Edinburgh councillors unanimously reject Royal High School hotel plans

Artist's impression of how the proposed hotel would have looked at the Royal High School site. Picture: Contributed
Artist's impression of how the proposed hotel would have looked at the Royal High School site. Picture: Contributed
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Developers have vowed to carry on their plans to turn the former Royal High School into a luxury hotel, despite seeing the proposal unanimously rejected by the council.

Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties said they remain “100 per cent” committed to delivering a scheme on the site.

And with five years remaining of the contract held with Edinburgh council for the A-listed building, the developers are considering all options on how to progress the application.

Opponents of the scheme welcomed the councillors’ decision to uphold planning chiefs’ recommendation to refuse the proposal.

Despite a vocal public gallery and thousands of rejections to the scheme, chairman of Urbanist Hotels David Orr remains resolute. He said: “We remain 100 per cent committed to delivering this, or another scheme in line with our agreement with the council, which runs until 2022.

“We are naturally disappointed although not especially surprised that councillors have taken the decision not to approve our proposals.

“It is especially disappointing and worrying that this decision was made amidst a backdrop of wilful misrepresentation and misleading campaigning by Edinburgh World Heritage and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland.

• READ MORE: Royal High luxury hotel plans recommended for refusal

“Despite this concerted and very public campaign against our proposals, we will continue to fulfil our contractual obligation with the council to revive a building which has been allowed to slip into a state of disrepair and neglect for more than 50 years.

“Our revised proposal discussed yesterday is the culmination of 18 months’ intensive work and resources involving an investment of more than £3 million. During this time we have taken time to listen to a wide range of stakeholders and heritage experts and taken their views and feedback on board, with heritage and conservation central to our plans.

“We produced a design solution which not only protects and promotes the magnificence of Hamilton’s centrepiece building but also has a viable and long-term investment plan in place to maintain it as part of the city’s living and breathing heritage.

“We need to be very clear that, despite what we have heard today, our scheme is the only proposal on the table that can realistically guarantee the future of the Hamilton building – both architecturally and financially. Without it, we are facing a very real risk of another 50 years of disrepair and misuse, which would be catastrophic for both the building and the city.”

The proposal was backed by Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, who spoke at the hearing about the benefits of the city having a Rosewood Hotel at its heart.

“The council ran a competition to appoint the applicant for this site and yet at this late stage in the day, if that were refused, the message it sends out is what a risky place this would be for a potential developer of investor to come to – it would be really damaging.

“The opportunity to get Rosewood to come to a city the size of Edinburgh is already breaking the mould, and for the council to refuse its own project effects how they are going to be seen by the outside world as a risky and not very welcoming place to come and I think that’s an extremely damaging thing to do.”

The developer won a council-run design contest in 2010, but the final plans sparked anger when it emerged they involved multi-storey extensions. Councillors rejected the initial plans in 2015.

But opposition heritage groups say the result sends a clear message about what the city wants for its future.

William Gray Muir, chair of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, the body leading a rival bid, said the Scottish Government would have to take note of the public’s fierce opposition to the proposal. He said: “The applicants angrily attacked all of the parties who disagreed with them, and showed an alarming lack of respect for the process, the consultees and the people of Edinburgh.

“Well, the people of Edinburgh and their appointed representatives have given their unequivocal verdict. The

Scottish Government will surely have taken note.

“Let’s hope the development consortium shows some sense of dignity and bow out quickly, letting the city pursue a much brighter future for this wonderful building.

• READ MORE: Hotel developers launch drastic bid to win planning permission for Royal High

“The Royal High School Preservation Trust looks forward to pursuing its exciting, positive vision for the building as soon as the way is clear.”

Councillors were also quick to slam the proposal, following six hours of presentations and questions, they took just minutes to reject the application outright, branding it “universally reviled”.

City centre ward Cllr Joanna Mowatt said the case for altering the building was unjustified and also questioned the applicant’s defensive approach.

“What has been brought in front of us today, with a very defensive presentation by the developers, which I think is very unfortunate because I always think – what do you have to hide when you have to attack someone else rather than defend your own application?

“This picture that was put in front of that apparently is a falsification, has never been put in front of this committee by the people that produced it. It was only put in front of us by the developers, I would have to question why they would want to do that. It is not only the form of this building that is not respecting of the Hamilton building but the function is not

subservient.

“We should listen to the city. This is not merely a local issue, it is a national issue and a whole city-wide issue and in some ways it is an international issue because of the importance of this building.”

City centre Greens Cllr Claire Miller added: “I’m delighted that the planning committee listened to the overwhelming evidence from our own officers, external experts and public opinion and rejected the proposal. Perhaps, if the developer’s vision for the site had showcased the benefits to the neighbourhood then residents might have been supportive.”