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Hoskins' contentious Calton Hill plans narrowly rejected

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Hoskins Architects’ controversial plans to convert Edinburgh’s historic Royal High School into 147-room hotel have been narrowly refused

Earlier today (17 December) Edinburgh City councillors threw out the proposed overhaul of Thomas Hamilton’s unused 1829 masterpiece on Calton Hill by just one vote (8 votes to 7).

The committee agreed with its officers’ recommendations to reject the project which was finally submitted for planning in September following a ‘fundamental’ rethink.

In their report the city’s planners said they feared the £75 million plans would cause ’permanent and irreversible damage’ to the city’s skyline. The document added: ’Put simply, too much building is proposed.’

Originally conceived as a ‘referential’ colonnaded addition to the Neo-classical former school, Hoskins’ reworked his designs for the Grade A-listed landmark in part to appease the conservationists.

But, despite claims by project backer Duddingston House Properties that scheme was heavily supported by Edinburgh residents, the revisions failed to win over heritage groups, with Historic Scotland among those objecting to the proposals.

Responding to the decision, Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) said: ’We’re very pleased that councillors have supported the view of their officers, Historic Environment Scotland and EWH.

’This decision demonstrates that the system of protection for the World Heritage Site is functioning.’

The development team said it would now ’reflect on today’s outcome and consider [its] next steps’.

Gareth Hoskins, managing director of Hoskins Architects, said: ’This was always going to be a tough decision for councillors. I remain confident this is not just an ambitious design but a sensitive and appropriate proposal that would revitalise Thomas Hamilton’s iconic building and breathe new life into Calton Hill for the people of Edinburgh and visitors alike.

He added: ’We’re pleased the quality of the design was recognised and commented upon today, both by the committee and in the planning report where it noted ”the architecture proposed is a sophisticated response to the site’s sensitive context”

This was always going to be a tough decision for councillors

‘We will now take some time to review our options on how to take this important project forward.’

Today’s refusal has been welcomed by the Royal High School Preservation Trust which has enlited Richard Murphy Architects and conservation specialist Simpson & Brown to drawn up an alternative scheme for the site.

The Trust wants to build a new home for the St Mary’s Music School in the building, complete with three performances spaces and a 300-seat concert hall in the former debating chamber.

William Gray Muir, chair of the trust which has offered to buy the hillside landmark for £1.5 million, said: ’We were impressed by the seriousness of the debate and the important questions which were aired. The council’s decision today makes it possible for us to pursue our proposals to return the former Royal High School building to its rightful position at the cultural heart of Edinburgh with public performance spaces and a state-of-the-art new home for St Mary’s Music School.’

He added: ’The Royal High School is an iconic building and a unique location and we are delighted that the Council has acknowledged its important place in Edinburgh’s illustrious heritage.’

Other comments

Kenneth Taylor, headteacher of St Mary’s Music School
’The school is conscious that the Royal High School Preservation Trust’s proposal to move St Mary’s Music School to the former Royal High School building would succeed only if the local authority opted to reject planning approval for an alternative commercial proposal for the site. We are pleased that councillors have taken that decision today. We are confident that the [trust’s] proposal provides a far closer match with the architectural and cultural significance of the unique site and with the backing of bodies like Edinburgh World Heritage, we are hopeful that it will secure the go-ahead from councillors as quickly as possible.’


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