The £22 million revamp of the Scottish National Gallery is already running three and a half years late.The £22 million revamp of the Scottish National Gallery is already running three and a half years late.
The £22 million revamp of the Scottish National Gallery is already running three and a half years late.

Work continues at Scottish National Gallery building site in Edinburgh

Work on a multi-million pound revamp of Scotland's flagship art gallery is to continue - despite Nicola Sturgeon demanding work on building sites across the country is brought to a halt to help curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Contractors working on the long-delayed project at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh have vowed to press ahead in the face of the First Minister's plea, insisting they are instead following guidelines from the UK government, which is allowing work to continue.

The National Galleries of Scotland, which has received millions of pounds of funding from the Scottish Government for the project, confirmed that work was continuing on "some key activities" at the construction site, which overlooks East Princes Gardens.

The £22 million project to overhaul the 19th attraction, which will create modern gallery spaces to showcase some of Scotland's most significant art treasures, is already running three and a half years behind schedule.

It emerged earlier this year that the discovery of "unexpected defects" in part of the building was set to sent the project over budget.

Extra work has had to be ordered to ensure The Mound building – where work by artists like Allan Ramsay, Joan Eardley, Phoebe Anna Traquair, Sir David Wilkie and Samuel Peploe will be displayed – is “fully protected and safeguarded”.

Ms Sturgeon called yesterday for the closure of building sites, saying: "This is about saving lives."

She added: "It has been clear to me that there are still too many people across our country who are being expected to, or expecting to, go to work as normal and this presents a serious and unnecessary risk of spreading the virus."

However the guidance was contradicted even after a UK-wide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Ministers insisting construction workers could work on sites as long as "social distancing" was observed."

Ms Sturgeon later insisted that work on construction sites should only continue if the work was “essential,” citing hospitals as an example.

A statement issued by Interserve said about its Princes Street Gardens project: "We can confirm that work did continue on the Scottish National Gallery site today as we were awaiting further directives from the government.

"Information that has been provided to construction companies has been extremely mixed as two UK Government Ministers, Michael Gove and Robert Jenrick, clearly stated today that sites should remain open.

"This followed on from the Prime Minister’s address last night in which he stated that people must work from home if they are able to do so.

“The information from yesterday’s statement from the First Minister was advice and not a directive, as were the communications from the UK Government Ministers today.

"It is understandable why so many companies within the construction industry in Scotland today are unclear what the official government line is.

"At the Scottish National Gallery, we have enforced a strict social distancing policy, have created separation in terms of the works being carried out, increased cleaning regime including hand washing and have continually provided on-site advice.

"We have reduced numbers on site by ensuring that all of our workforce who can work from home have been doing so for well over a week."

A spokesman for the National Galleries of Scotland, which runs the gallery and has led the refurbishment project, said: “The construction site at the Scottish National Gallery is managed and run by Interserve.

"We understand that they are currently following Cabinet Office guidelines and are keeping their site open for the time being with a small team working on some key activities, following the latest guidance on working procedures and social distancing for building sites.

"Responsibility for these decisions rests with Interserve management and we understand that this will be kept under close review."