Luxury hotel plan for iconic former school rejected

Developers failed to convince ministers in their lengthy battle to convert the A-listed building.

Luxury hotel plan for iconic former school rejected Google Maps

Plans to transform an iconic former school in Edinburgh into a luxury hotel have been rejected at appeal.

Developers have failed to convince Scottish ministers in their lengthy battle to convert the 19th-century neoclassical Old Royal High School into a 150-room hotel.

The debate surrounding the future of A-listed building on the south face of Calton Hill has raged on for years. Once touted as a potential home for the Scottish Parliament, it has lain empty since 1968.

Alternative plans to turn it into a music school and concert hall have been drawn up, but those behind them currently have no rights to the building.

After winning a design contest, an application for planning permission was made by Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels in September 2015 and rejected by Edinburgh councillors in December that year.

A long-running appeal, which was lodged in 2017, has now been refused at Scottish Government level. Ministers agreed that the overall proposal did not “represent the right development in the right place”.

The potential development was also found to be inconsistent with the Historic Environment Policy for Scotland, due to “adverse impacts” on the listed building and the character of the conservation area.

The decision was welcomed by Edinburgh World Heritage, which said the proposals would have been “deeply damaging to an internationally recognised masterpiece of Greek Revival architecture”.

Christina Sinclair, the charity’s director, said: “Had there been a proposal for an appropriate reuse of the Old Royal High School, which understood and creatively conserved and enhanced its heritage values, it would have had our full support.

“However, this development would have caused serious harm to the World Heritage Site and we warmly welcome the decision of the Scottish ministers.”

David Orr, chairman of Urbanist Hotels, said: “This is a deeply disappointing decision for us, our investors, and our hotel partners. It is a poor day for inward investment in our vital tourism sector. Around 250 full-time jobs and a huge boost to the local supply chain would have been achieved: a £35m per annum GDP contribution will now not happen.   

“We had hoped for the first time since 1826 to make the old Royal High School publicly accessible, saving it from terminal decay without ripping the heart of the building. Our approach to conserving the fabric of the building was far lighter touch than other proposals.  

“We acted in good faith and went on to commission one of Scotland’s finest contemporary architects to produce a design that safeguarded Thomas Hamilton’s original masterpiece and that we believe respectfully honoured the structures as a centrepiece. 

“It is now 50 years since the old Royal High School had a proper use and we still do not have a solution that safeguards its future. This decision leaves a magnificent building more at risk than ever.”

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