Royal High plans

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Your editorial (26 February), and, indeed, your “Mothball…” headline over Brian Ferguson’s straightforward factual piece, were both misleading and misguided.

None of those opposed to the damaging alterations and extensions to this building, which its conversion into a six-star hotel would entail, wish the building to be simply “mothballed”.

I would have expected The Scotsman to show more understanding of Edinburgh’s international status and respect for the importance of the Calton Hill (Edinburgh’s “Acropolis”) and for this building in particular.

As Professor Alistair Rowan and others have explained, the old Royal High School is a building of global importance, occupying a key site in the city. The power, precision and context of its architecture will not tolerate “tinkering”.

Simply “marketing” the High School to commercial developers, without any real concern for the building’s vital significance and without direct consultation with heritage interests, was an idle and irresponsible act by the City Council.

Few of the several hundred interested individuals who attended a packed meeting in St Andrew’s Church in George Street this week were aware that this was going on.

A responsible approach would have been: firstly, to secure the active engagement of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and, perhaps of an experienced specialist organisation like the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust; secondly, to support a project of structural and external repair and restoration, to put the shell of the building into good condition; thirdly, and at the same time, to undertake a proper “options appraisal” to identify an appropriate and fundable long-term use, of which several have been suggested.

Following rejection of the current commercial proposal, this is what should be done.

The simple, underlying fact of the situation is that the High School, and its setting on the Calton Hill, are far too important to the city, and to its worldwide reputation, to be handed over for commercial development. If the National Galleries (perhaps like the National Archives!) were to abandon the city centre, would we contemplate converting the galleries on the Mound to a “six-star hotel”, with symmetrical extensions in East and West Princes Street Gardens? This is by no means an unfair comparison.

(Dr) James Simpson OBE FRIAS

Vice-president, 
ICOMOS-UK

Board member, Scottish Civic Trust

Edinburgh