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On behalf of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, I welcome the opportunity to debate the committee’s report, “The Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh Building: The loss of a national treasure”. Situated at the heart of the Glasgow School of Art’s Garnethill campus, the Mackintosh building was widely considered to be one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s seminal achievements. First conceived by the artist in 1896, the building is recognised as an architectural masterpiece of international significance.
On the night of 15 June 2018, the Mackintosh building suffered a second catastrophic fire, which caused significant damage to the building’s interior as well as to the exterior facades and gables. More than 120 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze, which spread to a neighbouring music venue, the O2 ABC, and caused severe disruption to residents and businesses in the surrounding area.
The committee’s report, which was published in March, sought to understand how one of Scotland’s greatest architectural and artistic achievements could suffer two catastrophic fires while under the custodianship of the Glasgow School of Art. We asked what lessons could be learned and what steps could be taken to protect Scotland’s built heritage in the future. I take this opportunity to thank all those who provided evidence to the committee, and our clerks, who worked so hard on the inquiry and the report.
Having weighed up the information that was provided to us in evidence, the committee concluded that there is a clear need for a wider public inquiry to take place that has judicial powers to get to the bottom of what happened to the iconic building. At the time, the committee specified that the inquiry should take place only once the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has reported on the fire, and we look forward to the fire service’s findings. However, I understand the frustrations of those who are still waiting for answers; I share those frustrations.
The issues that the committee considered in its report go way beyond the cause of the fire. We examined the wider failings that provided the context for the first fire, the measures that were taken to avoid the second fire and the wider impact on the local community. That is why the committee remains of the view that a full public inquiry is the only means of fully understanding the events that led to the devastating fires.
Does the member agree that the public inquiry—which I agree should be held—should look not only backwards at what happened in 2018 and why it happened but forwards at what should happen to the building in the future? The management of the Glasgow School of Art has proved itself to be an unfit custodian of this national treasure, and the public inquiry must consider whether the building and its future should be taken out of the GSA’s hands and laid in some sort of public trust.
I do not want to pre-empt the public inquiry, but the committee’s report did look forward and said that the decision on future management of the building, in relation to its purpose and how it is rebuilt, should not be for the Glasgow School of Art’s management to take alone. There should be wider consultation not just with the local community but across all layers of government in Scotland. The Glasgow School of Art might be an independent institution, but it is in receipt of substantial public funds, so it is absolutely right that we scrutinise management’s decisions on how those funds are spent.
Historic buildings such as the Mackintosh are awarded their category A listed status because they can be characterised as sites of unique historical or architectural interest. Often, it is those inimitable features that make such buildings so susceptible to the risks that are posed by fire. Although those risks can never be entirely mitigated, the committee sought to understand the GSA’s approach to the management of risk and to ascertain whether, having identified specific risks to the Mackintosh building, it had taken proportionate measures to adequately manage those risks.
When it considered the GSA’s custodianship of the building, what the committee found most concerning was not just the art school’s understanding of the potential risks that fire posed to the building, but the length of time that it had known about those risks and the steps that it had taken to mitigate them.
The fire safety expert Stewart Kidd raised concerns, in writing, about the risks that were posed by fire as far back as the mid-1990s, when he visited the building with Historic Scotland. In his written evidence to the committee, he described parts of the building as working
“like a very effective chimney”.
That is just one of the many concerns that were raised by the fire safety experts and GSA alumni who gave evidence to the committee.
It was a source of great concern that the voids that were identified by Stewart Kidd back in the 1990s were found by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to be the cause of the rapid spread of fire in 2014—it identified that the fact that panels had been left off those voids allowed the fire to spread as it would have done through a chimney. We were also told in evidence by the GSA’s architects that those voids had still not been blocked last year, during the restoration.
In 2006, the Glasgow School of Art commissioned Buro Happold to produce a fire protection strategy to review what it called feasible options
“for the long-term protection of the occupants, property and contents” of the Mackintosh building. In its report, Buro Happold emphasised the risk of fire to the Mackintosh building and stated that, because of the historic nature and value of the property and many of its contents, fire posed a great threat.
Despite the reassurances that the GSA provided about the building being compliant with the relevant fire safety standards, the committee took the view that, given the building’s significance, the way in which it was used by students and the risks that had been clearly identified by Buro Happold and others, the GSA appeared not to have addressed specifically the heightened risk of fire to the Mackintosh building.
The GSA has argued that its decision to install a mist suppression system following the outcome of a property protection study that was carried out in 2008 demonstrated its commitment to the building’s safety, but despite those good intentions, such a system had not been installed by the time of the 2014 fire. Why did it take so long to install a mist suppression system, which might well have prevented the spread of the first fire in 2014? It should be said that if there had not been a fire in 2014, the building would not have been destroyed in 2018.
In response to questions from the committee on the issue, the GSA stated that the timescale for the implementation of a mist suppression system was attributable to two key factors—namely, the need to obtain funding and the discovery of asbestos in the Mackintosh building. According to the GSA, once it had obtained approval in principle to install a suppression system, it had to secure funding. Following unsuccessful claims to Historic Environment Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the GSA initiated its own fundraising exercise. Fire safety experts described the GSA’s use of fundraising to fund such a safety-critical system as unusual, and the committee questioned whether more could have been done, given the well-documented risks that existed.
When the committee questioned why funds to support the installation of a mist suppression system could not have been secured from bodies such as Historic Environment Scotland, Dr Muriel Gray explained that the installation of such a system was deemed an enhancement, so funds could not be secured through means other than fundraising. The committee found it remarkable that, having identified the risks to one of Scotland’s most iconic buildings, the art school was forced to fundraise for funds to protect the building appropriately. Furthermore, the committee remains concerned that sufficient steps were not taken in the interim to mitigate the risks and ensure the building’s safety.
Therefore, the committee recommended that the Scottish Government should undertake an assessment of whether the funding models that are currently available to higher education institutions to protect historic assets such as the Mackintosh building are adequate, and that the Scottish Government, through its agencies, should review the adequacy of powers to compel owners to put in place enhanced fire safety measures to protect buildings of national significance.
The committee was therefore pleased that, following the publication of the report, the cabinet secretary instructed officials to review the adequacy of powers to compel owners to put in place enhanced fire safety measures in the context of A listed buildings.
One area of particular concern raised by the conservation architect Dawson Stelfox was the need to better protect historic buildings such as the Mackintosh during their restoration. He said:
“A focus on the importance of the historic building asset in a fire risk assessment is currently lacking in the guidance and legislation.”
He went on:
“we need to think about how we use fire safety measures and audits to protect historic fabric in the long term. That is not a requirement at the moment”.
When the committee asked a witness from Historic Environment Scotland about that perceived gap in the statutory position with regard to the protection of assets during the construction, they acknowledged that
“Increasingly, there is an understanding with the historic environment, and with collections associated with buildings such as museums, that there is a need to protect those as assets in their own right.”—[
Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee,
17 January 2019; c 7, 32.]
Accordingly, the committee recommended that the Scottish Government review, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, the legislation concerning safety in historic buildings during the construction phase of projects in order to identify any additional legislative measures that could be put in place to protect those buildings.
The committee’s report expresses considerable concern about the treatment of the local community by the GSA after both fires. Our report recommended that more community engagement should take place. As I said to Mr Tomkins, decisions on the rebuild and the future use of the building should not be for the GSA management alone.
Our report does not say too much about the 2018 fire, because the report on that from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has not yet been published. However, I put on record the committee’s concern that we did not see the fire plan and were told that the SFRS had signed it off, only for the SFRS to then write to us to deny that. We were also concerned about the contractor’s inability to tell us whether the fire alarm was operational on the night of the fire and about the amount of activity taking place in the Mackintosh building, particularly social activities, during the restoration. However, we will have to wait to see the SFRS’s report before we draw any conclusions from any of that.
The committee welcomes some of the progress that the Scottish Government has made to address the issues that were identified in the committee’s report. I hope that that will lead to greater protections for Scotland’s most iconic buildings generally. Although we await the results of the SFRS report into the 2018 fire, the committee believes strongly that it will provide us with only part of the story. The process is not about attributing blame; it is about learning lessons so that, as a country, we ensure that our built heritage can be enjoyed by future generations. The committee and I therefore hope that the Scottish Government will commit to holding a full public inquiry following the publication of the SFRS report.
