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Hoskins set to revise Calton Hill plans

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Hoskins Architects looks set to revise once more its plans to convert Edinburgh’s historic Royal High School into a hotel

It is understood the practice is tweaking its designs to reduce the scale of the proposals to convert Thomas Hamilton’s unused 1829 masterpiece into a 147-bedroom hotel, which were thrown out in December.

The size of the project was cited among the main reasons councillors rejected the controversial £75 million redevelopment last year. City planners remarked in a pre-committee report that ’too much building was proposed’.

The scheme then considered by the city’s councillors was itself a ‘fundamental’ redesign of the practice’s early concept for the overhaul of the Category A-listed Classical building on Calton Hill, a commission the practice landed in early 2010.

Meanwhile the AJ has also learned that Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group, the backers of Hoskins’ proposal, want to delay the public inquiry following the appeal against the original planning refusal, which had been scheduled for November.

A spokesman from Duddingston House Properties said: ‘We remain committed to fulfilling our agreement with the City of Edinburgh Council to bring a hotel of international renown to the city by restoring the former Old Royal High School building.

‘We have held detailed discussions with the council to explore the scope for possible design changes and our intention is to bring forward a revised proposal. Full details will be revealed in due course.’

The move comes after Richard Murphy Architects’ plans to design a new home for St Mary’s Music School on the site were given the green light last month.

Murphy’s scheme – drawn up with conservation specialist Simpson & Brown – won unanimous approval and was described as ‘sensitively designed’ and a ‘measured re-use’ in a report by planners.

Duddingston House Properties won a council-led competition to transform the Neoclassical building in 2010 but the established contract, which the AJ understands will remain valid until 2022, is subject to planning permission being granted.

The contract means that, while Richard Murphy’s plans – backed by Royal High School Preservation – have been approved, construction will not start on the music hall until the existing agreement with Duddingston has been negotiated, or terminated.

Despite this, William Gray Muir, chair of the trust, told the AJ he had seen ‘contradictory’ accounts of what the contract entails from Duddingston and the council.

He said: ‘The hotel developer is refusing to release the contract, so we really have no idea what is in it. We simply don’t know what the truth is and, if Duddingston House were prepared to release the contract, it would make it a lot clearer.’

Muir added that the council had extended planning consent for the music school to seven years from the usual three, meaning that the consent would be valid until mid-2023.

He said: ‘We are prepared to sit this out for the long run. We hope that Duddingston House would not hold this crucial piece of our heritage to ransom and would accept there is now a scheme that has been unanimously approved by the planning committee, which is very popular with the people of Edinburgh […] we would urge them to allow us to start taking that forward.’

The Royal High School

The Royal High School has not been in public use since 1968. Built on Calton Hill in 1829, it is one of Edinburgh’s most imposing landmarks. A number of proposals for the school have fallen by the wayside, including plans to move the Scottish Assembly into the building in the 1970s and a more recent scheme for a £20 million National Photography Centre.

Old Royal High School

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Thank goodness the planners have got some spine, because the less than transparent deal between the council and the property company for conversion to a 5-star hotel - and the council's enthusiastic nodding through of Jestico & Whiles' repulsively trashy 'Golden Turd' / 'Walnut Whip' 5-star hotel design in the New Town (against the advice of the planners) suggest that this fine city is facing much the same challenges now as when the University was arrogantly bulldozing its way around George Square in the 1960s.

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