THE long debate over the iconic Royal High School building in Edinburgh is reaching its final stage as the public inquiry into its future began yesterday.

Tynecastle Park stadium is the venue for the £200,000 inquiry by two reporters appointed by the Scottish Government.

It is expected to last six weeks with the first stage being on the possible environmental and heritage impacts of the plan – Edinburgh cultural and conservation groups are expected to argue that the contemporary design of the hotel would compromise the city’s World Heritage Site status.

The inquiry is happening after Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels appealed against Edinburgh Council's decision just over a year ago to refuse planning permission for a five-star Rosewood hotel on the site on Calton Hill.

The developers are also appealing against the council's refusal to grant planning permission in December 2015.

Designed by Thomas Hamilton as his masterpiece and built in the 1820s, the Greek-revival Royal High is one of the buildings which gained Edinburgh its reputation as the Athens of the North.

The National reported earlier this week that a campaign has begun by the Royal High School Preservation Trust and St Mary's Music School who want to create a national music school in the A-listed building which has been owned by the Council since the early 1990s – they bought it back from the UK Government who had purchased it to house the Assembly that never happened because of the 1979 referendum’s democratic robbery of the wishes of the Scottish people.

The Trust’s planning application for the music school was granted planning permission by the council in 2016, but the project cannot proceed because of a prior deal by the council with the developers that requires them to gain planning permission.

The campaign for the music school is supported by Sir James MacMillan and Nicola Benedetti, among others, and Dr Kenneth Taylor, head teacher of St Mary's School, yesterday said that money to back the project was already in place.

He told Radio Scotland: "To rebuild the school and to provide a school on the site, we think it would cost somewhere in the region of £35m.

"We've got that money already. The money is there thanks to very generous philanthropic funding from the Dunard Fund."

He added: "The building just wouldn't be a school, I would think of it more as a cultural hub in the middle of Edinburgh and we would plan to greatly expand our existing outreach schemes.

"At the moment we educate about 150 young people on a Saturday morning and we would at least treble that and we would hope to be providing music education both at the weekend and also in the evenings."

The developers say on the project website that their aim is to “bring one of the world’s best hotels to the site, offering something that Edinburgh has simply never experienced before – benefiting our citizens and visitors and creating many long-term job opportunities for the city and for Scotland."

They add: “Our proposals guarantee the future of Hamilton’s masterpiece – both architecturally and financially – without the need for any public funding.”