THE long-running row over the future use of the building that was originally supposed to house the Scottish Parliament took another twist yesterday when a trust made a formal offer to buy the former Royal High School building and turn it into a music school.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust is bidding £1.5 million for the imposing building on Calton Hill designed in the neo-classical style by Thomas Hamilton – it is one of the buildings credited with gaining Edinburgh its nickname of Athens of the North. The school was bought by the Westminster government in the 1970s and converted to house the Scottish Assembly. After the first devolution referendum failed to find 40 per cent of voters in favour of an assembly, the school was later returned by the Conservative government of John Major to the then Edinburgh District Council.

The 1997 referendum saw it again proposed as a Parliament, but the original First Minister Donald Dewar disliked what had been termed “a Nationalist shibboleth” and plumped for the new building at Holyrood.

The council has been trying to find a use for it ever since, and a plan for a national museum of photography was well advanced before lottery finance was refused.

The latest plan to build a £75 million luxury hotel with the school at its centre has proved highly controversial, and now the preservation trust has raised the stakes by making a formal offer.

If successful, the Dunard Fund will pay for the conversion of the current empty building for occupation by St Mary’s Music School.

The £1.5m offer by the trust is in excess of the value which had been placed on the school by the council.

Making the announcement of the bid yesterday was Dr Kenneth Taylor, headteacher of St Mary’s Music School, and William Gray Muir, the chairman of the trust.

They confirmed that Richard Murphy Architects have been appointed by the trust to design a new home for the St Mary’s

Music School.

Muir said: “The Old Royal High School buildings are crucial to the character of Edinburgh and part of the architectural heritage that attracts people to this wonderful city.

“The trust was set up specifically to conserve and protect this masterpiece for the long-term and what better way than to restore it to its original purpose as a school?

“St Mary’s Music School needs a new home and, if we are successful, not only will this move ensure the school will have more teaching and performance space but as a new venue and destination for talented musicians it will also create opportunity to add to Edinburgh’s cultural economy.”

Dr Taylor said: “This is an exciting and wonderful opportunity for us to further develop Scotland’s only independent specialist music school.

“Moving to the former Royal High School building would provide us with the performance and rehearsal space we aspire to and would enable us to broaden and extend the outreach activities we currently offer to the wider community.”

Richard Murphy added: “This is a wonderful site, an exceptionally important building and a delightful client and brief; what architect could not relish such a prospect? We look forward to working closely with the trust, school and design team.”