29 October, 2020

Success for Historic Environment Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council at inquiry over future of Edinburgh landmark

Ampersand’s Marcus McKay QC and Malcolm Thomson QC were involved in the public inquiry which upheld the refusal of planning applications to turn Edinburgh’s former Royal High School into a hotel.

Marcus McKay QC was instructed by Harper Macleod, representing Historic Environment Scotland. Malcolm Thomson QC was instructed by Burness Paull, representing City of Edinburgh Council.

Scottish Ministers have issued their decisions on the four planning and listed building consent appeals in relation to the proposed redevelopment.

The former Royal High School is a category A listed building of international importance. It is prominently sited on the southern slope of Calton Hill, which is included in the national Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. The site is within the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site, and the New Town Conservation Area.

Plans for two separate schemes for the redevelopment of the former school as a luxury hotel were submitted by Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels to the City of Edinburgh Council. Each of the proposed developments would have involved internal and external alterations to the principal former Royal High School building and pavilions (referred to as the Hamilton building, after its architect Thomas Hamilton), the addition of two large extensions and the demolition of ancillary buildings.

The Council refused the applications and developers appealed. The Scottish Ministers directed that they would determine the appeals because they raised issues of national importance in terms of potential impacts on the historic environment, including the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site, and in relation to potential economic and tourism benefits. The appeals were considered by means of public inquiry and hearing sessions, which took place between 18 September and 23 October 2018.

Scottish Ministers have dismissed the appeals and refused permission for the development that had been proposed. The decision can be viewed on the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) website here.

Ampersand Planning

This decision comes on the back of another strong showing for Ampersand Planning counsel in the latest Chambers and Partners UK Bar guide.

The guide said:

Ampersand Advocates is well regarded for the complex planning and environmental work undertaken by its advocates. Members of the stable regularly act in judicial reviews and challenges to planning permissions and frequently act on behalf of developers, objectors, public sector bodies and energy companies. Members are regularly engaged in high-profile matters, including the public inquires into the development of the former Royal High School in Edinburgh and the proposed Coul Links golf course development. One source says: “The chambers is excellent in terms of the calibre of advocates.”
Client service: “The clerking service is efficient and very responsive; the clerks are all very approachable.” “We have always found the clerking service to be very efficient and helpful.” Alan Moffat leads the clerking team.

Malcolm Thomson QC
Acknowledged as a leading expert across the gamut of planning and environmental law matters. He acts for both developers and objectors, and is especially experienced in tackling cases relating to retail development and renewable energy. He is also knowledgeable about compulsory purchase and local development plans.

Strengths: “He is just formidable. He sees things that no one else can and he comes at everything from a way that no one else thinks, he has got an immense brain.” “Malcolm has decades of experience and is a delight to work with and against.” “He instantly commands respect and that goes a long way in terms of being in front of a judge. He is extremely thorough and thoughtful.”
Recent work: Acted in an application for compensation in respect of land compulsorily acquired under the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Act 2007.

Ailsa Wilson QC
Highly regarded for her work across a whole range of planning matters. She is considered to be one of the leading QCs in terms of energy work, and she regularly represents energy providers. She is also highly experienced in handling cases concerning infrastructure projects, appearing on behalf of local authorities and other public bodies.

Strengths: “She is excellent on her feet in an inquiry or court setting.” “Ailsa is meticulous in terms of preparation, immersing herself in the detail of each case with real passion and seemingly boundless energy.” “She has considerable expertise and unparalleled knowledge in energy-related planning issues.”

Marcus McKay QC
Noted for his deep planning experience and widely praised for his meticulous attention to detail. His particular focus lies in energy and environment work, and he is especially experienced in renewable energy matters. He has experience advocating in inquiries and at all levels of the court system, including the Supreme Court.

Strengths: “He is a very gifted advocate and extremely diligent. He is always extremely well prepared and imaginative. He is highly intelligent and can not only grasp very complicated detail with ease but has the skill to be able to explain complex matters in straightforward terms.” “He is a very competent advocate, enthusiastic and diligent.” “He is definitely one of the best at the Bar.”

Laura-Anne van der Westhuizen
Represents clients in the public and private sectors in planning and environmental law matters. She is particularly knowledgeable about energy-related planning issues, including those involving the Electricity Act 1989. Her capabilities include public inquiries and judicial reviews.

Strengths: “Her confidence in providing calmly considered advice in quite complicated matters is what makes her stand out.” “She is incredibly hard-working and will do all the research and discuss the case constructively.”
Recent work: Represented an energy company regarding the grant of necessary wayleave for the upgrade of an existing overhead transmission line and associated infrastructure for the East Coast 400 kV upgrade project.
Recent work: Represented the objector, Scottish Natural Heritage, in the public inquiry into the proposed golf course at Coul Links, Dornoch.

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