World heritage body backs Royal High music school bid

Pupils at St Mary's Music School which could be relocated to Calton Hill under the latest proposals. Picture: Contributed

Pupils at St Mary's Music School which could be relocated to Calton Hill under the latest proposals. Picture: Contributed

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THE body charged with overseeing Edinburgh’s world heritage site has thrown its weight behind plans to turn one of the city’s most celebrated landmarks into a new music school and concert venue.

The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust has described an alternative scheme to the controversial five-star hotel proposed for the former Royal High School on Calton Hill as an “exemplar” of sensitive development.

And it says the proposed relocation of St Mary’s Music School from the city’s west end to the A-listed building would have no impact on “key viewpoints” around the heritage site.

The heritage group, which monitors the Old and New Towns, has told the city council that it is “deeply encouraged” by the emerging plans for the music school, which has been lying empty since 1968 and is said be declining in condition.

Edinburgh World Heritage has been among the harshest critics of the proposed Rosewood hotel, which would involve the creation of two six-storey extensions on either side of the neo-classical building, designed by the architect Thomas Hamilton.

A charitable trust bankrolled by American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor has made Edinburgh City Council a £1.5 million offer to take over the building, which dates back to 1829.

Edinburgh World Heritage. which is funded by the council and Historic Scotland, said the alternative use would make a major contribution to “the city’s intellectual and cultural life”.

The Royal High School Presevartion Trust, which announced a bid to re-use the building for educational purposes in April, has proposed removing three more modern buildings from the grounds of Hamilton’s original landmark as part of its project, but has yet to make any of its designs public.

EWH director Adam Wilkinson said: “The approach proposed for interventions to the physical fabric is to only do what is necessary for the effective reuse of the building.”

The charity, which monitors the Old and New Towns, which won the Unesco designation 20 years ago, has been among the harshest critics of the proposed Rosewood hotel on Calton Hill, which would involve the creation of two six-storey extensions on either side of the A-listed building.

More than 2000 objections have been lodged against the proposed Rosewood hotel, which the US operator plans to open by 2018 if its Edinburgh-based developers win planning permission next month.

Both Duddingston and the Urbanist Group have declined to comment on the rival scheme as they previously agreed a with the city council, which staged a contest to find a new used for the building in 2009 after the collapse of a bid to turn it into a national photography centre.

Willie Gray Muir, chair of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, said: “We are immensely proud of the fact that EWH conclude that our proposals would enhance the very qualities which earned the city world heritage status.

“We very much look forward to presenting these exciting proposals to a much wider audience in the very near future.”

A spokeswoman for the Rosewood development team said: “Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist are proceeding with their agreements with Edinburgh City Council to restore the former Royal High School and convert it into a world-class hotel.

“The agreements, which task them to develop a hotel of international standing, were ratified by the council in December 2013 and January 2014.”

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