Edinburgh’s deal for old Royal High revealed

An artist's impression of how the new hotel building could look if the development goes ahead
An artist's impression of how the new hotel building could look if the development goes ahead
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LESS than £10 million will be returned to the public purse over the next 125 years if one of Edinburgh’s most acclaimed landmarks is allowed to be turned into a luxury hotel, The Scotsman has learned.

Edinburgh City Council has negotiated a one-off payment rather than annual income from a long-term lease it has agreed for the former Royal High School, on Calton Hill.

Developers behind a controversial overhaul of the A-listed landmark say a fee will be paid to the authority when they take control of the building – but only if planning permission is secured.

The sum would be the equivalent of less than £100,000 a year for a hotel where guests are expected to be charged more than £1,000 a night for a top suite. The news has angered campaigners trying to prevent the A-listed landmark being handed over to the private sector.

They want the council to find an alternative use for the building which keeps it in public hands. Among the options they want to see pursued instead are an art gallery, museum or music academy. The building – which dates back to 1829 and was long touted as a home for the Scottish Parliament - has been lying largely empty since 1968 when the school relocated.

However the developers behind the £55m hotel scheme, Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group, say they hope to begin work next year, with a “world-class” operator expected to be announced within weeks.

The council launched a competition to find a long-term use for the old Royal High School in 2009 after pulling the plug on hopes it could become a national photography centre inspired by pioneers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, who created Scotland’s first proper studio on Calton Hill.

Bruce Hare, chief executive of Duddingston, said: “We’ve agreed a lease for 125 years. The council gets a premium for the lease on the date of entry. It is a sum of money that we offered at the time of the competition.

“That’s not been made public and it is a commercially sensitive figure. In relative terms, it is not a significant sum compared to the overall investment. It is a fixed sum on the date of entry, there will not be any revenue each year. But that’s the way the council wanted it to be done.”

However filmmaker Murray Grigor, one of the hotel scheme’s harshest critics, said: “This would be the equivalent of selling off Stirling Castle. I just can’t see how it can go ahead. There is such strong feeling about this now.”

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