One of the key figures spearheading the Rosewood developed earmarked for the old Royal High School on Calton Hill have admitted its internal spaces are totally unsuitable for hotel accommodation.
Critics have called for the £75 million scheme, which has been in the planning stages for several years, to be scrapped because it involves building multi-storey wings to house all of the hotel bedrooms.
David Orr, co-founder of the Urbanist Group, has insisted that extensions, which have been compared by opponents to “sticking Mickey Mouse ears on the Mona Lisa,” will ensure the original vision of 19th century architect Thomas Hamilton is respected.
Dating back to 1829, the A-listed building has been lying largely empty since it was vacated by the Royal High School in 1968.
It was later proposed to be the new home for the Scottish Parliament and then the headquarters of a national photography centre before the city council instigated a design competition to find a long-term use for the site.
Although winners Duddingston House Properties were unveiled in the summer of 2010 it took another five years for detailed plans to emerge.
The project will see the Hong Kong-based Rosewood chain open its first hotel in Scotland, however heritage bodies have opposed the project over the impact they say it will have on views from across the city.
Rosewood’s hopes of opening the hotel by next year were scuppered when the city council threw out an initial 147-room scheme in December 2015. The developers initially planned to appeal, but have since lodged scaled back plans, which have reduced the height of the extensions by up to 25 per cent and the number of rooms by 20.
Mr Orr said there was no question of trying to contain the hotel development within the footprint of the existing building, which he said would become home to public bars, restaurants, an art gallery, and performance spaces.
Mr Orr said: “There are a lot of good and important hotel businesses in the city. We recognised the need to have a genuine differentiator that would essentially open up Edinburgh to a new audience. There is an importance in having a variety of offer.
“Our vision was to create a new setting which absolutely respected the original Hamilton building fully and gave it a sustainable future. Aside from the heritage value and the great skill of the architect, it is not suited to being a hotel bedroom provider. But, done sensitively, it is very suitable for accessible public spaces.
“We have an opportunity to create the right surroundings, as well as the right facilities, to open up, for the first time ever, these spaces in the Hamilton building to the public. There’s a very substantial heritage benefit in opening up these spaces. It would respect the setting as well as bring something that would be truly enjoyed people, both visitors and locals. But it needs these supporting spaces.”