Art school did not do enough to protect Mackintosh from fire – MSPs

Glasgow School of Art has been criticised in a report that found it did not give enough priority to safeguarding the Mackintosh building against fire.

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

The Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee published its findings on Friday after taking evidence on the circumstances surrounding the blazes and is calling for a public inquiry.

MSPs found in the period up to the 2014 fire, Glasgow School of Art (GSA) appears not to have specifically addressed the “heightened risk” of fire to the Mackintosh building.

Mackintosh Building fire
A Holyrood committee is calling for a public inquiry into the fires (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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 given that GSA decided to fit it in 2008, and questioned whether more could have been done to protect the building in the interim period.

Convener Joan McAlpine said the committee had considered information going back to the 1990s.

She said: “We have come to the conclusion that we are not satisfied with the custodianship of the art school in that time.

“We felt there were not sufficient measures taken to protect the building from fire.”

She added: “In that time between 1997 to 2014 it’s difficult for us as a committee to see what measures were taken that would have given a building of such importance the protection that it needed.”

The report said the committee is not convinced GSA gave “sufficient priority” to the safeguarding of the Mackintosh building.

It was also not convinced the art school had taken an adequate risk management approach with specific regard to the building.

GSA said it was operating in full compliance with the fire precaution regulatory framework in 2008-2014.

In its submission to the committee, the art school said the timescale for installing the mist suppression system was dependent on securing funding, and was then delayed by the discovery of asbestos in the building after work on the system started in 2013.

Mackintosh fire
The second blaze spread to nearby buildings in Sauchiehall Street (Douglas Barrie/PA)

Ms 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.”

Following reports questioning whether the fire alarm system at the Mackintosh site was working on the night of the 2018 fire, the committee said it was not in a position to determine whether it was switched on and fully operational.

It said this would be considered as part of the ongoing Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) investigation, which the committee said could be published in May.

Art school bosses have previously said they are confident the Mackintosh building will be rebuilt but the committee said there should be wider consultation on this, with the cost of the project estimated at around £100 million.

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.”

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

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