Campaigners have renewed calls for an iconic Edinburgh building to be transformed into a specialist music school as ministers prepare to decide on rival plans for a luxury hotel.
A fierce battle over the future of the former Royal High School on the south face of Calton Hill has been raging for years.
Proposals to turn the 19th-Century neoclassical building into a £75 million international hotel have twice been rejected – but a decision is due on a lengthy planning appeal.
However, backers of the national music school project – supported by celebrities including violinist Nicola Benedetti and author Alexander McCall Smith – say the saga has dragged on too long and want a decision from the Scottish Government now.
Music school supporter, playwright David Black, said: “This is not the time to be considering another hotel. Music and the arts have suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic and having a national music school is far more important than having one of our finest buildings turned into a playground for rich visitors.”
The old Royal High School site has lain unoccupied for 50 years and it costs around £250,000 a year to keep it watertight.
The controversial hotel proposals first emerged a decade ago after a council-run design contest to finalise the future of the building was won by a bid to create a 150-room “arts hotel”.
However, with it came questions about the potential impact of the hotel’s design on a key historic treasure that forms part of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
One planning chief suggested it was “one of the most abhorrent and ugly buildings that I’ve ever seen”.
Meanwhile, the Royal High School Preservation Trust and St Mary’s Music School unveiled fully funded plans to restore the site as the new home for an extended national music school, complete with concert hall and garden.
A spokesman said the plans to create a home for Scotland’s national music school were “fully approved, fully funded, and ready to go”.
However, David Orr, chairman of joint developers, Urbanist Hotels, said if the appeal was successful, work could start immediately.
He said: “We are ready to start work as soon as the government announces its decision and we are hopeful for a positive outcome.”
The Scottish Government said: “Scottish Ministers are currently considering two planning appeals and two listed building consent appeals relating to the former Royal High School, also known as New Parliament House.
“Ministers received detailed reports on the appeals from the DPEA (Planning and Environmental Appeals Division) in June and have been considering the reporters’ findings and recommendations and the evidence submitted to the inquiry. Decisions on the appeals will be issued as soon as possible.”
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