That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations in the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee’s 2nd Report 2019 (Session 5),
The Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh Building: The loss of a national treasure
(SP Paper 487).
I commend Joan McAlpine, the convener of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, and her colleagues on it, for their substantial and thorough report and for bringing the debate to the Parliament.
I believe that we all recognise the immense cultural significance of the Mackintosh building. As Peter Capaldi said after the fire in 2014,
“There is no greater symbol of the artistic spirit of Scotland than the Mackintosh Building.”
That is why it is so important that Parliament has the opportunity to consider the committee’s findings, which reflect on the GSA’s management of the Mackintosh restoration site, and the lessons that might be learned.
I am sure that we all remember the dreadful events that led to the committee’s inquiry, which Joan McAlpine outlined. The nation was rocked by the first fire back in 2014. All of Scotland, in particular civic Scotland, as well as people from beyond Scotland, came together to support the GSA in its ambition to rebuild. We watched in admiration the careful, skilful and specialist work needed to bring this icon back to its former glory but, just as the completion of that work seemed within touching distance, the tragedy of the second and much more destructive fire shook us all once more.
Again, the impact was felt worldwide, but it is important to remember the immediate and brutal impact on the GSA’s staff and students and, as members will mention, on the school’s neighbours in the Garnethill community. I pay tribute to residents and businesses for their patience and resilience in the face of extraordinary difficulty and to GSA staff for picking themselves up once more, facing a renewed and ever-greater challenge and, throughout, maintaining the school’s core purpose, which is to provide a top-quality learning experience for more than 2,000 students.
Does the minister agree that the GSA management not only allowed this iconic building to burn down twice in four years but, in the aftermath of the 2018 fire, treated its neighbours in the Garnethill community to which he referred—residents and businesses up and down Sauchiehall Street—with disdain and contempt? Is it the minister’s view that, when we put all that together, we see that the time has long since passed for the Mackintosh building to be taken out of the hands of the GSA and placed into public trust?
Although I would not necessarily use the same language as Adam Tomkins used, I certainly think that there are harsh lessons to be learned—as the Glasgow School of Art management, whom I met yesterday, are the first to admit—about how the management communicated with the community following the fire. The management have taken steps to try to address such concerns and are working in a closer relationship with the local community. They are hosting meetings of the community council and have appointed a liaison officer to bring the school and the local community together. There are lessons to be learned in that regard.
We are indebted to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which responded quickly on the night of the fire, arriving at the scene less than five minutes after the alarm was raised. Firefighters were faced with a well-developed fire and, despite their best efforts, they were unable to prevent the fire spreading to neighbouring properties. Of course, without the quick response from the fire service, the fire could have spread much further than it did.
Incidents such as that major fire remind us of the sheer bravery of firefighters, who are willing to put themselves in danger to assist others. Like Joan McAlpine, I take this opportunity to thank the firefighters and staff who were on the scene and in the operations control room.
The Glasgow School of Art’s position is important locally, nationally and across the world. When we think of the GSA, we picture the Mack. The school itself has recognised the value of the building as a teaching venue, and it is clearly more than just a building. The outpouring of dismay that was so evident in the wake of the two tragedies is testament to that.
It is important to remember that the school is, primarily, a functioning higher education institution, as I said when I met the chair and acting director yesterday, who impressed on me their determination to continue to deliver excellent creative education and to contribute creatively to this Government’s ambitions.
Despite the extreme and on-going pressure on the GSA, the school continues to achieve. I congratulate it on successfully beginning the new academic year just over three months after the second fire. The renovated Stow building, which I have had the opportunity to visit, recently opened to students, providing accommodation for the school of fine art.
I am conscious of the GSA’s wider impact on the economic life of Glasgow and Scotland. It is an intrinsic part of the cultural and economic life of the city. Students and staff contribute to exhibitions, festivals and events, in Garnethill and across the city, and students often go on to settle locally and build businesses. Let us not forget that the GSA is ranked in the top 10 art and design institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2019, which underlines the school’s enviable international status.
The focus of this debate is the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee’s findings in relation to the Mack. The committee’s report gives us all much on which to reflect. The committee said that the GSA’s approach to risk management was not sufficiently robust and that the board did not have the expertise required to tackle such a complex project, and it questioned some of the decisions that were taken, for example on installation of the mist suppression system. Joan McAlpine covered other issues that were raised in the report.
Of course it is for the Glasgow School of Art, as an autonomous body and the owner of the Mackintosh building, to respond to those comments, and it has done so.
Likewise, the future use of the Mack is a decision for the school. The board has made clear its intention to rebuild on the current site and that the Mack should return as a fully functioning art school. I welcome the Glasgow School of Art’s commitment to improve engagement with the local community, which will continue to be vital as the GSA develops, refines and takes forward its plans.
The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, who is sitting next to me, has officially responded to the committee’s recommendations for both the Government and Historic Environment Scotland. It is clear that we should seek to learn from the events of June 2018 and do what we can to help to prevent similar events happening in the future. We will look at the options for a fire mitigation review and a review of powers to intervene in fire safety in the context of A listed buildings in public and major institutional ownership.
We have also agreed to take a focused look at Historic Environment Scotland’s statutory remit in relation to fire mitigation in buildings of outstanding special architectural or historic interest. Government officials are currently working on that in close liaison with colleagues from HES. In addition, HES will review and strengthen its guidance on the risks to buildings during conservation and renovation work, and its technical guidance on fire safety management. That work will take into account the findings of the SFRS investigation once it is complete. The Government will also await the investigation’s outcome before considering further the committee’s recommendation to establish a public inquiry.
It is important to note that ministers have no direct role in directing decisions made by the boards of Scottish higher education institutions. However, the Scottish Funding Council has a role in supporting the GSA in its core function of delivering high-quality teaching and learning, and in ensuring that there is suitable provision for its governance and management. I am pleased that, in the face of the extreme pressures faced by the GSA, the Scottish Funding Council has stepped up its engagement with the board and the senior management team to ensure that the high standard of governance that we expect from our higher education institutions is in fact being met, and to support staff and students during what has been a very difficult time.
Five new board members have been appointed by the GSA, and it will also appoint a permanent director of estates, along with appointments to other positions, which it is hoped will improve matters by providing the school with a new set of skills.
I thank the committee once more for its report and for its focus on reducing as far as possible the risk of another disaster such as that which we have seen at the GSA. I am sure that colleagues on all sides of the chamber will join me in commending the committee for its important work.
I thank the
Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee for its work and for bringing its report to the chamber today. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh building stood as a beautiful symbol of the best of Scottish art and design. Its most famous feature was its library, which housed many rare and archival materials as well as original furniture and fittings. It was so heartbreaking, as I am sure that we will hear from many colleagues, to watch the grade A listed Glasgow School of Art, affectionately known as the Mack, destroyed by fire for a second time on the night of 15 June 2018.
The community of Glasgow and beyond—indeed, everyone across Scotland—was devastated by the fire that night and by the impact that it continues to have. Businesses and local residents still have to withstand the worst consequences of the fire. That is why it is so important that, in the future, the local community is treated with respect and consulted and engaged in future processes.
I pay tribute to those who helped that night, from the fire service to the police. Their efforts ensured that we did not see further damage done. Importantly, I also pay tribute to those who lost work during the fire. Artists and restorers who worked tirelessly and meticulously to replicate beautiful Rennie Mackintosh pieces tragically lost their great work, not only that night but in the first fire, too.
While we await the conclusion of the SFRS report, we know that, fundamentally, historic buildings require special attention during works. The delayed installation of a water mist suppression system and the presence of obsolete ventilation ducts exacerbated the two fires at the school. In the run-up to the first fire in 2014, the GSA appeared not to have specifically addressed the heightened fire risk to the Mack building. It was concerned about the length of time taken for a mist suppression system to be installed, and questioned whether more could have been done in the interim period to protect the building.
