Open letter from the Chairs of The AHSS, Cockburn Association, Edinburgh World Heritage and Scottish Civic Trust to the Editor of the Scotsman urging Scottish Ministers to refuse permission to turn the former Royal High School into a hotel.


Plan to turn the old Royal High School into hotel must be rejected once and for all


We write as Chairs of four of Scotland’s leading heritage bodies – the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, and the Scottish Civic Trust – to urge Scottish Ministers to refuse permission to turn the former Royal High School into a hotel.

The proposal has been the subject of two planning applications, both of which were rejected by the City of Edinburgh Council. The most recent application was rejected unanimously by the Planning Committee, and was subject to a substantial number of public representations, 94% of which were objections.

The hotel developer lodged an appeal against the decisions, and this was heard in a public inquiry in September/October 2018. The decision on the appeal was called in by Scottish Ministers, who will take account of the Inquiry Reporter’s findings.

The Royal High School, built in 1825-29, was the masterpiece of renowned Greek Revival architect, Thomas Hamilton and is recognised as one of Europe’s most important historic buildings. The School, which is A-listed, makes a significant contribution to Edinburgh’s historic architecture. It is a centrepiece of the World Heritage Site, the design of it and Calton Hill play a major role in our cityscape.

The proposed hotel would add two very large wings to the building, ruining Hamilton’s composition, and distracting from the southern view of Calton Hill. The western wing would adversely impact on the view east from Waterloo Place. The proposal is not at all sympathetic to the original composition, and is out of scale for a relatively small site.

The economic case advanced by the developer for the new hotel did not stand up to examination in the Inquiry, in terms of neither methodology nor its assumptions.

The hotel’s net contribution to the City’s economy would be minimal, and grossly overshadowed by its adverse impact on the city’s heritage as “The Athens of the North”.

There is an alternative. The proposed adaptation of the Royal High School as a new home for St Mary’s Music School already has Planning and Listed Building Consents. It is a sensitive scheme which respects the Thomas Hamilton building by limiting physical intervention to the necessary minimum. It does not attempt to dominate it, nor does it damage its setting.

It also returns the building to its original use as a place of learning, and with sensible and imaginative levels of public access that are in sympathy with it. Moreover, the Music School project is fully funded and ready to go. The Royal High School would be a splendid home for St Mary’s Music School.

We call on the Scottish Government to reject the appellant’s proposals for an unwanted, unjustified and entirely inappropriate hotel.


Martin Robertson
National Chair, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland
15 Rutland Square, Edinburgh EH1 2BE


Professor Emeritus Cliff Hague
Chair, the Cockburn Association
Trunk’s Close, 55 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR


Dr Brian Lang CBE FRSE
Chair, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust
5 Bakehouse Close, 146 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DD


Colin McLean FSAScot LRPS
Chair, the Scottish Civic Trust
The Tobacco Merchant’s House, 42 Miller Street, Glasgow G1 1DT





published in The Scotsman, Thursday 6 June 2019, p.34