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Proposals to transform the old Royal High School on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill into a world-class hotel were announced today by the project developers.  The former boys’ school, designed by Thomas Hamilton, opened in 1829 but has remained empty since 1968 when the Royal High School moved to Barnton.

Over the years, numerous uses have been suggested for what is one of Edinburgh’s most distinctive landmarks, from a potential site for the new Scottish Parliament to a photography or military museum.  The City of Edinburgh Council, which own the A listed building, granted Duddingston House Properties (DHP) a conditional ground lease for 125 years after the company won an open competition in 2010.

Designed by award-winning architect Gareth Hoskins, the new hotel when completed, will provide the capital with a distinctive hotel of international standing with Thomas Hamilton’s restored building as its centrepiece.  Three of the world’s top hotel operators, none of whom currently have a presence in Scotland, have been shortlisted as front-runners to manage the new hotel.

The economic impact of this new type of hotel offering would be significant not just for Edinburgh but for the whole of Scotland.  When operational the hotel is likely to create 640 local jobs and contribute on average £27 million annually to Edinburgh’s GDP.  On a Scotland-wide basis the hotel could support an additional 100 jobs, across different sectors including tourism, retail and leisure, and contribute an estimated £32m in GDP to Scotland’s economy annually. 1

A spokesperson from the City of Edinburgh Council’s Economic Development Department said: “The Old Royal High school building has not had a continuous use since the school moved 46 years ago. We look forward to the pre-application process in January 2015 for this important Edinburgh 122 project by the developers who won the council’s competition.  Edinburgh is demonstrating its ability to attract significant inward investment across a series of important projects which are crucial to the positioning of the city in Europe and to the creation of new job opportunities.”

The plan to turn the old Royal High School into a hotel of international standing is a fully-funded proposal with in excess of £55m committed by a group of institutional investors led by DHP’s Bruce Hare and David Orr of the Urbanist Group.  Orr, a hotelier, who was instrumental in bringing Harvey Nichols to Edinburgh, believes that the proposal for the new hotel has the potential to do for tourism what the department store did for retailing in the city.

“What we are proposing to do is to add something truly special to the Edinburgh hotel market by bringing one of the best hotel operators in the world to the city. This will not in any way diminish current hotel provision; indeed it will add another tier at the top which can only benefit all of the city’s operators.  By increasing the breadth of hotel offering, Scotland’s capital will be in a position to attract new visitors from the top end of the market as well as improve its ability to compete with other European cities for international diplomatic events and important global conferences.  But importantly, one of Edinburgh’s architectural jewels in the crown will be sensitively restored and the public will have access to Hamilton’s superb building for the first time.”

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, has urged the city’s business community to give the widest possible support to the project.  “Edinburgh’s success in world tourism requires that it keeps ahead of its competition and responds to the needs and demands of the tourist market.  A world-class hotel will enable Edinburgh to market itself around the globe as a great place to live, work and study as well as attract further inward investment opportunities to the city.  This will also help sell Edinburgh to the airlines at a time when we are competing with many other European Airports to attract their investment into the capital both as a market and a destination.”

The developers are due to submit a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) to the council in January 2015 followed by three days of public consultations at the old Royal High School in February 2015.

1 Oxford Economics – the economic impact of a new five-star hotel of international standing on the Edinburgh and Scottish economies

2.Edinburgh 12 is a publication detailing the 12 key sites for development identified by the City of Edinburgh Council

For further information, please contact Susan Nickalls or Graeme Cleland at the BIG Partnership on 0131 557 5252 or email

Notes to Editors

Old Royal High School Project

  • The proposal to turn the old Royal High School into a world-class hotel is led by local partners Duddingston House Properties (DHP) and the Urbanist Group.  Leading an institutional group of investors, they have raised in excess of £55m for the project.
  • This is an exemplar restoration project to restore Hamilton’s A-listed building and provide a long-term sustainable future for this architectural masterpiece which has lain empty for 46 years and is in a perilous state of disrepair.
  • Although private money is behind the restoration project, the building will remain in public ownership on a 125 year lease with the council.  The development will also provide public access to the former boys’ school for the first time.
  • Three of world’s top hotel operators have been shortlisted as front-runners to manage the new hotel.
  • Award-winning architect Gareth Hoskins OBE heads the project team.  Gareth was responsible for the redevelopment of the Grade A listed National Museum of Scotland and is about to embark on a project to extend the National Galleries of Scotland.  Andrew Wright OBE, one of Scotland’s foremost conservation architects, is also an advisor to the project.
  • The proposals include substantial improvements to the public areas along Regent Road/Waterloo Place with the new hotel acting as a catalyst for improvements to Calton Hill through a new management plan.
  • The city’s hotels will benefit from the raising of the Average Daily Rate (ADR), currently one of the lowest in Europe for a capital city.   A world-class hotel in Edinburgh would attract tourists from the top end of the market as well as boost the numbers of visitors staying in the city’s hotels during the off-peak months.
  • The new hotel would showcase the very best-in-class of Scottish food and drink, goods and services and design and artistic creativity.  It would also offer unrivalled panoramas of the city.
  • Duddingston House Properties was formed by Bruce Hare in 2000 following over 20 years as Principal of PJM Architects.  Bruce has over 30 years’ experience in how best a vision for a project can be established and delivered.  David Orr of the Urbanist Group, a specialist hotel investment and development company, is one of the UK’s leading hotel developers and was the co-founder and CEO of City Inn Hotels, later renamed Mint Hotels.  He was also instrumental in the introduction of Harvey Nichols to Edinburgh.

Old Royal High School history

  • The old Royal High School on Regent Road was designed by architect Thomas Hamilton ,as a new school to the east of Calton Jail, and was completed in 1829. Hamilton’s building is one of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture.
  • The Greek revival building was used as a school until 1968 when the Royal High relocated to Barnton, and the building was bought by the Scottish Office with a view to it becoming a home for the Scottish Parliament.
  • Edinburgh City Council reacquired the buildings from the Scottish Office in 1994 and it was considered as a potential site for the Scottish Parliament.  Despite various other suggestions for cultural uses, the A-listed building has lain empty for 46 years.
  • In 2010 Duddingston House Properties won a competition for a 125 year lease on the buildings which it plans to restore as a world-class hotel.