Further, it could not determine whether, in the fire in 2018, the fire alarm system was switched on and fully operational.
From the outset, my colleagues in the Scottish Conservatives have been clear that there has to be a full public inquiry into the fire. Adam Tomkins made that abundantly clear in February when he said that a public inquiry could
“compel the disclosure of information in the same way that a court can compel the release of documents in civil proceedings”.
We can never again let damage of this magnitude happen to any other prestigious listed building. Ultimately, lessons have to be learned. There are hundreds of listed buildings going through restoration at any given time, and to simply wish that something similar does not happen again would be preposterous. I am glad that the committee’s report touches on that.
We need all the involved stakeholders to get around the table to ensure that our historic buildings—whether castles, stately homes or civic buildings—are properly protected at all times, not only during restoration or construction.
The committee was right to call for a review of all the appropriate pieces of legislation that involve listed buildings. We need the Scottish Government, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Historic Environment Scotland to review fire safety procedures in category A listed buildings. That could be done in line with ensuring that the Scottish Government reviews the legal protections for category A listed buildings. If those historic and valuable buildings are to be safely restored and maintained, better regulations must be in place to ensure that contractors are respecting their unique characteristics. I look forward to the minister acknowledging those points in his closing speech.
I believe that the best way forward involves better educating owners and contractors on the unique nature of listed historic buildings and the distinct set of problems that can arise during the carrying out of restorative work. Owners must be up to date with installing fire safety measures, as was pointed out by the committee, but they must also have fire action plans in place to ensure that, should a fire break out, there are appropriate mitigation measures in place to hinder its spread. Although I acknowledge the committee’s recommendation that HES needs to update guidance to ask for better compartmentation of historic buildings to hinder the spread of fire, I believe that such compartmentation has to be done sympathetically and must not be to the detriment of the historical value of the buildings.
I agree with the committee that we may need to focus our attention on the categorisation of buildings. Although category A listed buildings command the highest level of protection, does that ensure that they are safe and are equipped to deal with fires and other disasters? Further, should specific protections be extended to buildings of unique cultural and historical significance, rather than only those in the A category? Fundamentally, we need far better guidance, legislation and protection for our historic buildings in order to ensure that we do not see such a thing happen again.
What took place at the Glasgow School of Art in June 2018 will remain a constant reminder that historic buildings require special attention during restoration and construction works. Although the failings in the run-up to the fire cannot be simply narrowed down to one single issue, it is important that we recognise that the report on the cause of the fire has not yet been published by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, although investigations are said to be in their final phases.
I share the view of the committee that, after the SFRS report is published, the Scottish Government should establish a public inquiry, with judicial powers, into the 2014 and 2018 fires at the Glasgow School of Art. As I pointed out earlier, we have been clear on that since day 1. The transparency of the GSA management must also be scrutinised.
The inquiry should consider the susceptibility of historic buildings to fire, the risks that are posed to them by fire and the need for greater support, guidance, legislation and protection so that we can ensure that we do not see any more devastating fires such as the one at the Glasgow School of Art that night in June last year.
I thank the committee and its convener, Joan McAlpine. The committee made a forensic examination of the tragedy of the Glasgow School of Art fire. The committee report must be commended as one of the most important reports that the Parliament has completed so far. It got to the heart of the tragedy and asked some questions that still have to be answered.
For the second time in four years, Glasgow School of Art was ablaze, and Sauchiehall Street was cordoned off. It was a tragedy for the school of art, for those who are associated with it and love it and for local businesses. The O2 ABC is still devastated. We still do not know the future of that important music venue—I have worked closely with Adam Tomkins on that. As he and other members mentioned, the community has been devastated. Because of the difficulties in getting emergency accommodation, families were split up. People tried to return to their homes on the night of the fire but were not allowed to return for four months. They were not allowed to go and collect personal belongings. We should never underestimate the impact of that fire.
The fire exposed the poor relationship between the local community and the Glasgow School of Art. It is important to point out to the minister that that relationship had been poor for a long time. Muriel Gray is on the record as acknowledging that. That situation can never be allowed to happen again. Such an important institution, sitting in the middle of the residential community of Garnethill, needs an excellent on-going relationship with local people. Thirty-three businesses were devastated by the Glasgow School of Art fire and they still struggle today.
Like Rachael Hamilton, I thank the 120 firefighters who fought the blaze. They are to be commended for their stamina and expertise in fighting that fierce and enormous fire. However, if we ask the residents and businesses whether there was an adequate response from authorities, they tell us that they felt abandoned by them. We must learn lessons, not just about what caused the fire—we are still to learn that—but about the conduct of the authorities during it. One reason why the committee report is so important and its questions so critical is that, if we ask local people now whether they feel safe in their homes—knowing that there have been two fires in the Glasgow School of Art—they say that they do not. Therefore, it is fundamental, especially for those people, that there is accountability for the fire and that we see the fire service report on what caused it.
The committee report, in what it established regarding the run-up to the fire, is damning of the Glasgow School of Art. I support the call for a public inquiry. It is essential. It is disappointing that we do not yet have the fire service report. I am sure that there are good reasons for that, but I thought that we would have had it by now. At the least, we should know the barriers to the conclusion of the report. Access to the site has been difficult, but, 16 months on, we need an indication of when the report can be expected.
There were serious fire risks associated with a building of this nature. A key part of the committee report identifies the special measures that should have been taken and must be taken with a building of this kind. Lessons were not learned between the two fires. Like Rachael Hamilton, I was astonished to read in the committee report that the Glasgow School of Art was not in a position to determine whether, on the night of the fire, the fire alarm system was switched on. I had to check three or four times that I had read it correctly. Somebody must be held to account for that. How is it possible for the leadership team of Glasgow School of Art to tell the committee or anyone else that they did not know whether the alarm was switched on? It beggars belief.
There should be no question in the minds of the leadership team of Glasgow School of Art. When it came to the governance of Glasgow School of Art, the committee did not mince its words. It said explicitly that the leadership team did not give sufficient priority to safeguarding the Mackintosh. That must give ministers serious concerns. Notwithstanding what the minister said about the school of art being the guardian of the Mackintosh, it is a public institution. There must be ways in which ministers can say that they are not satisfied that the leadership team are the correct custodians of the Mackintosh building. It is a public institution and those people have to be accountable. The lack of transparency regarding the measures that they took in 2014 is another astonishing fact brought out by the committee’s report. It is unbelievable.
You would think that, after one fire, the leadership team would be able to come to the committee and explicitly spell out what measures they were taking to make sure that it did not happen again, but they were unable to do so. When we read the committee report, it seems obvious that for a historic building such as the Mack, which had a dual function, there should have been additional support and guidance, in recognition of the additional fire risk.
There are odd elements to the story. The fundraising strategy for a mist sprinkler system, which was a necessity and not optional, gives a strange message to the public about funding fire safety measures. To me, the leadership’s strategy was all over the place, because there must have been another way to raise funds for a system that was essential in order to protect the building. Like Adam Tomkins, I believe that there has been a complete lack of leadership and I am dissatisfied at the lack of answers that we have received.
There has been a catalogue of errors. We still do not know why Tom Inns suddenly departed. It is a public institution, so ministers should be asking why he left the Glasgow School of Art and why that happened so suddenly. Also, why are six staff members signing confidentiality agreements? What is the confidential information that they are protecting? Why were there pay-outs totalling £210,000? The dysfunctionality at the top of the institution should be unacceptable to ministers and Parliament, and it is certainly unacceptable to the general public.
We need to have answers. It is an institution that we all love. We want it to have a future and it must have a future. The public must be involved in the design and the community must be involved in all of it, but before we get to that stage we must have answers, as soon as possible, as to why we are in this situation.
I recognise the work of the committee in producing its report and I agree with its central conclusions. Yes, indeed, the public inquiry will be required and I hope that in responding to the debate the Government will give some explicit assurances on that. I also agree that issues raised in the report go well beyond the causes and effects of the fire itself. I will say something about both those conclusions.
