UN culture chief backs music school proposal for Royal High

An artists impression of how St Marys Music School could look on the site of Edinburghs old Royal High School building. Picture: Richard Murphy Architects

An artists impression of how St Marys Music School could look on the site of Edinburghs old Royal High School building. Picture: Richard Murphy Architects

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A senior figure in the United Nations agency for culture and education has backed proposals to convert a landmark Edinburgh building into a music school.

Francesco Bandarin, Unesco’s assistant director-general for culture, has congratulated Edinburgh city council on its “very good” unanimous approval of a plan to turn the A-listed landmark, the old Royal High building, into a new home for St Mary’s Music School. And of a rival plan for a £75 million luxury hotel, he said: “kill it”.

You are talking not only [about] a building, you are talking about an entire cultural landscape

FRANCESCO BANDARIN

His intervention in the long-running debate over the future of the building is a major development in one of the most controversial planning battles in Edinburgh’s history.

Told of the council’s decision, Mr Bandarin said it was “very good”.

He added: “I would congratulate them because the hotel idea was really funny, really not at the level of an international world heritage site such as Edinburgh. A music school is fine. It was a school, so keep it as a school.

“It’s a very interesting building but also very symbolic. You are talking not only [about] a building, you are talking about an entire cultural landscape.” Asked about the hotel plan he added: “I think it’s a good idea to kill it. There will be less money but more interesting things in the future.”

Mr Bandarin is due to arrive in Scotland this week as a keynote speaker at the Edinburgh international cultural summit, which will draw an audience of ministers and other senior figures from countries including Iraq and Libya.

The event, running from Wednesday to Friday, will focus on how to protect culture and heritage sites that are under threat.

The Royal High was earmarked as the home for a Scottish parliament prior to the 1979 referendum on devolution.

Council leaders approved the plan to make it the new home for St Mary’s Music School last week.

However, a lease agreement with developers could still hold up work. Duddingston House Properties, which proposed the luxury hotel, could potentially delay any progress until its lease runs out in 2022.

The developer has appealed to Scottish ministers, and a public inquiry has been launched. Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, the local agency which aims to champion and enhance Edinburgh as a heritage site, said Mr Bandarin would “have the opportunity to report directly to Scottish ministers in this audience”.

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