A report revealing the cause of the fire that destroyed the Glasgow School of Art will not now be published until at least three years after the blaze.
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building and the nearby 02 ABC concert venue were destroyed in June 2018 but fire investigators last week revealed their inquiry was still ongoing.
On the first anniversary of the blaze, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said it was in the final stages of its investigation but, now approaching the third anniversary, it has told MSPs that a fifth phase of a forensic examination of the remains of the iconic building is being carried out and an “approximate time scale for the clearance of the remainder of the GSA is late August 2021”.
“The Fire Investigation Report remains in draft form until such times as the forensic examination is complete and all evidence has been subject to further review and scrutiny”, wrote deputy assistant chief officer Alasdair Perry in an update to the Scottish Parliament’s culture, tourism, Europe and external affairs committee.
Last night, Assistant Chief Officer Stuart Stevens added it was “not possible at the moment to provide a definitive timescale for the investigation being concluded.” It is estimated rebuilding will cost at least £100 million. It had already undergone a £35 million restoration after a previous blaze in 2014 when it caught fire again.
Joan McAlpine, the MSP who led the committee, said: “One of my last acts as convener of the parliamentary committee was to meet the new GSA director Penny Macbeth and I was encouraged to hear that she is leading a ‘lessons learned’ exercise looking at both the 2014 and 2018 fires, improving communications including with the local community and carefully evaluating options for the site. This is in line with recommendations made by the committee.
“It is disappointing that, due to the pandemic, progress has been so slow. To date, the parliamentary committee has conducted the only independent inquiry into the practices, decision-making and management actions around the fires. We are still of the view that a full public inquiry is needed to prevent another cultural tragedy on this scale and the committee legacy report published last week makes that point.
“The Mackintosh is vital for the promotion of Glasgow and Scotland and the decision on the future of the site and the ruined building should involve all levels of government, cultural leaders and the community, as well as GSA management.”
Glasgow School of Art said: “The SFRS has been clear that the investigation into cause of the 2018 fire is very complex. We continue to support the SFRS team by making sure they have access to any areas of the building they wish to examine.”
As the years pass by, there is a swell of worry for the Mack
By Clare Henry, leading art critic
What is to be done about the Glasgow School of Art?
With the seventh anniversary of the first fire on the horizon, many are looking for a sign of progress, some hope. Right now, it seems there is none.
However, while we await the fire report on the second 2018 fire, those with long memories are turning to past ideas.
Even then, the problem of an educational institution stuck with an expensive listed building with daily renovation issues was causing debate.
The solution, being discussed with the Scottish Office and the Scottish Education Department in the 1980s, was to divide GSA into two entities – a higher education establishment for teaching, and a GSA Mackintosh charitable trust focused on the building. The financial structure of higher education funding is for teaching and research, not preserving historic buildings. As this new Mackintosh Trust would be registered as a charity, it could raise funds.
Penny Macbeth, the new director, has an impossible task. Covid. An art school in tatters. An icon to rebuild. Even Wonder Woman could not be expected to handle all three. If Glasgow School of Art was divided into two entities, it could be possible. Then the task of recreating the rebuilt world-famous architectural masterpiece would go ahead with specialist – and speedy – impetus.
As the years go by, there is a swell of worry. As Covid lockdown isolation goes on, it’s getting worse. I hear from people all the time, Glaswegians, foreigners, art lovers, Joe Public. The fire destruction weighs heavily. The city is suffering. GSA was central to Glasgow’s cultural identity and part of our national heritage. One of the world’s 20th Century’s most important buildings, now it’s gone.
Seven years on and a generation of students, have no idea how special the Mack was. A full inquiry will not bring the Mackintosh building back. The only answer is to rebuild ASAP. And create a Mackintosh Trust to make sure there is no third fire.
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