On the issues relating to the fire, other members have clearly set out the shock and sense of disbelief at what the inquiry found, including the fact that a fire suppression system was not only not in place but had to be fundraised for in the way that it was. The evidence that the committee heard from one fire safety expert, who said that they had never heard of any other organisation having to fundraise for safety-critical infrastructure of that kind, speaks to the extraordinary and exceptional circumstances in which the GSA found itself.
Another issue that the committee raises in the report—which, again, I ask the Government to respond to—is the fact that Historic Environment Scotland did not have the power to mandate the fire prevention and other preservation measures that were required. The report makes some recommendations around that and asks for the Government to look at the overall remit of Historic Environment Scotland.
I want to talk about the issues of context, because the Glasgow School of Art is not just a building—valued, iconic and important though it is. It is also something that sits within a context.
The written submission from the Sauchiehall Street inner cordon businesses and Garnethill displaced residents group, which the committee’s report cites, says:
“A very long-standing resident writes, ‘The only interaction with local residents has been GSoA surveyors checking for movement/subsidence due to demolition/building works. We have never been included or invited to any of the degree shows or to see the buildings in the 28 years I’ve lived in Garnethill, though we’ve endured the disruption and noise every year’.”
It goes on to say:
“The picture painted is of a selfish neighbour with little understanding of the impact that they have on their community”.
We should be angry at that perception. We should also note and acknowledge that the Glasgow School of Art has recognised its validity: it accepted a lot of those criticisms. However, the situation has been a warning, not just to the school about the long and hard work that it will have to do to rebuild trust, but to all institutions and large organisations—be they public, private or voluntary—that have a role in shaping the nature of the community that they live in or alongside. They should build such trust before they end up encountering a crisis. If they go through a situation anything like that which the Glasgow School of Art and its community went through, it will be too late to start building that trust then; it has to be done beforehand. Everyone—not just the GSA and the organisations that are responsible for this situation—should be taking that warning seriously.
There is another aspect about context, which is not just about the local area. A proactive approach to the redevelopment of Sauchiehall Street is clearly needed. The avenues project has taken the street back to more public use being made of it: less space is being taken up by traffic and there is more for people. This should be a fantastic time of renaissance for Sauchiehall Street as a lively part of our city, and it should be a very positive one. The Government must get behind that plan and ensure that that happens.
However, the wider context is about the artistic and cultural life of our city and our country. As Pauline McNeill reflected, there has been concern not just about the GSA but about the O2. Its destruction came not so long after Glasgow lost the Arches—although that was not because of fire but because of what, in my view, was bureaucratic perversity—and in the wake of years of reductions in the arts community’s funding from both the Government and the private sector, in which donations have been squeezed because of economic circumstances. A lot of that does not necessarily flow from Government causes, but it falls to the Government to respond to it and to ensure that we are investing in our arts community and giving leadership to the revival of the geographic community in the vicinity of the Glasgow School of Art.
Once again, I thank the committee for its work. I urge the Government not to feel that it is being blamed for any of this, but to recognise that it has a responsibility to provide leadership on where we should go next.
I thank Joan McAlpine for leading the debate on behalf of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. I know that but for a family bereavement, the local member, Sandra White, would also be participating in the debate on behalf of her constituents.
I, too, was deeply saddened to hear about the first fire at the Glasgow School of Art, back in 2014. Everyone knows that if they want to see something beautiful in Glasgow, all they need to do is look up. They will be greeted by grand old buildings with beautiful, ornate facades. I would not necessarily have counted the Mack as being the prettiest piece of architecture, but it was undeniably striking, groundbreaking and of huge significance to the city. Of course, I was shocked when I heard that it was ablaze again in 2018, and I am sure that everyone else shared that emotion. Losing one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most iconic buildings was a real blow to the history and culture of Glasgow.
Although it might seem dramatic to call a fire with no human casualties a tragedy, thinking of such a beautiful listed building being gutted not long after its 150th anniversary and with refurbishments after the 2014 fire being so close to completion, it is hard not to feel sad. Undergraduate students were set to have access to the new building earlier this year, but that was taken away from them.
Given the two catastrophic fires, a public inquiry is essential. The GSA board has failed to act as custodians of this magnificent building, or even to act as good neighbours to local residents and businesses, whose lives have been turned upside down. Insufficient priority was given to fire prevention, and we cannot allow such a disaster to happen again anywhere in Scotland—including, if it is rebuilt, at a rejuvenated Glasgow School of Art.
The real question is how we can prevent it from happening again. It does not help that buildings that are under construction tend to be more vulnerable simply because a lot of construction—or reconstruction, as in the case of the GSA—involves something called hot work, which means the use of flames. The 2018 Primark fire in Belfast, for instance, was caused by a blowtorch that was left on, destroying the £6 million refurbishment of a 200-year-old building. However, that cannot have been the case for Glasgow School of Art, simply because no such works were taking place at the time.
We all know that the blaze in 2014 started in a studio and was accelerated by voids and ventilation ducts in the building, which allowed it to spread up towards the library. The voids—empty spaces, such as in the roof, that simply allow for natural ventilation—were pointed out after the fire in 2014 and they had previously been noted as a potential issue during inspections in 1997 and 2006. Why was nothing done about them in the refurbishment post-2014?
Another aspect of the most recent art school fire is that fire safety measures, such as a sprinkler system, were available but not yet in use. In March this year, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee heard evidence regarding the 2018 event from fire expert Stephen Mackenzie and conservation architect Dawson Stelfox. In that session, I quoted a Glasgow School of Art spokesperson who had said in
The Times that very day:
“As regards having a working mist suppression system at the time of the fire, there is no such system that could have been operational in the Mack prior to the completion of the build phase.”
Mr Mackenzie rejected that vehemently and Mr Stelfox responded that temporary suppression systems are indeed available.
Perhaps an even greater shame is the decision to change the then almost complete high-pressure mist system to a low-pressure one between April and August 2016. Although the reasoning behind that appeared to be sound, citing the dangers of high-pressure volumes of water for such a historic building, had the system been functional, the damage to the school of art may not have been anything like as extensive.
On how the GSA board has reacted, there are deep concerns about its approach to openness and transparency and, more widely, the way in which it presents and shares information. When the committee published its report, the response from the GSA board was—if I am being diplomatic, and to put it mildly—utterly dismissive.
There was a clear sense from stakeholders’ evidence that the levels of information and transparency on the consequences of both fires were far from ideal, which led to unnecessary speculation. Seemingly, some measures were taken by the GSA, but much of the information was not easily accessible on its website and was available only on request. For example, the GSA’s website includes clear information about the restoration project, but not about the governance or the decision-making processes underpinning much of the work.
The GSA must review how it publishes information concerning the Mackintosh building in order to provide a clearer picture of its activities. We must all await the outcome of the fire investigation into the events of June 2018 before agreeing the next steps or the lessons to be learned. I am sure that many of us are frustrated that it has already taken some 15 or 16 months, and we would like to see the report—a comprehensive, detailed report—as soon as possible. However, it is clear that there must be more transparency regarding the processes that would be put in place regarding any future rebuild of the Mackintosh building.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Glasgow School of Art fires have marked the city of Glasgow, and most particularly the community that surrounds it. They have affected staff, students and Glaswegians and have reverberated beyond. We must not forget the extensive damage that was caused to the O2 ABC music venue next door or the damage to people’s homes and nearby businesses, which has already been mentioned. Perhaps a modicum of good will come out of the fire in the form of awareness and robust measures being put in place to ensure that such a thing never happens again. Ultimately, that is what we all want.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate today, and I commend the committee for its work and its report.
In February this year, one month before the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee published its report, I called for a full public inquiry into the fire at the Glasgow School of Art. I was, of course, delighted to see the committee echo in its conclusions and recommendations my call for an inquiry.
We need a full public inquiry for two reasons. First, we need to establish beyond doubt what happened in June 2018, when the Mackintosh building burned down for the second time in four years, and why it happened. Secondly—and every bit as important—we must come to a view about what should happen to the building in the future.
The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee has done excellent work in identifying a series of unanswered questions, but we now need a properly empowered public inquiry to answer questions about the management and oversight of the Mack’s restoration by the Glasgow School of Art, by the principal contractor—Kier Construction—and by subcontractors. We also need to ask whether appropriate fire safety measures were implemented following the 2014 fire in the building.
