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Inquiry opens into Hoskins’ contentious plans for Edinburgh’s Calton Hill


The long-running battle over plans by Gareth Hoskins Architects to convert Edinburgh’s former Royal High School into a hotel has moved into a new phase with the opening today of a planning inquiry into the proposals

Scheme developers Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels are appealing against the City of Edinburgh’s decisions to refuse two different versions of the scheme in December 2015 and September 2017.

At the appeal, the developers will argue that the proposals will have a limited impact on the setting of Thomas Hamilton’s abandoned 1820s A-listed Neoclassical building – on to which they are proposing two modern extensions – and the city’s World Heritage Site Status.

In their inquiry statement, the developers said: ‘Potentially adverse landscape and townscape effects of the proposals have been limited through design and these have been further reduced in the second application.

‘While there will be some effect on townscape character, landscape character and within designated areas, these effects are localised and do not compromise the special qualities or integrity of the landscape designation.’

However, in its inquiry statement, the council said that it would provide evidence to demonstrate that neither of the proposals accords with the city’s development plan.

It said ‘the benefits to the city economy and to tourism through bringing the former Royal High School building back into a sustainable long-term use proposed are not outweighed by the very significant harm to the built heritage and landscape of the city and the adverse effects on the Outstanding Universal Values of the World Heritage Site.

‘Furthermore, it will be maintained that there is a significant risk that such harmful effects would potentially impact in the longer term on the attractiveness and success of the city as a tourist destination.’

The city’s case is backed by Heritage Scotland, which in its written statement said that the ‘location, scale, massing, and height of the proposed extensions in each of the appeal proposals would have a significant adverse impact on the setting of the Royal High School’.

It added that the proposals ‘would overwhelm the listed building, removing its current primacy and focus on its site, and reducing its contextual character, significance and special interest’.

The inquiry is set to be divided into three sessions: one to consider the impact of the proposals on built and natural heritage features; a second considering the benefits of the appeal on tourism and the city’s economy.

A third session, due to start on 22 October, will consider a set of planning conditions proposed by the council in the event that planning permission and listed building consent is granted by Scottish ministers for either of the schemes.

These draft conditions include provisions that pre-patinated copper cladding will be used for external cladding and that no open windows in entertainment spaces will face existing residential properties.

In addition, the developers would be asked to contribute £32,429 towards the Edinburgh tram, plus £2,000 for roads and £2,000 towards amending a controlled parking order nearby.

Speaking before the start of the inquiry, David Orr, co-founder of Urbanist Hotels, said: ‘Our design proposals will enhance the setting of the main Hamilton building and Edinburgh’s world heritage site without relying on the public purse.

‘During the appeal, we will prove that, on balance, our scheme is the only comprehensive solution for a building that has, in the main, remained unused and unoccupied for the last 50 years.’

In 2010, Edinburgh City Council announced that it had selected a development team including Gareth Hoskins Architects to convert the historic former Royal High School on Calton Hill into a hotel.

But in 2015, the council approved plans for a rival scheme by Richard Murphy Architects which would see the relocation of the city’s St Mary’s Music School to the site.

The inquiry is due to conclude before the end of October. It is unknown when a decision is expected to be announced.


1825 Thomas Hamilton publishes a sketch of the proposed building on council land at Calton Hill as an etching. Foundation stone laid in July.

1829 The school officially opens, and is described in The Scotsman as ‘one of the most Classical and perfect edifices to be seen in Europe’.

1968 The school site is closed after pupils transfer to larger new premises in Barnton.

1971 Planning permission is granted for an abortive scheme to use the building as an arts and cultural centre.

1977 Alterations are carried out to prepare the building for a potential Scottish Assembly.

1997 Calton Hill loses out to Holyrood as the site of the new Scottish Parliament.

2001 Plans to turn the former school into a National Photography Centre are unveiled. The plans fail to raise the £21 million cost of conversion and are abandoned eight years later.

2009 Edinburgh City Council launches the competition to find a new use for the building. 

2010 Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels, with Hoskins Architects, win a council contest, selected ahead of Richard Murphy and LDN Architects among others. Practice founder Gareth Hoskins admits his victorious scheme is ‘the more controversial in planning terms’.

2015 Hoskins finally reveals his first designs for the ‘super-sensitive’ site in February. The concept features large, almost Neoclassical wings (pictured below).

Gareth hoskins sketch

Gareth hoskins sketch

Conservation group Edinburgh World Heritage brands the proposals ‘over-development’. In response, the Royal High School Preservation Trust comes up with rival plans, drawn up by Richard Murphy, and offers to buy the site for £1.5 million.

2015 Hoskins fundamentally redesigns the proposals. However, these more ‘organic’ plans are narrowly refused in December. 

2016 In January, Gareth Hoskins dies aged 48 following a heart attack

2016 Appeal submitted in March. Murphy’s rival plans are approved five months later.

2017 Hoskins submits new, scaled-back designs. These plans are refused too – this time unanimously. An appeal is also submitted for these proposals.


Readers' comments (2)

  • The latest in a long line of post 19th century architect designed insults to the distinguished (but much abused) character of the city of Edinburgh

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  • Whilst not necessarily advocating for the Hoskins hotel scheme for the client granted the lease by the Council, close scrutiny of the plans show less physical alteration to the Grade A Listed Hamilton building (Cf townscape) than the rival scheme with Consent.

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