(PPA-230-2178, LBA-230-2076, PPA-230-2213 & LBA-230-2118)
• The buildings have been without a permanent alternative use for 50 years, since the relocation of the Royal High School in 1968, and it is common ground that various proposals for the site have failed to secure a sustainable long-term use over a number of years.
• The buildings are on the Buildings at Risk Register, cost the public purse more than £250,000 per annum just to keep wind and watertight and are in need of investment according to the Council. It is submitted that this situation is wholly inappropriate for one of Scotland’s most important buildings (a status that is not in dispute), especially when they lie within the World Heritage Site (“WHS”).
• Following a competitive tendering process, the Appellants were selected by the Council as ‘preferred developer’ in 2009 to deliver a commercial use for the Buildings as an hotel of international standing.
• The design of the hotel, by the late Gareth Hoskins, is of the highest architectural quality and reflects conservation principles identified by extensive research into Thomas Hamilton’s vision for the site and the special interest of the buildings undertaken by Andrew Wright, a leading accredited conservation architect. No evidence to the contrary on architectural quality was led by any opposition party.
• The hotel proposals, when assessed sensibly and objectively, will not adversely affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the WHS. There will be some impacts on the listed building and other heritage/landscape designations, as there would be with any development, but these have been limited by design and there will be a number of beneficial impacts.
• There is also no credible risk of Edinburgh losing its WHS status. UNESCO has only twice done this where (i) the Government in Oman preferred to drill for oil in the WHS and (ii) in Dresden, Germany, a major road and bridge were built across the valley which enjoyed WHS status. Liverpool, where a significant number of high rise buildings are being proposed in the WHS, still retains its WHS status.
• The Appellants have sought to address the Council’s concerns on the first hotel scheme, that was narrowly refused by one vote at committee because “too much building” was proposed, by reducing the height, scale and massing with the second hotel scheme. However, the Council increased its opposition to this second scheme.
• Two experienced hotel consultancies have assessed the viability of the hotel proposals on behalf of the Appellants and found them to be viable. This has been independently reviewed on behalf of the Council and those conclusions accepted.
• The hotels will deliver net economic benefits and a contribution to the tourism sector which will bring significant benefits to the city, regional and national economy, a factor supported by the Council.
• The hotel proposals will enable a sustainable long term commercial use for the buildings without public subsidy and act as a catalyst for further investment in the surrounding area, drawing footfall further east from Princes Street to an often overlooked part of the city, a factor supported by the Council’s Economic Development team.
• The Council’s committee reports acknowledged that a hotel of the highest quality is proposed. Securing Rosewood as the operator of the hotel is a unique opportunity for Edinburgh and Scotland to join a network of luxury hotels inspired by the culture, history and geography of their locations across Europe and beyond, and secure the benefits that brings. Furthermore, a Rosewood will further improve the profiling of Edinburgh and Scotland on a global stage as well as improve the ability to attract Ultra High Net Worth and High Net Worth Individuals to visit the city and perhaps then decide to invest further in the city and in Scotland.
• The hotel proposals will also enable considerable public access to this important listed building through a variety of public areas (e.g. bars and gallery spaces). This is in contrast to the RHSPT scheme which, due to being a school, would have to place various restrictions on access, as accepted by the Council.
• The RHSPT proposals for a music school on the site would have a harmful impact on the special interest of the Thomas Hamilton building and the contribution that its setting makes to that special interest, not least because of the substantial excavations and other interventions proposed. It therefore cannot be said to be another option “with less impact on its special interest” in terms of historic environment policy.
• The evidence is clear that there can be no certainty as to the deliverability of the RHSPT proposal. For example:
(i) The RHSPT has no legal control over the site and cannot gain any interest for several years, at least.
(ii) If the Appellants’ interest in the site ended for whatever reason, the Council would still be obliged to obtain ‘best value’ for the site which was achieved previously by undertaking a Europe wide procurement exercise.
(iii) There is no legally binding commitments between RHSPT and the music school to deliver a music school, and the RHSPT has said it is open to considering other uses.
(iv) Dunard Fund, who claims to be funding the RHSPT proposal, have confirmed that they have committed greater sums to the RHSPT proposal and the IMPACT concert hall project than the funds they currently have in their account.
(v) Ministerial approval is required for the relocation of the music school due to the Aided Places funding it receives (St Mary’s Music School (Aided Places) (Scotland) Regulations 2015). It is unclear whether such approval would be forthcoming.
• In conclusion, the proposals are in full accordance with the Development Plan and all other material considerations further support the proposals.