The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee could not get to the bottom of those issues for a variety of reasons that lay beyond its control. Key information remains hidden from the public, despite the committee’s work. Minutes of GSA board meetings have been redacted, as was the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s report into the 2014 fire. The principal contractor, Kier Construction, declined to disclose to MSPs on the committee a key document unless it was withheld from the public. A public inquiry would be able to compel disclosure of information, in the same way that a court of law can in normal civil proceedings.
We need an inquiry to answer the following key questions—although this is not an exhaustive list. First, the 2014 fire was put out quickly once the fire brigade arrived, but it had already spread to the top floor by that time. In June 2018, the fire brigade arrived on the scene within minutes of the alarm being raised, but by the time they got there, the whole of the Mack was ablaze, from top to bottom. The SFRS said that the 2018 fire must have been burning for between 45 and 60 minutes before the alarm was raised. How was that allowed to happen?
Between 2008 and 2012, the GSA spent £8.5 million of Heritage Fund money but did not spend money on protecting vents that were critical in accelerating the spread of the 2014 fire. Why?
The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee was told that it appears to be the case that, in 2018, the GSA had one health and safety officer for the whole estate—not just for the Mack building—and no dedicated fire officer. Is that true?
On Kier’s reconstruction work, why was there no compartmentation, which would have helped to stop the spread of the 2018 fire? If there were people trained to inspect for fire 24/7, as there surely should have been, where were they on the night of the fire, given that the building was ablaze for up to an hour before the fire crews were called? Apparently, the fire and emergency plan set out that there was to be a guard on site overnight and that there was to be 24-hour security monitoring. Why, in June 2018, was no alarm raised until the fire had been burning for an hour?
When asked about the matter by MSPs on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, Kier Construction could not confirm that the fire alarm system had not been switched off in June. That is extraordinary. There had been dozens of false alarms in March, April and May, but none in the three weeks prior to the 2018 fire, and apparently there was no sound of an alarm on the night of the fire. What is the explanation for that?
Those are just five of the questions to which we need answers. They have been identified by Joan McAlpine’s committee, but they have not yet been answered.
Two parties come out of the disaster of the 2018 fire particularly badly. The first is the GSA itself, and the second, I am afraid to say, is the SNP administration at Glasgow City Council. The past 18 months have been profoundly difficult for the businesses and residents of Sauchiehall Street and Garnethill. They have been pushed to breaking point through no fault of their own. I have been deeply struck by their resilience and tenacity.
There was an alarming lack of a coherent and joined-up plan from Glasgow City Council to deal with the consequences of the GSA fire last year. Piecemeal information trickled down to traders and residents in the days and weeks following the fire. It was clear that the council was constantly on the back foot.
Eighteen months on, there is still no long-term strategy for the recovery of Sauchiehall Street. No one blames the council for the fires, but at a time of crisis, it seems that Susan Aitken runs an administration that runs for cover when the going gets tough. SNP councillors right now seem to be more interested in spending taxpayers’ money on shoes for themselves than on helping Sauchiehall Street and Garnethill to recover.
As for Glasgow School of Art’s management, they are even more culpable. Under their stewardship, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s jewel has been allowed to burn down twice. The Glasgow School of Art has straightforwardly failed in its custodianship of a national treasure. I ask the minister not to allow the management to pull the wool over his eyes. Since the 2018 fire, the GSA’s management have behaved with appalling high-handedness and arrogance towards local residents, with callous disregard for local businesses, and with dismissive disdain towards members of the Scottish Parliament and other elected politicians. They are not fit to run the Glasgow School of Art. They are obstructive and secretive, they are rotten neighbours and they lack any sense of civic duty or responsibility. In my view, the Mackintosh building and its restoration should be taken away from them, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s glory should be rebuilt not as a private art school, but as a public asset for us all to enjoy and, indeed, as a magnet to draw tourists from all over the world to Glasgow to celebrate the crowning achievement of one of our finest artists.
As a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, I am pleased to have been called to contribute to this afternoon’s debate on our committee report, entitled “The Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh Building: The loss of a national treasure”. The committee approached the matter on a non-partisan basis, so I was a bit disappointed by Mr Tomkins’s tone, but that is up to him. Members, on a cross-party basis, felt an incredible sense of loss, which has underlain our work on the matter. That incredible sense of loss was our key motivation in examining what happened and what must happen going forward, to ensure that lessons are learned.
I take this opportunity to thank the committee clerks for all their sterling work in producing a very comprehensive report, which was published on 8 March 2019. I believe that we have set forth fairly in the report the evidence that was received, and that we reached conclusions and made recommendations without fear or favour, which is as it should be.
Our key recommendation, which has been referred to already in the debate, is that the Government establish a public inquiry once the SFRS has concluded its investigation. I was pleased to note from the minister’s comments earlier that a public inquiry has not been ruled out. The need for a public inquiry is quite clear, given the significant number of disparate and important strands that are covered by the committee’s report—both as far as the Mack building is concerned and as far as the wider issues that have been raised about historic buildings that are national treasures are concerned. It became quite clear that, in that regard, we need to look at the role of Historic Environment Scotland in general terms and in the context of restoration works particularly. It is regrettable that in the case of the Mack, there appears to have been an arm’s-length approach. That did not help.
I turn to the Glasgow School of Art’s board—the custodians of that most precious of buildings. It has to be reiterated that they presided over not just one, but two catastrophic fires. The first was on 23 May 2014 and the second was on 15 June 2018. The obvious question that arises is this: what lessons did they learn after the first catastrophic fire? The committee did its best to ascertain exactly that, but there was, sadly, a lack of clarity. For example, it was very difficult to get to the bottom of why a water-mist suppression system had not been fully installed by 2014, even although it was agreed in 2008 to proceed with installation. As we have heard, the GSA’s board stated that fundraising was needed, although it is not clear why the non-core Scottish Funding Council sums of about £198,000 per annum that were awarded for heritage purposes could not have been used. How, in fact, was that money spent? Did it go towards purchase of new buildings instead of heritage purposes? That is not clear and must be clarified.
Aside from the fundraising issue, the GSA board also stated that it was subsequently discovered only in July 2013 that there was a problem with asbestos that required to be dealt with prior to installation of the water-mist suppression system. Why was that discovered so late in the day, given that fundraising for the project commenced in 2009? A full technical survey should surely have been conducted during consideration of the project in order to determine what needed to be done. Such a survey would have informed the decision on the amount of money that needed to be raised.
Questions arose about whether proportionate measures were taken by the board on risk management and on transparency of information, including itemisation of items that were lost from the collections in 2014 and 2018 and their value.
In that regard, there were also questions about the insurance cover that was in place. In committee on 15 November, I asked that a copy of the current insurance policy be made available. Representatives of the GSA said that they would make the policy public, but subsequently refused to do so. Therefore, we have no idea what cover is in place, the conditions that are set forth in the cover, the value of the cover, whether the policy will be paid out in full or at all, and when the policy will be paid out. That is simply not acceptable—not least because the public purse paid the insurance premiums.
It is vital that we get to the bottom of all that. The Mack was not only a national treasure, but was of significant international importance. In examining the facts that we have been able to unearth thus far, it is really difficult to see how it would be possible to sustain the dual purpose of the Mack as a functioning art school and a museum. Calls have been made to set up the Mack as a public trust. With the facts that are available to us today, it is difficult to see how that position would not be preferable to the status quo.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this afternoon’s debate. I thank the committee for the important work that it has done in the inquiry to highlight the key issues in respect of the two fires at the Glasgow School of Art.
I recall leaving a meeting in May 2014 in Bath Street in Glasgow and heading up towards Sauchiehall Street. It was lunchtime; smoke was beginning to fill the sky and people were shocked and a bit fearful about what was happening. They were even more shocked later when it became apparent that the Glasgow School of Art was on fire. It is an iconic building, so that shocked many people, as members have said.
