PRESS RELEASE: SAVE welcomes Scottish Government's dismissal of damaging Edinburgh Royal High School hotel plans 

28th October 2020

SAVE Britain's Heritage has welcomed news that the Scottish Government has thrown out an appeal by hotel developers Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties for a 150-room luxury hotel complex adjacent to the Category A Listed Royal High School on Calton Hill, Edinburgh.  
The long-delayed decision to refuse planning permission and listed building consent follows a six-year campaign, with Edinburgh World Heritage, The Cockburn Association and SAVE objecting strongly to the proposed scheme in 2015 and 2017. The 2017 proposals had previously been rejected by Edinburgh City Council but were appealed by developer. 
A nine-week public local inquiry was held in 2018 to determine the fate of the former Royal High School, which sits in a prominent position within the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those opposing the plans included Edinburgh City Council and Historic Environment Scotland, the Scottish Government’s heritage adviser, who had backed the council's recommendation for refusal since 2015.

Fighting alongside them were Edinburgh World Heritage and local groups The Cockburn Association and New Town & Broughton Community Council, who all called for the hotel plans to be dismissed on the basis of harm to not just the former Royal High School but also Calton Hill, Edinburgh New Town, and the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

In their refusal decision issued yesterday, Scottish Ministers heeded such calls, declaring the hotel plans “would result in considerable damage to the setting of one of the most important neoclassical buildings in the city.” 

Local campaigners now hope that Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties will relinquish their lease of the neoclassical landmark, which ends in 2022, to allow for plans by the Royal High School Preservation Trust to re-establish a music school on the site. This alternative scheme, designed by Richard Murphy Architects, would see the buildings refurbished as the new home for the St Mary’s Music School, and was awarded planning and listed building consent in 2017. The scheme is also fully funded. 

Former SAVE director Adam Wilkinson, played a leading role at the 2018 public inquiry as the then director of Edinburgh World Heritage.

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: “The Royal High School is one of the world’s most beautiful Greek Revival buildings standing conspicuously on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill in direct emulation of the Acropolis in Athens.  The proposed new hotel wings were a gross intrusion on a great masterpiece in a glorious setting. Now they have been refused by Scottish Ministers we hope the fully funded alternative scheme for a music school can proceed with expedition.” 
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: “We warmly welcome this decision to throw out the needlessly damaging and insensitive proposals for one of Edinburgh's most important historic buildings. The fully funded alternative music school plans for the RHS show that you don't have to add overwhelming extensions to magnificent historic buildings in order to make them viable.”

The Royal High School was built between 1825-9 to designs by Thomas Hamilton, one of the leading architects of the Greek Revival. Hamilton masterfully overcame the site’s challenging topography to produce a building which is a monumental architectural statement in Greek Doric, but which also defers to the natural beauty of Edinburgh and its surrounding landscape.  Alongside surrounding landmarks such as the National Monument it cemented Edinburgh’s reputation as the Athens of the north, and it was listed Category A in 1966.
Since the school closed in 1968, the site has been mothballed by Edinburgh City Council, with various proposals such as using it for the Scottish Parliament and converting it to a photography museum coming to nothing.


Note to Editors:

1. For more information contact Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage – 07388 181 181.

2. SAVE Britain's Heritageis a strong, independent voice in conservation that has been fighting for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses since 1975. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses.    

3. See here for details on our current campaigns.