Warning over budget hotel fears for Royal High School plans

The Old Royal High. Picture: Jon Savage
The Old Royal High. Picture: Jon Savage
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A couple battling to halt Edinburgh’s former Royal High School being handed over to hotel developers fear it will become a budget hotel unless a controversial deal with the city council is cancelled.

Former concert pianist Carol Colburn, one of Scotland’s leading arts philanthropists, and Murray Grigor, a former Edinburgh film festival director and Sir Sean Connery’s biographer, have spoken out in a bid to break a legal deadlock.

They have warned swift action is needed to head off the prospect of the iconic Calton Hill building becoming home to a “cheap and cheerful” chain because plans for a luxury hotel on the site have attracted so much opposition.

They have urged the local authority to lift the lid on a secret deal surrounding the A-listed landmark, which has been at the centre of huge controversy since designs for a “six-star hotel” on the site were revealed three years ago.

Councillors rejected a second attempt to win approval for the Rosewood chain’s first hotel in Scotland in August, a year after a charitable trust won permission to create a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels, the two firms who are pursuing the project on behalf of Rosewood, have refused to give up the site on the basis that they have a lease with the local authority.

However, Ms Colburn said: “I think the current council should thumb their nose at the former councillors who made this deal and reveal it to all. None of it is their fault but it’s important to find out what they did to seal the deal. We don’t know anything until we see the contract and nobody at the council will show it to us.

“I fear is that there is some kind of contact whereby there could be a lawsuit if the council back down on the deal.

“The problem is that once you get planning permission for a hotel you can build whatever hotel you want. You can say you’re going to open a five or six star hotel, you can make it any old cheap and cheerful thing that you want.

“Rosewood don’t understand that their name is mud and there’s not a lot of support for them in Edinburgh now. It’s tragic what has happened. If they wanted a wonderful hotel in Edinburgh they could have opened it at the Sick Kids Hospital, the old Donaldson’s College or the Lothian Chambers on the Royal Mile. They’ve missed those opportunities because they’ve been hanging on to the Royal High School.”

Mr Grigor added: “I think the developers thought they had a guarantee that the council would approve their plans.

“I think these guys will hold on and on and try to make a big bunch of money by selling it on so it can become a Travelodge or something like that.”