Imagine how that shock was amplified four years later. I again found myself in Glasgow city centre returning from a social event on a Friday night. I dropped somebody off on Sauchiehall Street, and we could sense that there was a bit of a commotion. However, by the time I had driven home, it was all over the news that the art school building was again on fire. Twice in four years—nobody could quite believe it. Therefore, the committee’s inquiry is really important.
However, we get the sense that the committee has been slightly hamstrung in undertaking its work due to the lack of a report from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. It is crucial that that report be completed as quickly as possible. There were calls for that in June this year, when Pauline McNeill held her members’ business debate on the issue, but four months down the line, we still await the report, which will be an important piece of the jigsaw.
Members have absolutely correctly highlighted the role of the Glasgow School of Art’s management. It is astonishing that, at the time of the 2014 fire, there were fire risks associated with the building, which the committee report underlines. It is also astonishing that the water-mist suppression system, which was identified in 2008 as being necessary to give protection from fire, was not fully installed by the time of the 2014 fire. It is equally astonishing that, in 2018 on the night of the fire, the fire alarm was not working. As Pauline McNeill said, that beggars belief.
A lot of other issues are covered in the report, but those issues alone raise serious questions about the management of the Glasgow School of Art. From looking at the report and the Glasgow School of Art’s response, there is a sense that it is prickly about the criticism. After two such large fires in four years and a catalogue of errors and mismanagement, we really have to ask whether it is time for somebody to take responsibility and to stand up and be counted.
Patrick Harvie and Adam Tomkins—who, along with Pauline McNeill, have done a lot of good work on the issue in Glasgow—highlighted the fact that the local community has continued to be left in an isolated position as a result of the fire. The 2018 fire devastated a lot of businesses around Sauchiehall Street, and some people were moved from their homes and split up from their families. Concerns remain about the lack of support from and engagement by the GSA. I was struck by what Patrick Harvie said about the resident who has in 28 years had no engagement with the art school—that is a real failure of public responsibility.
There are multiple issues, which is why members and the committee are right to call for a public inquiry. Such an inquiry is necessary because we still do not know properly why the fires happened in 2014 and 2018. Clearly, important lessons have to be learned from the incidents. There are serious questions to be asked about the role of the GSA, which is severely criticised in the report and in members’ speeches. A public inquiry needs to look at those issues.
There should also be an examination of how we protect historic buildings throughout Scotland to ensure that there are no fire risks. In doing that, I hope that the Government will take on board the calls for a public inquiry and the need to be more proactive in looking at its role with regard to other historic buildings and the Glasgow School of Art. The Government has a responsibility in this.
The committee has carried out an important piece of work, but that is by no means the end of the matter. Many questions remain unanswered. We need a public inquiry and identification by the minister of the action that the Government will take to address the serious issues that have been mentioned this afternoon.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and I put on record my thanks to the committee and the clerks for producing the report, which is a substantive piece of work that I found very informative, having come to the issues as a non-committee member.
Before I turn to the substance of the report, I will reflect briefly on a previous jewel in Glasgow’s architectural heritage that was lost to fire. This past Saturday marked 57 years since Glasgow lost the St Andrew’s halls. I do not think that many people in the chamber will be familiar with the halls, but they were a premier music venue not just in Scotland and the United Kingdom but in Europe. The venue had legendary acoustics and was home to the Scottish National Orchestra. It hosted some of the greatest musicians of all time, from Dame Nellie Melba to Sergei Rachmaninoff, and some of the most significant political figures including David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.
The St Andrew’s halls were lost to fire following a boxing match between Scotland and Romania. Smoking was prohibited, but those who were working at the venue were lax in enforcing the rules, and they did not want to tell boxing fans that they could not smoke. As a consequence, a cigarette ignited material that burned the venue down.
Only the facade of the venue remains today, but it stands as part of the Mitchell library complex at Charing Cross. The Mitchell library stands intact today because of the firewall between St Andrew’s halls and the Mitchell library that was put in place during the second world war. That raises two questions—about the application of rules and about appropriate measures of mitigation—which have been raised in the piece of work before us today.
It is tragic that, some 52 years after the event that I have just described, another jewel should be so severely damaged and, following that, almost completely destroyed. The fire at the art school came only 10 years after the Elgin Place congregational church on Pitt Street—known to my generation as the Shack nightclub—was burned to the ground. How have we managed to find ourselves in a situation in which those architectural gems, which are so interwoven into the Glaswegian identity, have been lost? Why have those lessons not been learned over half a century?
The question arises whether there will always be an inevitability that such tragedies can happen, but my reflection from reading the committee’s report is that the events that have befallen the Glasgow School of Art were ultimately preventable, to some extent. When I make my way through what the report says about the conduct of many of those involved in the management and running of the art school, I am filled with a sense of foreboding, because it seems that there was an inevitability in what eventually happened. That is a great tragedy.
As someone who was born 23 years after the St Andrew’s halls burned down, I ask myself what it would have been like to be in that incredible venue. Twenty-three years from now, will people who are born today ask what it was like to visit the Mackintosh building? I appreciate that there are calls to rebuild it. Those calls are valid, and I agree with the committee that that will have to be done in consultation with the local community and wider stakeholders. Patrick Harvie raised a point about the need to build trust before encountering a crisis, and that is a lesson for us all. There is certainly now a job to restore and build trust. A key way of doing that will be to have thorough engagement and not to take any decisions pre-emptively on what the future of the site should be.
I do not endorse the position that Adam Tomkins has taken, but the anger that he expressed is visceral, and it reflects the anger of many of his constituents. I recognise that entirely. It is imperative that there is a substantive process of engagement.
Many of this afternoon’s speeches have focused on the need to ask questions, and much of the debate is contingent on and caveated by the need to wait for the outcome of the SFRS inquiry. While it is frustrating that we do not yet have a report, the most vital thing is that the SFRS and all those involved have the opportunity to conduct the most full and robust inquiry, so that we have a full understanding of the events that took place. I am very sympathetic to the calls for a full public inquiry. However, it would be most beneficial to wait until we have the full results of the inquiry from the SFRS before proceeding.
It is imperative that, by whatever mechanism we achieve it, lessons are learned from the events of 2014 and 2018, and that we ensure that this never happens again. Although there may be some questions around who the future legal owner of the Mackintosh building should be, the reality is that it belongs to all of us and to future generations, and we are duty bound to protect it.
Shortly before the summer recess, I spoke in the members’ business debate that marked one year since the second Glasgow School of Art fire. On 15 June last year, the iconic building tragically caught fire. As we have heard, that was the second fire to hit the building in just four years. One and a half years later, the building and the surrounding area are still feeling the effects of the extensive and long-term damage.
The fact that this topic has been brought back for debate shows how important the Glasgow School of Art is to the people of Glasgow. Designed by one of the city’s biggest icons, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, between 1896 and 1909, the Mackintosh building quickly became a well-established landmark in the city. It goes without saying that, due to the architect’s lasting legacy and influence within the city, the words “Mackintosh” and “Glasgow” remain as synonymous as ever. Given that sentiment, we as parliamentarians must do all that we can to assist with plans on the building’s long-term future and to move forward with some of the recommendations that are made in the committee’s report.
On the first anniversary, it was clear that locals were still experiencing problems that were associated with the fire. The resulting blaze engulfed several buildings, including the O2 ABC, and several local households and businesses. Due to the cordon that was put in place, some businesses had to relocate, with some reporting losses of up to 75 per cent on the previous year’s figures. Local residents expressed their frustrations about vehicle access, refuse collection and the insurance claims that had to be made. Many felt that they were dumped back into their homes and expected to get on with things, and that, subsequently, they were shut out of planning for the regeneration of the area.
A number of issues remain, the first of which is deciphering who was at fault for the fire and what lessons can be learned for the future. The current inquiry is, of course, still in its final stages. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the report identifying the cause of the second fire will not be published until next year. Although that is partly understandable given the complexities of the investigation, it will be disappointing for the people in Glasgow who now just want answers.
The committee noted concerns about the GSA’s stewardship of the building in the lead-up to the 2014 fire. The report states that the committee was
“not convinced that the GSA gave sufficient priority to the safeguarding of the Mackintosh building”, and that “serious consideration” should be given to placing the Mackintosh building in a trust in the future. That led to the committee’s recommendation to
“establish a public inquiry with judicial powers into the 2014 and 2018 fires at the Glasgow School of Art.”
