Plans by Hoskins Architects to turn Edinburgh’s former Royal High School into a luxury hotel have been rejected by the city council
At a six-hour meeting of the council’s development management subcommittee yesterday, councillors voted unanimously to turn down the scheme, which would have added Modernist wings to the Thomas Hamilton-designed building.
The council’s planning convener, SNP councillor Lewis Ritchie, slammed the plans for a 127-bedroom hotel at the category A listed building.
Quoted in the Herald newspaper, he said: ‘Speaking quite plainly I think that this building and this design is one of the most abhorrent and the most ugly buildings that I’ve ever seen.
‘It is not of the right standard, it is not of the right calibre, it does not befit that setting in which it aims to stand.
‘It is almost universally reviled by everyone who happens to look upon it and I could not in all conscience approve such a building.’
But architect Alan Dunlop told the AJ he thought the criticism of the proposal – originally designed by practice founder Gareth Hoskins before his death last year – was overly harsh.
‘I don’t think Gareth’s proposal represented his best work,’ he said. ‘Trying to satisfy everyone with an opinion was no doubt difficult and no architect sets out to produce a bad project, so the formal comments published from Edinburgh’s planning convener that the “hotel design is one of the most abhorrent and ugly I’ve ever seen” is both brutal and absurd.
‘It is also damaging for one of our most respected practices.’
The plans were drawn up on behalf of a partnership between Urbanist Hotels and Duddingston House Properties.
In a statement, David Orr, chairman of Urbanist Hotels, said that he was disappointed but not surprised by the committee’s decision.
He said: ‘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.’
Orr hinted that there would be an appeal against the decision, saying: ‘We remain 100 per cent committed to delivering this, or another scheme in line with our agreement with the council, which runs until 2022.’
Any appeal would leave uncertainty about an immediate start on construction for rival plans by Richard Murphy Architects to provide a new home for the city’s St Mary’s Music School, backed by the Royal High School Preservation Trust.
These plans were granted permission earlier this year.
In 2010, the council itself chose Duddingston House and Urbanist Hotels as the winner of a competition to select a preferred partner to bring the building back into use.
The council’s contract with the hotel developers cannot be broken until 2022 if there is a live planning application for the development.
In 2010, after the competition winner was announced, council leader Jenny Dawe said: “This is a hugely exciting development for one of Edinburgh’s, and Scotland’s, best-loved landmarks, particularly as it will bring the former Royal High back into public use for the first time in over 40 years.”
Richard Murphy Old Royal High School Edinburgh