The plan was submitted by Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels and went to appeal after being rejected by the City of Edinburgh Council. It would have included extension and demolition work to the buildings, which occupy a prominent site in the city. The application has now been determined by Scottish ministers as the case was seen as raising issues of national importance in terms of potential impacts on the historic environment, including the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site.
In line with recommendations made to them, the Scottish Ministers have refused listed building consent. An alternative scheme by the Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) now looks likely to go ahead. This involves redeveloping the listed building and its site as a music school. The proposal already has planning permission and listed building consent, although some details remain to be resolved.
The former Royal High School is a category A listed building seen as being of international importance. It is prominently sited on the southern slope of Calton Hill, which is included in the national Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. The site is within the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site, and the New Town Conservation Area. Across the road to the south of the site is the Old Town Conservation Area. Calton Hill has evolved as a highly significant cultural place in Edinburgh, containing the National Monument, Nelson’s Monument and other notable structures.
The proposed works were to facilitate the development of a ‘world class hotel’ and included the total demolition of some of the buildings within the site. Alterations to the remaining buildings, the retaining walls, boundary walls, gateposts and railings were also proposed. The main building would be altered internally and externally.
Edinburgh World Heritage welcomed the decision of the Scottish government to dismiss the appeal It said: “This was always a highly insensitive commercial development which would have been deeply damaging to an internationally recognised masterpiece of Greek Revival architecture, as well as to the designed landscape setting of Calton Hill, and to the visible contrast between the Old and New Towns which can be experienced in this area of outstanding national importance.”
Christina Sinclair, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “Good development in the World Heritage Site is about managing change – understanding, conserving and enhancing the heritage values that we all enjoy and benefit from. Had there been a proposal for an appropriate reuse of the Old Royal High School, which understood and creatively conserved and enhanced its heritage values, it would have had our full support. However, this development would have caused serious harm to the World Heritage Site, and we warmly welcome the decision of the Scottish ministers.”