Edinburgh councillors unanimously reject Royal High School hotel plans

A packed public gallery cheered as councillors unanimously rejected revised plans for a luxury hotel on the old Royal High School on Calton Hill.
Artist's impression of how the proposed hotel would have looked at the Royal High School site. Picture: ContributedArtist'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

A scaled-back £75 million bid to build a 6 star hotel on the historic site was put in front of the city council’s sub development committee today.

But after hours of presentations from the community, ward representatives, heritage bodies and the developers, councillors took just minutes to refuse the application condeming it “universally reviled”.

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The developer behind the controversial application was accused of launching an attack on planning officials.

Chairman of developer of Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties (DHP) David Orr was chastised by planning convenor Lewis Ritchie for his defensive pitch.

He said: “What makes me disappointed is the fact that of a 40 minte presenation you spent 30 minutes of it criticising our officers, the world heritage bodies and the music school.”

Mr Orr accused heritage bodies of falsifying images, claims that were disputed by Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH).

And in reaction to the final decision he said: “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.

“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.”

The Royal High School Preservation Trust, behind the rival “music school” bid for the site said the Scottish Government would have to take note of the public’s fierce opposition to the proposal.

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William Gray Muir, chair of the trust 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. The Royal High School Preservation Trust looks forward to pursuing its exciting, positive vision for the building as soon as the way is clear.”

Ward councillors were pleased with the councillors decision to uphold the planning chiefs recommendation to refuse, with each claiming email inboxes “full to the brim” of objections to the proposal.

Green councillor for city centre Claire Miller said: “I’m delighted that 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 highlighted and showcased the wonderful architecture, preserved the heritage, and brought benefits to the neighbourhood then residents might have been supportive. However I don’t think these proposals are for a boutique hotel any more. If you need to build extensions to create over 100 bedrooms, then the buildings on the site just aren’t suitable for the hotel you’re trying to create.

“One of Edinburgh’s landmark buildings deserves better.”

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