A LUXURY hotel earmarked for the old Royal High is set to be dramatically scaled back – weeks after an alternative bid to turn it into a music school was given planning approval.
Developers with a legal agreement to take over the building have launched the surprise move despite mounting an appeal against the rejection of their original scheme.
Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group had their vision for the A-listed building thrown out by councillors in December after controversy over the designs, which included six-storey extensions on either side of the landmark.
The two developers have blamed the “current economic climate” for the decision to submit a new scheme just weeks after an initial appeal hearing into their original bid. Details of the changes they propose have yet to be made public.
But Bruce Hare, Duddingston’s chief executive, last year said there was “no way” a top-class hotel could be created at the site without two large extensions to the original 1829 building. The wings were needed to accommodate the demands of the Rosewood chain, which wants to open a hotel there by 2018.
Heritage experts believe the move has been prompted by the city council’s decision to endorse a rival scheme, which could eventually lead to the building becoming the new home of St Mary’s Music School and a 300-capacity concert hall.
The £75 million hotel project has been cited by world heritage body Unesco as an example of what it sees as the “deeply worrying” quality of new developments being pursued in the city.
The St Mary’s vision was endorsed last week by Francesco Bandarin, Unesco’s assistant director-general for culture, who urged the city to “kill” the hotel scheme.
The Scottish Government has now been asked to put the appeal process on hold while the new application is pursued. In his letter, Mark McMurray, legal representative for the developers, said: “The difference between the projects relates to the balance between the physical scale of the built development and the economic basis of the development and its operational viability.
“In the current economic climate, these matters are finely balanced and the appellants’ position is that both options are feasible and should be consented.”
Adam Wilkinson, director of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, said: “We’re at a total loss to understand what the developers are playing at.
“This makes no sense in the context of the public inquiry or the case they’ve previously made about the viability of their scheme.
“Clearly there have been developments since December which may have influenced their approach.”
William Gray Muir, chair of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, said: “We’re quite bemused that after more than a year of telling us that their design was the only viable option, they are now proposing to present yet another scheme.
“It feels as if they’re holding one of Scotland’s most important buildings to ransom. By contrast, our unanimously-consented scheme has been welcomed by the public, is fully funded and is ready to start.”