Public inquiry should be held into Glasgow Art School fires, say MSPs

There should be a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the two fires in four years that left the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) badly damaged, a Holyrood Committee report has found.

The renowned art school was extensively damaged last June while it was undergoing a £35 million restoration programme following the previous fire in May 2014.

The Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee published its report on Friday after taking evidence on the circumstances surrounding the blazes.

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The report found that in the period up to the 2014 fire, GSA appears not to have specifically addressed the heightened risk of fire to the Mackintosh building and was not convinced an adequate risk management approach had been taken by the art school with specific regard to the building.

An aerial view of the GSA. Picture: SWNS
An aerial view of the GSA. Picture: SWNS

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The committee also said it was concerned about the length of time taken for a mist suppression system to be installed in the Mackintosh building and questioned whether more could have been done in the interim period to protect the building.

Committee convener Joan McAlpine said: “The board of Glasgow School of Art were custodians of this magnificent building, one of the most significant to Scotland’s rich cultural heritage.

“They had a duty to protect Mackintosh’s legacy.

“Glasgow School of Art itself must learn lessons from its role in presiding over the building, given that two devastating fires occurred within their estate in such a short space of time.”

The committee is calling on the Scottish Government to establish a public inquiry with judicial powers.

The devastating blaze that ripped through the famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building in June 2018 also spread to nearby premises on the city’s busy Sauchiehall Street.

Art school bosses have previously said they are confident the Mackintosh will be rebuilt.

GSA said: “The Glasgow School of Art would like to thank the committee for the time and energy that has been put into this report and for making it available so quickly.

“There is much to be welcomed that will be useful for those who, like the GSA, are custodians of some of Scotland’s most important historic buildings.

“As a nation we are rightly proud of being able to provide unique places of learning, whose history continues to inspire generations of students.

“It is one of the significant factors in attracting students to Scotland.

“There are always lessons that can be learned and we are happy to take forward the most appropriate and helpful as we bring this much-loved building back to life.”

The GSA said there were some “factual inaccuracies” in the report, adding it was surprised it does not expressly clarify the legal distinction between the GSA and Keir Construction (Scotland) Ltd in relation to responsibility for the site, stressing that Keir had full control of the site.

It added: “The Mackintosh Building is a national (indeed international) treasure but it is not lost and it will certainly return.”