Leading heritage bodies are joining forces on a major new campaign against a plan to turn one of the Scottish most celebrated landmarks into a luxury hotel – warning it “threatens to ruin Edinburgh’s cityscape forever”.
The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Edinburgh World Heritage and the Cockburn Association have launched a “Save The Royal High School” crusade over the latest plans for the A-listed building on Calton Hill.
All three bodies are hosting a campaign summit next month while a separate drop-in surgery is to be held to help raise awareness of the plans by developers Duddingston and Urbanist Hotels.
A campaign page launched over the weekend describes the old Royal High School, which has been lying empty since the late 1960s, as a “Greek Revival masterpiece” which is of “international importance”.
Developers behind scaled back plans for a hotel for the Hong Kong-based Rosewood chain are said to have “ignored” the concerns of planning and heritage experts and “set aside” public opinion.
Details of the campaign have emerged days after new designs for the hotel were lodged. It will now have 127 rooms, 20 fewer than envisaged in an earlier scheme, which was rejected due to concerns about the impact of modern extensions on architect Thomas Hamilton’s 1829 building.
A statement from the Save The Royal High campaign said: “Despite efforts from heritage bodies all over the UK, the threat to the former Royal High School in Edinburgh has not gone away.
“As of February 2017 a new, highly damaging, hotel proposal threatens to ruin Edinburgh’s cityscape forever. Over 1500 members of the public objected to the first proposal. Help us do this again and save the building as an icon of our city. This is not the only option, the right use can be found.”
The developers behind the hotel bid sparked controversy last week when they launched an attack against the handling of the previous scheme by the city council and raised concerns that heritage groups had endorsed a rival scheme to turn the old Royal High into a new home for St Mary's Music School, which has been given planning approval by the city council, even though the local authority had already signed a lease agreement which the Rosewood scheme was developed from.
Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “The various civic and heritage organisations in the city are working closely together to campaign against these latest hotel proposals.
"The first priority is to help the wider public understand the impact of the proposals so that they are able to voice their concerns to the city council through the planning process.
"The timing of the planning application means that it is likely to coincide with the council elections, and the wider discussion around the building will probably take on a life of its own during this period.”
Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: "We hope to raise awareness of the latest plans and their status.
"There is understandably some confusion over the music school being granted permission by the city council but unable to proceed as the contract remains in place. We will encourage as many folk as possible to object to these revised plans."
David Orr, co-founder of Urbanist Hotels, said: “Our design will conserve founding architect Thomas Hamilton’s original building and vision, restoring and regenerating this national treasure with a new use as a world-class hotel for the people of Edinburgh and beyond.”
Radha Arora, president of Rosewood Hotels, said the new design was intended “to create a beautiful and truly unique hotel that reflects Edinburgh’s distinctive character, respects the city’s rich heritage and looks forward to the future”.
He added: “Rosewood firmly believes that a hotel should celebrate the history, culture and architecture of its location, both in its design and its services.”