Conservationist fury over Edinburgh’s five-star hotel plan

A row has erupted over plans to turn the site of a former school in Edinburgh into a luxury hotel.

The site has been semi-vacant for nearly 50 years since the Royal High School moved to the outskirts of the Scottish capital.

Rosewood Hotels and Resorts has been selected to manage the property at Calton Hill.

The plan to invest more than £75m to restore and convert the property into an international hotel is led by Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels.

Experts from the UK committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) will visit Edinburgh this week to examine the impact of the proposals on the city’s heritage standing.

Historic Scotland, the official architectural watchdog, has formally objected, arguing the development would cause “unacceptable harm” to the site and warning that it would refuse listed buildings consent, a legal requirement for the project to proceed.

Now The Dunard Fund has offered more than £20m to convert the building to house St Mary’s music school.

The move has raised claims of a “conflict of interest” as this plan is backed by James Simpson, a founding partner of architect firm Simpson & Brown, a vice-president for Scotland at Icomos.

Edinburgh city councillor Cameron Rose claimed Simpson’s role “possibly brings into doubt the independence of Icomos”.

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, told The Guardian newspaper that a decision to build the hotel would have huge repercussions.

He said: “If the old Royal high proposals go through then it will be seen that our systems for protecting the world heritage site are not functioning as they should. Historic Scotland couldn’t state more clearly the impact on the world heritage site, and if it’s not working properly then there is absolutely a case for people from outside to investigate.”

Gareth Hoskins, the architect for the project, says the designs respond to the comments made by heritage organisations and the public during the comprehensive consultation process earlier in the year.

He said: “We’ve listened and taken on board views from a wide range of organisations and individuals through the pre-planning process to develop a fundamentally different design for the site. The design focuses around an informed restoration of the central Hamilton-designed building, repairing its decaying fabric and maintaining the strong sculptural presence of its frontage without intervention. The existing building will be entirely given over to the public areas of the new hotel allowing its spaces to be fully accessible for the first time in the building’s history.”

John Keenan

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John Keenan

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