As I stated in the previous debate, I support that call. As we have heard, it would compel the disclosure of information in the same way that a court can compel the release of documents in civil proceedings.
Serious concerns have been raised over key documents being hidden from public view, and questions have been asked about Glasgow School of Art’s management and oversight of the restoration. Those concerns were supported by the committee, which expressed its desire for the GSA to be more transparent about what was lost from the Mackintosh collection in the 2014 and 2018 fires, and about the governance of restorations.
There have, of course, been further developments since the committee published its report in March, which have shown further causes for concern. There have been further resignations within the executive team, following the exodus of 70 staff from the school since the second devastating fire took place last year. Concerningly, it was reported recently that one in three staff at the school feel unduly stressed at work, with one in eight feeling harassed or bullied. It is clear that staff morale is extremely low, which, given the challenges ahead, is not a good place for the school to be in.
With regard to what happens next and the restoration of the building, the public will not be encouraged by those reports, nor will people be encouraged by recent reports that a substantial amount of money—more than £1 million—was spent on trying to relocate students to a building that has now been branded “obsolete”.
I absolutely agree with Joan McAlpine.
Whatever happens next, public confidence will need to be restored. Once the outcome of the fire service’s inquiry is known, the public will want to know what will happen next. Will the Mackintosh building be rebuilt on the same site or will it move to another area of the city altogether? Should it be rebuilt as a working art school or as a public asset for the city? I sincerely hope that we can find a way forward soon.
We must all redouble our efforts to ensure that we can move forward from the horrific events that shocked the city on two separate occasions. The inquiry must provide the answers that ordinary Glasgow residents and businesses have been asking for; only then can we start to restore confidence in how the Glasgow School of Art is operating. That is the least that those people deserve.
I support the committee’s report. As a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, I found the inquiry to be both saddening and fascinating. I have no direct link to the art school—although I have some family links to it, they are quite distant in the family tree—so I looked at the evidence purely dispassionately.
I am aware of constituents who are genuinely saddened by the two fires and who want the Mackintosh building to be rebuilt, but there is an understanding that that will not be an easy task. As colleagues have done, I want to stress the point that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s investigation report has not yet been published, so any claims that people know what happened should be treated with some scepticism.
For me, the timeline on page 7 of the report is important. It provides a simple and quick-to-read background history of the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building over the past 20 years. Many people will be angry that the second fire happened, particularly given that it occurred so soon after the first one. People will also be angry about the money that went up in smoke, especially given the quantum of the investment by many donors and organisations.
It is clear that people want the Mackintosh building to be rebuilt, but they also want it to be safeguarded for the future. That did not happen after the first fire, which is where the conclusions in paragraphs 24 and 25 of the committee’s report are important. If the committee had considered the evidence that the board of the art school provided to be robust, I am sure that our conclusions and recommendations would have been somewhat different.
The recommendation that we make at the end of paragraph 53 concerns the compartmentation that the convener spoke about and which others have touched on. That recommendation, along with the one that we make at the end of paragraph 63, is crucial as we move forward. Our committee has been hugely concerned about what happened at the Glasgow School of Art, and it is vital that we protect our historic buildings for the future. Our recommendation that Historic Environment Scotland should provide updated guidance is welcome in that regard, and I genuinely welcome the Scottish Government’s response to it.
I whole-heartedly support the committee’s final recommendation, which is about the need for a public inquiry. Colleagues across the chamber have spoken about the issue. I am not a member of the Scottish Parliament who calls for public inquiries on a whim. They are expensive to carry out and they take a lot of time. However, on this occasion, I believe that it is important that a public inquiry takes place. I am sure that a public inquiry, as well as providing further clarity on past events, would make important recommendations for the future.
Every member will be able to point to buildings in their constituency or region that they believe have cultural significance in their part of the country. We all understand the damage that could be caused to the cultural offer and the significant landmarks in our parts of the country. That is why I believe that a public inquiry is absolutely crucial. I know how damaging it would be for my area if we were to lose one or more of our important buildings, so I appreciate the anger and frustrations that people have about the Glasgow School of Art building in Garnethill.
For me, the one saving grace about these terrible events is that nobody lost their life. Members have touched on the fact that many people’s lives have been hugely affected, including local residents, businesspeople and students. It is important that we thank those individuals for their patience and perseverance and for their determination to progress with their lives. I am genuinely thankful that, as a consequence of the speedy response of the fire service, nobody lost their life.
I was pleased to be involved in the production of the report, but I would much rather that the committee did not have to do that type of work and instead did something more positive. However, after two fires in four years, we had no choice—we had to do it. I hope that, out of the sadness, frustration and anger, the report helps to prevent another fire at the Glasgow School of Art or at any other building of historical and cultural significance.
I could not agree more with members’ comments about the fire alarm system. To be brutally honest, the lack of clarity as to whether the system was on or off is ridiculous. Like Pauline McNeill, I believe that there was a complete lack of leadership at the college. I commend the report, but I genuinely hope that the Parliament and the committee never need to undertake such an inquiry again. I would prefer us to have a more positive focus rather than look at what clearly has been an absolute disaster for the Glasgow School of Art.
I acknowledge Stuart McMillan’s point that, fortunately, no one lost their life in the fires. A committee report such as the one that we are considering should not have been necessary but, as I said in my opening speech, it is an excellent report that has done a lot of service to the issue and has asked some burning questions to which we still need answers.
I believe that the case for a public inquiry is well made. If I was not convinced of that before, after listening to members I certainly am now. There are too many unanswered questions about what caused the fire and the management of the school. I do not say this lightly, but the only way in which we will get to the bottom of the issue is to have a public inquiry.
Annabelle Ewing made important points in her excellent contribution. It is extraordinary that the management of a public institution would not let a committee of the Parliament have sight of its insurance policy—who do they think they are? A message must go out that that is not acceptable. We are not considering the issue to give ourselves something to do; we are doing it because that is our job. It is our job to hold institutions to account and to show the general public that we are doing what we were elected to do. That issue is in itself a sad indictment.
Adam Tomkins referred to the length of time for which the building was ablaze before the alarm sounded. I am sure that members have, like me, probably heard hundreds of dreadful rumours about that. That is why we need the fire service report as soon as possible. The issue is a mystery to most people. The time delay video—in fact, it was Tom Inns who showed me it in a meeting—shows that the fire subsided and then, within seconds, the O2 building exploded in a blaze. No one can explain that. We want to know why it happened.
The management of the building, who were meant to protect it from fire, having had a warning in 2014, have been extraordinary. They did not know whether the fire alarm system was on on the night of the fire, and the fact that no one has been held accountable for that is one of the most damning aspects of the episode. For that alone, heads should have rolled at the GSA. It beggars belief that the management could not tell the committee whether the alarm was on on the night. That in itself should be the subject of a public inquiry.
There was confusion about the fire plan and the fire suppression system. There was dysfunction at every level. Adam Tomkins spoke at length about the dysfunctional nature of the GSA leadership. We need to know whether that contributed in any way to the school’s management and to the fire itself.
We do not have an answer on why the director, Tom Inns, left. Let us be under no illusion: Tom Inns left under a cloud. If we are to believe the reports that we read in the press, he was sacked, but we do not know why. Six people signed a confidentiality agreement. What was in those confidentiality agreements? Why are we not allowed to see them?
There is an issue to do with the use of public funds. Most recently, £1.2 million was spent on the Charles Oakley building as a temporary measure that did not need to be taken. Did the management not think that they were under scrutiny? It is as if they do not think that anyone will question what they are doing.
As I think that Kenny Gibson said, in the committee, Sandra White and I asked Muriel Gray some direct questions. Sandra White is not here for the debate; she has done a lot of work on the issue and should be commended for that. To be fair to Muriel Gray, she acknowledged that the relationship with the local community had been poor for decades. I am glad that she said that and I commend her for acknowledging it. I asked her directly about the rumours that the GSA intended to purchase a building in Sauchiehall Street to create a frontage for the school. I and others wanted to know where in Sauchiehall Street that building was, because people wanted to have a say on it. There is not a lot of trust between the local community and businesses and the Glasgow School of Art. If the school wants to buy a building with the millions that it seems to have, I would like to know which one.
