Edinburgh's old Royal High School set to become National Centre for Music as lease bid recommended for approval

Plans to turn Edinburgh's historic old Royal High School into a new National Centre for Music, with a music school and concert venue, look set to be given the go-ahead, ending the long saga of uncertainty surrounding the future of the landmark building.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 1:28 pm

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Council officials are recommending approval of a bid for a long lease on the building from the Royal High School Preservation Trust, which has already won planning permission for it to become the new home of St Mary’s Music School, with concert hall.

The proposal – backed by violinist Nicola Benedetti – has now been expanded to a National Centre for Music, including a new public garden, visitor centre, gallery and cafe.

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

Funding of £55 million for the project has been pledged by Scotland's biggest arts philanthropist Carol Grigor, who is also backing the planned new concert hall off St Andrew Square.

Controversial plans for the Thomas Hamilton-designed building in Regent Road to become a luxury hotel were finally thrown out in October last year when an appeal by Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels against the council’s refusal of permission was rejected by the Scottish Government.

The council turned down a plea from the developers to allow them another three years to pursue the project. But instead of going straight into a deal with the trust promoting the music school scheme, it invited bidders to submit development proposals for the building.

Two bids were received – one for the new National Centre for Music, the other for a care village. But officials said the care village proposal was less detailed, had funding for only initial feasibility work and carried too high a risk.

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

The trust said under its plans, St Mary’s Music School would have its own sensitively designed building, situated to the east of the site, comprising teaching rooms and residential spaces for boarders.

The public functions of the campus would be contained within the main building, with three new public performance spaces, including the refurbished Assembly Hall. And a new multi-functional hub in the West Pavilion would house the café, gallery and visitor centre.

A decision on the lease is due to be taken by the council’s finance committee on Thursday.

Tory City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat said she was “thrilled” the plan for the National Centre for Music was likely to go ahead.

"The planning permission, which has already gone through, was unanimous and the plan to expand it slightly more to a national hub will be something quite special and I wish them every success in delivering something so exciting for that site,” she said.

"Having a new national institution spreading culture and the arts is a fantastic use of such a prominent building.”

And Green City Centre councillor Claire Miller said she was delighted there now seemed to be a robust and long-term future for one of Edinburgh’s truly outstanding buildings.

“It’s been more than 50 years since the building had a proper use and the trust proposal now brings education back into the building along with public access through performances,” she said.

"While various schemes have come and gone over the decades, this is one with funding, planning consent and, most importantly, public backing.

“I can’t wait to see it open and up and running.”

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