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Plans to revamp central Edinburgh cultural sites unveiled

ByGavin Dewar

Mar 31, 2015

Plans to build a £55 million “cultural quarter” in the former Royal High School on Calton Hill have been revealed.
The news comes alongside other cultural proposals to revamp Calton Hill’s observatory, and to give the National Gallery of Scotland in Princes Street Gardens a £5 million overhaul.

The open-air Ross Theatre in Princes Street Gardens, meanwhile, was identified by prominent music promoter Mark Mackie as being like “a bombed-out shelter from an Eastern European country”. Responding to his criticism, an Edinburgh City Council spokeswoman revealed that the council also believes “it does require updating”.

Developments on Calton Hill and Princes Street Gardens indicate that a major cultural overhaul of Edinburgh city centre is under way.

The plans for the former Royal High School, which was built in 1829, include extensive space for works of art, both indoor and outdoor. A new gallery and exhibition spaces have been confirmed, and developers have speculated that the A-listed building could host live artistic and musical performances if it becomes a luxury hotel, an idea originally presented in 2010.

The developers, Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group, say that the cultural overhaul of the building would involve the construction of two additional extensions. £7 million of the £55 million would go into making the building suitable for reopening.

David Orr, speaking on behalf of the Urbanist Group, said: “Our vision has expanded from the original concept of an arts hotel in the old Royal High School to providing a world-class hotel which will have pro-active relationships with arts and culture at its heart.

“Showcasing the very best of Scotland’s produce, culture, arts and creative talents is fundamental to what this hotel is all about. This means developing close relationships with a range of national and local arts and cultural institutions and organisations to develop a programme of initiatives.

“Edinburgh is a festival city and we will ensure the hotel is engaged with these activities.”

However, the developers have faced criticism from opponents who are hesitant to hand the Enlightenment-era building over to the private sector.

Elsewhere on Calton Hill, which is an internationally-recognised world heritage site, Edinburgh City Council have given the green light for a second phase of redevelopment.

The first phase, which began in early 2014, involved the creation of a temporary exhibition space in the City Dome.

Phase two is expected to begin in October 2015, and focuses on renovation of the old city observatory, as well as the construction of a restaurant and a gallery.

Kate Gray, director of development group Collective, said: “As a vision for the new site, we’re trying to rethink what a city observatory can be for the city and how a visual arts organisation can think about observation in a new and different way because the astronomers no longer need to use this site.

“This can give a new opportunity for people to come together to think, debate and most importantly produce new work from that.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street unveiled that money from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been secured to “transform the entire visitor experience” over the next three years.

This, along with speculated and desired funding for the “bombed-out” Ross Theatre, could ensure that cultural overhaul is not just contained to Calton Hill.

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