Edinburgh's old Royal High School: new future gets unanimous approval

Plans to turn Edinburgh’s old Royal High School into a National Centre for Music were today given unanimous approval, handing the historic building a new use after more than half a century of uncertainty.

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The city council’s finance committee agreed to grant a long-term lease on the building in Regent Road to the Royal High School Preservation Trust, which has secured £55 million funding for the project, which will include a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

The Grade A-listed building, which dates back to 1829, was last used as a school in 1968. It was mooted as the new home for the Scottish Parliament and later a new national photography centre. Most recently, there were controversial plans for a luxury hotel, but two proposed modern, multi-storey extensions caused an outcry from conservationists and the plans were vetoed.

An image showing how the new National Centre for Music will look from above. Image: Richard Murphy Architects

The building, designed by Thomas Hamilton, was put on the open market and two bids were received – one for the music centre, the other for a care village – but there was cross-party support for the music plans.

Committee convener Rob Munn said: “I have lived in this city since 1982 and that building has been sadly under-used over that period and has not been particularly well cared for, so it’s good to see there is a solid case here to take the building forward and preserve it for future generations but give it a role in this city again.”

And Tory finance spokesman Andrew Johnston said: “Everyone is pleased we have reached a consensus on the way this should go. It has been a long time coming.”

The trust already has full planning permission for converting the old Royal High School into a new home for St Mary’s, but will now put forward amendments to allow changes to be made for the wider music centre scheme, which has been backed by violinist Nicola Benedetti.

New terraces will be created to create spectacular views of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. Image: Richard Murphy Architects

Scotland's biggest arts philanthropist Carol Grigor has pledged £45m to pay for all restoration and redevelopment works at the site, as well as another £10m to create an endowment fund for the centre's future maintenance and running costs.

Public events at the new National Centre for Music are expected to be jointly programmed with the Dunard Centre concert hall to be built in nearby St Andrew Square, which Ms Grigor has previously pledged £35m for.

And Ms Benedetti's foundation, which puts on orchestra-based workshops for young people and teachers, is expected to play a key role in the running of the new centre as part of a vision for it to be "a catalyst for Scotland to fulfil its potential as a world leader in classical music education”.

The plans involve transforming part of the grounds on the west side into a new public garden, while the original western pavilion will become home to a visitor centre, gallery and cafe.

St Mary's Music School will have its own building, situated to the east of the site, which will include teaching rooms and residential spaces for boarders.

There will be a new entrance to the main building, three public performance spaces, and members of public attending concerts will use the original, under-used external ceremonial staircases.

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Edinburgh landmark would become 'National Centre for Music' under new £55m visio...

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