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Richard Murphy unveils rival plans for Calton Hill

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Richard Murphy Architects has revealed its alternative vision to regenerate Edinburgh’s landmark Royal High School

The scheme, drawn up with conservation specialist Simpson & Brown, proposes transforming the Grade A-listed Thomas Hamilton-designed building into a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

Backed by the Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT), the proposals have been billed as a ‘viable alternative’ to Hoskins Architects’ controverisal and recently revised £75 million hotel redevelopment plans.

Murphy’s scheme – expected to be submitted to City of Edinburgh Council later this week – would create a new 300-seat concert hall in the former debating chamber, with a new ‘highly contemporary’ foyer beneath.

William Gray Muir, chair of RHSPT which has offered to buy the hillside landmark for £1.5 million, said: ‘The trust believes that the former Royal High School should return to its rightful position at the cultural heart of Edinburgh, and we are simply delighted with the designs prepared by Richard Murphy Architects.

’These not only give us three new public performance spaces and a state-of-the-art new home for St Mary’s Music School, but they also ensure that the building’s dramatic setting is both protected and enhanced.’

Gray Muir continued: ‘We fully recognise that the City of Edinburgh Council is not currently in a position to accept our offer due to its existing commitment to a commercial development.

‘However, we have consulted widely and believe that our plans satisfy the need for conservation, public access, a culturally suitable and economically sustainable use.

‘Therefore, if the commercial application were refused, the trust is poised and ready to enter any new competitive process to acquire the building for St Mary’s Music School. Such a process could be completed in a matter of months.’

Hoskins Architects submitted ‘fundamentally’ reworked plans to convert the disused 1829 masterpiece into a 147-room hotel in September (AJ 02.09.15).

According to the firm’s founder Gareth Hoskins, the new design with its pair of ‘organic’ wings splaying away from the former school building was informed by extensive consultation. A decision will be made on the Hoskins proposals on 17 December.

The scheme has, however, come in for criticism from a number of sources, with Adam Wilkinson of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust saying his and the conservation charity’s fears about developing the western edge of the former school site – and its potential impact on the World Heritage Site – had not been heard.

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