Saving the Royal High School

Green City Centre councillor Claire Miller spoke today at the planning hearing on proposals to turn the old Royal High School into a hotel. This is the text of what she said.

I’ve come to the hearing today to represent residents who, like me, are opposed to the plans put forward in the application before you.

I lodged my objection earlier this year, along with 3,200 others: people who looked at the proposals and simply could not see how the plans could be allowed to go ahead and swallow up our amazing building and demolish others; nor how it would fit into the neighbourhood.

I’ve got a mailbag full of letters from residents, people who live very nearby, on the hill and in the neighbourhood, but also from people across the city; people who have contacted me as ward councillor in the city centre to express their disbelief at this plan.

During August I’ve been receiving multiple emails and letters every day, from people desperate to influence the committee and urging the council to reject it.

You will know as councillors that this is not the normal level of correspondence a ward councillor would receive about a planning application.

I don’t believe that these views can simply be dismissed as anti-business and motivated by blocking a viable commercial development that would benefit the area, as has been alleged.

So it is this strength of feeling amongst our residents that I want to express to you today. This development is an insult to the built environment that we hold so dear.

People feel an emotional connection with our amazing Old and New Towns, and this is a hugely important building which forms a connection point between the two, sitting on Calton Hill, looking to the Old Town and the castle, visible from the Old Town below, as well as an amazing eastward-bound view from Waterloo Place.

From the letters I’ve received, the main theme emerging is the horror at two huge extensions that would irreversibly change the school building.

So what has led us to this proposal? The council saw that the building had not had a long-term occupier for decades, and in my view quite rightly felt it needed a new lease of life, a new chapter. The competitive tender resulted in a winner who proposed a high-end boutique arts hotel.

If this vision for the site had highlighted and showcased the wonderful architecture, preserved the heritage, and brought benefits to the neighbourhood then perhaps residents would have been supportive. However I don’t think these proposals are for a boutique hotel any more. If you need to build extensions to create over 100 bedrooms, then the buildings on the site just aren’t suitable for the hotel you’re trying to create.

You need a bigger building! And that’s just not suitable here.

So I think what is really needed here is a refusal of this application and a fresh look to find a suitable use for the buildings. I emphasise “suitable” because I feel, and residents who have written to me also feel, that this use is not at all suitable.

Carol Nimmo has given a fabulous argument in favour of an alternative proposal, which I think serves as an example of what can be done here to restore and preserve the buildings.

The planning officers have identified and reported to us all the material planning reasons for you to refuse, and are spot on – they perfectly reflect the way people feel about this application, in particular:

  • Size, scale, massing
  • Demolition and irreversible damage
  • Loss of heritage

So we know it’s possible to bring the building back into use without damaging it in this way, and so I would urge you to refuse today.