Controversial new plans for a landmark building once earmarked as the home for the Scottish Parliament have been dealt a serious blow after the nation’s heritage agency lodged a damning criticism of the scheme.
The objection means ministers will be able to “call in” proposals to create a £75 million luxury hotel at the former Royal High School in Edinburgh and order a public inquiry if the development gets the go-ahead from the city council.
It is a major blow for developers Duddingston House Properties, which lodged a planning application for the scheme at the beginning of the month after spending five years creating a viable design.
They plan to turn the abandoned school on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill into a five-star hotel featuring dramatic “Inca-style” grass-roofed terraces.
The design leaves the original A-listed building largely intact, with glass galleries leading to guest rooms on the terraces.
But Historic Scotland has condemned proposed extensions that are central to the redevelopment. Heritage managers say the massive wings will “dominate and overwhelm” the 200-year-old building, which is famed around the world for its Greek Revival architecture.
The letter of objection to Edinburgh city council planners states: “The proposed extensions to the listed building, by their height, scale and massing, would clearly dominate and overwhelm the listed building, challenging its primacy on the site and diminishing significantly the building’s status as an internationally-acclaimed exemplar of Greek Revival architecture.”
Fears were raised over the effect on natural features and historic landmarks such as the National Monument and the nearby art deco headquarters of the Scottish Government.
It continues: “The proposals would impact on the key characteristics and landscape features of the hill, as well as the carefully-planned setting and relationship between the hill and the former school, the latter having been thoughtfully designed and positioned to harmonise with the natural contours of the site.
“In turn, the development would impact too on the monuments on the hill and their important relationship with the former school and on other adjacent category A listed buildings including St Andrew’s House.”
Historic Scotland’s intervention offers hope to conservationists, who have warned the designs – as well as a new “walnut whip” hotel planned for the nearby St James Quarter – could threaten the capital’s status as a Unesco world heritage site
Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association campaign group, said: “The large mass of the two new buildings are highly prominent, an over-development of the site and harmful to the city landscape.”
Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson said it was “a matter of deep regret” that advice given to the development team had been ignored.
Duddingston House Properties has a lease agreement with the council, which is subject to securing planning permission. They now face a dilemma over whether to go back to the drawing board or risk the prospect of a public inquiry.
Work is due to begin next January, with the hotel scheduled to open in March 2018.