Cracks appear over Royal High School revamp

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ONE of Scotland's most celebrated landmarks is at the centre of a simmering dispute over a bid to turn the A-listed building into a £35 million "arts hotel".

Large glass extensions would be added to the former Royal High School, at Calton Hill in Edinburgh, under plans to bring the building back into public use for the first time in more than 40 years.

Critics have branded the plan to turn it into a hotel "fatally flawed" and "insensitive".

However, two glass-boxed additions on either side of the A-listed building are proposed by a developer which won an international contest to come up with a new use.

A major extension is also proposed to the rear of the building to make a 150-room hotel a viable proposition on the site at Regent Road.

Senior officers at Edinburgh City Council have been consulted on the plans, which are yet to be made public.

However, the prospect of dramatic changes being made to the iconic Greek Doric-style building are understood to have caused divisions in the council, while architectural experts and heritage campaigners have expressed fears over the suitability of modern extensions to the 1819 building.

Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, said: "If Historic Scotland awarded triple A listings this would have one. This building and much of its setting is sacrosanct."

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, the leading heritage watchdog, said: "We are not a fan of adding glass extensions on to existing buildings, as the council has just done with the Usher Hall. We are in favour of bringing the building back into use, but not at any cost."

The Royal High School was based in the building until 1968 when it moved to Barnton. It was tipped to become the home of the new Scottish Parliament before the Holyrood site was chosen in 1997.

More recently, it was at the centre of a campaign to house a national photography centre, but that scheme collapsed due to funding problems. Edinburgh-based Duddingston House Properties fought off more than 50 other bidders to be selected by the city council, the owner of the building.

Its plans to create a hotel boasting gallery spaces, a restaurant, cafe and health spa were

designed by Glasgow-based architect Gareth Hoskins, who was brought in by US tycoon Donald Trump to create his golf resort development in Aberdeenshire.

Duddingston's scheme edged out a bid to turn the building into a conference and business centre, without extensions, but this was seen as less ambitious by the selection panel.

Senior council sources have told Scotland on Sunday they are concerned the chosen project stands "little chance" of securing planning permission.

But SNP councillor Tom Buchanan, the city's economic developer leader, said: "This building is costing more than 250,000 a year in repairs and maintenance. I am confident the proposals brought forward will be sympathetic."