Edinburgh’s historic Royal High School back on the market

The council has stripped a hotel developer of its 125-year lease.

Edinburgh’s historic Royal High School back on the market Google Maps

The former Royal High School building is set go back on the market after Edinburgh City Council stripped developers of their 120-year-lease.

The council’s finance committee met in private on Thursday to decide what to do with the A-listed neoclassical landmark – built in 1829 by Thomas Hamilton – which has been lying largely empty since the school relocated in 1968.

It was previously proposed as a home for the Scottish Parliament and a new national photography centre, before the council launched a competition seeking proposals for a hotel redevelopment in 2009.

The winners of the competition, capital-based Duddingston House Properties, were subsequently granted a 125-year lease of the building, with Edinburgh City Council retaining ownership, and the developers have been trying unsuccessfully to gain planning permission for various hotel schemes ever since.

Now, the council has decided to strip Duddingston House Properties of its contract, and put the lease back on the market.

Following a lengthy discussion behind closed doors, councillors ultimately decided to market the property in the hopes of attaining as much value for money as possible.

The severing of the contract with the developers will provide hope for the Royal High School Preservation Trust, which is hoping to relocate St Mary’s Music School to the site.

However, that project is by no means guaranteed as the backers will have to compete on the open market for the lease.

In 2015, plans for a £75m luxury hotel, in partnership with London property developers Urbanist Hotels, were narrowly rejected during an all-day meeting of the council’s planning committee, following outcry from conservationists and heritage groups.

The plans would have seen two six-storey wings built on either side of the former Royal High School building, and attracted objections from Historic Scotland, the Cockburn Association, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland and over 1700 members of the public.

In 2016, the Royal High School Preservation Trust obtained planning permission from the council to relocate St Mary’s Music School to the site, with backing from the Dunard Fund and American philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor, but Duddingston House Properties said it has sole rights to the building until 2022.

After their planning application was rejected, Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels appealed the decision to the Scottish Government, however this appeal was delayed as the developers unveiled new, scaled-back proposals for the site, which were submitted to the council for consideration.

The new proposals suggested the wings – which were previously the source of strong criticism from heritage watchdogs – would be smaller and set further back from the road, opening up views blocked off under the old scheme.

The proposed western extension was particularly reduced in height compared to the previous plans.

This time, more than 3000 members of the public objected to the plans, which were rejected by the council in August 2017.

The rejection of the revised plans restarted the appeal to the Scottish Government, and in October of last year the plans were rejected.

Story by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson

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