Donald MacLeod: Four months on, the art school lies in ruins like the lives of its neighbours

Glasgow School of Art contractors working to dismantle parts of the fire-damaged Mackintosh building. (PA Wire)

FINALLY, four long months after fire again ripped through the Glasgow School of Art, director Tom Inns announced works to secure the building’s west gable wall was due to be completed in a week’s time.

Whoopeedoo!

Welcome news for many of those displaced Garnethill residents and Sauchiehall Street businesses. Since the first fire in 2014 gutted this iconic building, not to mention the ongoing road works and the hugely disruptive blaze in Victoria’s at the other end of Sauchiehall Street, they have had to endure hardship, disruption and silence from the authorities.

To suggest to those unfortunate people whose lives have been blighted by the works and blazes, that there is now light at the end of the tunnel is the coldest of comfort.

For there is no real end to this tunnel as there is no guaranteed date for when the affected parts of Renfrew Street and Sauchiehall Street will reopen.

No firm date for when the cranes, and all the other noisy building gear and machinery will finally fall silent and the “rebuilding”, which really should have been “demolition”, will be finished and the regeneration street works completed.

We are told “soon”, but when, exactly? Can somebody please provide an answer?

There are so many questions that need answered and no-one from Historic Environment Scotland, the art school board, Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government or all the other bodies and agencies involved have the will or ability to answer them.

Firstly, why was the art school not immediately demolished when it was found to be so unsafe?

Yes, it was a building revered around the world, but it clearly was no longer fit for purpose or adequately protected in the event of a fire.

So why are they being allowed to rebuild it not once, but twice? What happens if, when rebuilt at humungous cost, it again goes up in flames for a third time? Do we take more millions from the public purse and have another go?

Equally, what is happening to the ABC and Campus which were also destroyed in the fire. Are they to be taken down like the School of Art, with trowels and toothpicks, their scorched bricks to be reused in the rebuild, or will they get the wrecking ball?

They certainly won’t be able to use their influence and clever political posturing to commit to another expensive rebuild, so what then?

Months of disruptive street closures due to the demolition works and years of disruption as new flats or student accommodation are erected?

Where the only people, as is the case at the moment, who are allowed to park their cars in an unsafe zone are those working onsite. Either way, that part of the street will be out of action for a long, long time.

And what about the £5 million Hardship Fund granted by the Scottish Government?

As I understand it, only £2.5m has been allocated, yet there are still more than 30 businesses closed and, with no money coming through the tills, they can’t afford to start up again so face oblivion. Should that money not be used to help them out?

What about local business rates and resident community charge bills? Given that footfall has fallen off a cliff in the area and that they face years of disruption to services, should they not be granted immunity from payment until all works have finished?

Tom Inns said his board were “committed to rebuilding the Mack and bringing it back, not just as a working art school, but as resource for Garnethill. We want our neighbours to play a full part in this process and we look forward to working closely with them.”

Really? If that is so, why haven’t you and your board done so in the past.

And why are you not doing it now?

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