to consider was due some months ago and whatever the decision it has to be best for the building that something is done sooner rather than later.

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I have no idea when a decision will be made but surely it can’t be far away and as somebody who believes the hotel will be good for Edinburgh, good for other businesses and good for the arts I’m hoping it gets the go-ahead and we hear something at least this year. Meanwhile those supporting the plans for a music school have been very quiet of late and it is hard to decide what to read into that.

Edinburgh Council of course are hardly blameless in the old Royal High School controversy given they had asked for a hotel on the site.

Meanwhile, my fear for next year is that councillors fail to deal with the potential disaster of dozens of empty shops on the high street.

Thirty to 50 shops emptied by businesses moving to Edinburgh St James is not the whole story and before that happens we will have to see which chains don’t make it beyond Christmas.

In a worst case scenario the number of empty shops could edge towards three figures and so far the council’s only answer seems to be to allow different uses for what were once retail units.

I honestly don’t think this addresses the enormity of the problem and fear that this time next year councillors will be scrambling to say something that was entirely predictable has been unexpected and it is not their fault that more substantial plans are not in place.

Certainly next Christmas there may be no need for market stalls at all in Princes Street Gardens as they may well all be able to be accommodated in the empty shops lining Princes Street and George Street. It would seem daft to use the Gardens if so much empty space was available in such a prime location.

I don’t imagine for one second that this year’s market will be moved but real questions do have to be asked not just about the location next year but also about what is on offer.

A major issue is that to pay the sort of high rents asked only high-margin goods will be on sale and that inevitably means cheap imports, which is why so many markets all over the UK look the same.

As if all this wasn’t enough the council has to decide how to move forward with the crumbling Castle Terrace car park now it has been listed – and we come full circle with more than one person on social media suggesting it would make a better location for a Christmas market. Interesting times ahead!