THE man responsible for promoting Edinburgh around the world has been branded “out of touch” for backing two controversial hotel developments.
John Donnelly, Marketing Edinburgh’s chief executive, is under fire for throwing his weight behind two schemes which critics fear could lead to the city losing its world heritage status.
Mr Donnelly, who was appointed just over two years ago, has been accused of making “patronising comments” by the Lothians Green MSP over the projects planned for the former Royal High School on Calton Hill and the replacement for the St James shopping centre.
Heritage bodies claims the city’s historic skyline will be changed forever by the schemes, but Mr Donnelly has declared: “If Edinburgh wants to be a premium city, it has to behave like one.”
He dismissed suggestions that the council should instead back a rival bid to turn old Royal High School, which has been lying largely empty since the late 1960s, into a new home for the St Mary’s Music School, which has the backing of a wealthy American arts philanthropist.
Councillors gave the go-ahead for the St James Quarter redevelopment in the face of advice to turn it down from the authority’s planning officials and conservation bodies.
Historic Scotland and Edinburgh World Heritage are among the organisations urging the council to reject plans to turn the Royal High into a hotel for super-rich tourists when it decides on the project next month.
Mr Donnelly, who hails from Glasgow, helped launch the T in the Park music festival and worked on Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games organising team before his appointment by Marketing Edinburgh in July 2013.
He replaced Lucy Bird, the previous figurehead of the body who was at the helm when it launched a highly-controversial “Incredinburgh” campaign which was hijacked by politicians before it was even launched. She left after just 18 months in the post.
Speaking to the Daily Business website, Mr Donnelly said: “World Heritage status is hugely important to the city. However, the city has to develop and grow.
“We do a lot of work with the World Heritage people, and they get it. It’s about developments which are empathetic. We are not Tokyo, but Edinburgh has to develop.
“We need them (five-star hotels) for conferences and tourists.
“The Chinese market in particular is growing in importance and when they think about Europe they think Starwood, Four Seasons. Edinburgh needs one of these.
“All the people I talk to say the Royal High School should be a hotel, without doubt. It would add to the city market.
“A music school will not add to Edinburgh’s attraction from an international point of view.”
However Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone said: “These patronising comments show how out of touch Marketing Edinburgh’s boss is.
“Internationally-recognised built heritage and culture are what makes our capital city so special, and we ignore that at our peril.
“The proposals for the Royal High are out of character and aimed at catering for luxury jet-setters when instead we could be encouraging more meaningful ideas to preserve our wonderful skyline and enhance enjoyment and opportunities for people who live here, as well as those passing through.
“We must not trample over the unique selling points that bring visitors here in the first place.”