Muriel Gray told me that she did not know which building it was, but I know for a fact that it was the O2. The school could not afford to get it. Tom Arthur made an excellent speech about the importance of the O2 in all this. That is a side issue in the context of the need to get to the bottom of what caused the fire, but the consequences have been devastating for the local community and the music community in Glasgow, and we do not yet know whether the O2 will be rebuilt as a music venue. I am spending a lot of time talking to the owners, and I have put on record my thanks to the officials at Glasgow City Council—not the leadership; Adam Tomkins is right about that—because officials, at least, are doing their very best to ensure that the O2 has an open door to put forward an affordable design that planners will accept.
It is important that we engage with all that work. If the O2 cannot be restored in three or four years and we lose it as a city venue, there will be devastating consequences for that part of Sauchiehall Street—let alone the music community. As I think Patrick Harvie said, the future of Sauchiehall Street is hanging in the balance. The Sauchiehall Street avenue project has been a success, to some degree, in changing the balance, but the jury is still out on the street’s future. Businesses still come to me to say that they do not know whether they can survive.
I hope that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service report is due. I do not know whether ministers can ask about the timescale; it would be helpful if the cabinet secretary could say, in summing up, whether that is an appropriate question to ask.
The role of ministers is critical in all this. If the committee and the Parliament cannot get answers, surely to goodness ministers, with all their authority, can get some of the answers to questions that we were unable to get. The Glasgow School of Art is a public institution.
In the past five minutes, I have read that the Glasgow School of Art has five new governors. I read about who they are and they look like very good people. However, really? This was an opportunity to appoint someone who could have represented the people of Glasgow and addressed that disengagement issue, but the GSA did not take that opportunity. I think that it is sending a clear message in response to the committee’s suggestion that it should be controlled by a trust. The message is, “No. We will take control of the Mackintosh. We’ve appointed five new governors. You can go away.” I do not know whether the GSA has learned any lessons.
There must be a public inquiry. I know that the cabinet secretary will say that he needs to read the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service report, and I understand that, but will he indicate how warm he is to the idea? What are his feelings on it? I do not argue lightly for a public inquiry—I know that we are often quick to jump in and say that we must have a public inquiry. However, we really need a public inquiry in this case, and I hope that, after ministers have read the SFRS report, they will back our calls for one.
I am pleased to close for the Scottish Conservatives in the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee debate on the Glasgow School of Art fires. As we have heard, those fires have been a catastrophe for Scotland and have meant the loss of a national treasure. The GSA has such a prominent place in people’s hearts, not only locally in Glasgow but across Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe and the world. Many people look on the school as an iconic building, and that has been lost.
As a member of the committee, I have been very interested to hear the many comments and excellent contributions from members on the whole saga. I commend and congratulate the firefighters, who did all that they could to save the school during the fires. It is also salient to reiterate at this stage that the Scottish Conservatives have been calling for a full public inquiry since well before the committee published its report.
Although it is for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to determine whether the building met fire safety standards, it is clear that the Glasgow School of Art did not take the increased fire risk to the Mackintosh building into account prior to the fire in 2014. We on the committee expressed concerns at the length of time that it took the GSA to install a mist suppression system, which was agreed back in 2008 but had not been installed by the time of the fire in 2014. We were not convinced that the GSA gave sufficient priority to safeguarding the Mackintosh building, which is an absolute scandal.
The GSA must be more transparent about what was lost from the Mackintosh collection in the 2014 and 2018 fires, and there are serious concerns about the scrutiny and governance of the restorations. Immediately after the fires, we wanted Glasgow City Council to ensure that local businesses and residents were being looked after. We have heard today that there are still concerns about whether that is happening day to day.
I pay tribute to my colleagues Adam Tomkins and Annie Wells, our MSPs in Glasgow, who have been working tirelessly. I know that Pauline McNeill and Sandra White, and other members across the chamber, have also been working collectively to support individuals and residents in the community.
The GSA acted in its usual manner as site guardian during the restorations following the fires. As we have seen, the lack of transparency ensured that there was negative publicity, which continues to be the case. Questions need to be asked, as people have serious concerns about what took place. We still have not had a full report—I am sure that the minister will go into that in his summing up.
As I said, we have heard some very good contributions, and I want to speak to some of them. The committee convener, Joan McAlpine, talked about the risks and the mismanagement of the fires, and the amount of money that the GSA has received from the public purse. Fire safety risks were identified in the building as far back as 1990, and the asset has not been protected. As I said, there are still issues with regard to the local community.
The minister spoke about the shock wave that occurred when the fires took place, and said that lessons need to be learned. He is dead right—lessons do need to be learned, and questions need to be answered, given the value of the school not only for its students but for the economic life of Glasgow.
My colleague Rachael Hamilton spoke about the work that was lost to the school and to the students, and about the need to protect historic and listed buildings. A review needs to take place to ensure that we protect those valuable assets—that must come out of this process.
Pauline McNeill talked about the disbelief at the events that are taking place: the catalogue of errors, the number of staff leaving and the confidentiality clauses that are required. The public just want to know why, after all this time, there is so much secrecy and so great a possibility that things will not be told to them. The public have a right to know what is going on.
Adam Tomkins spoke about the mismanagement of the fires and talked about minutes of board meetings not being seen. He mentioned that there needs to be a public inquiry and spoke about the £8.5 million-worth of public money that has been spent, the problems with the fire alarm system and the false alarms that took place—there is a catalogue of them, but there appears to have been no alarm when the fire took place.
My committee colleague Annabelle Ewing talked about the insurance policy—that is a vital issue—and the difficulties that surrounded that. Is that policy fit for purpose? It would appear not to have been. We could not get answers from the company about the situation.
Annie Wells spoke about the morale of the staff. While all of what we have been talking about has been going on, the staff of the school have had to cope with all the bad publicity and the questions that have been asked. The public have lost confidence in the school and the board. There have been a number of changes, but that does not necessarily mean that the public have any confidence in how things are going to go forward. It is vital that all those questions are asked.
We feel that the Glasgow School of Art should give serious consideration to placing the Mackintosh building in a trust, as has been mentioned today. The committee would also like the Scottish Government to establish a public inquiry, with judicial powers, into the 2014 and 2018 fires. Further, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Historic Environment Scotland should clarify and review fire safety procedures in category A listed buildings.
Finally, we want the Scottish Government to review the legal protections for category A listed buildings. It is vital that there is some weight behind that and that the Government compels and supports owners of certain buildings to install fire safety measures.
This entire saga has been damaging to the cultural heritage of Scotland. There are many more questions to be asked of the board of the Glasgow School of Art. It must be said that, when members of the board appeared at the committee to give evidence, they were evasive and many of their answers were less than convincing.
I commend the report and thank everyone who gave evidence to the committee. However, I am disappointed that, when the report came out, the Glasgow School of Art chose to criticise the committee for its findings. Lessons need to be learned from this sorry saga. It must not happen again. The only light spot in this whole process was that no lives were lost. However, that was down to circumstances; there could easily have been fatalities. The fires should never have been allowed to happen. They should have been preventable.
I thank colleagues for their thoughtful and constructive contributions to this afternoon’s debate. MSPs across the chamber have made powerful and thought-provoking comments. The cabinet secretary and I will reflect on those important points.
It is important to put on record that my colleague Sandra White, who has the Glasgow School of Art in her constituency, would have been here today to make a forceful contribution on the subject, but, as we all know, she cannot be here with us, for understandable reasons. Our thoughts are certainly with her this week.
As Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, my first obligation is, naturally, to ensure the highest-quality learning experience for students in Scotland. Therefore, I am pleased that, despite the impact of these two dreadful fires, the Glasgow School of Art has continued to attract the brightest and best from across the world while nurturing the best of Scotland’s talent and contributing energy and passion to our vital creative industries in this country. As I said in my opening remarks, the Glasgow School of Art ranks in the top 10 art and design institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2019.
James Kelly spoke about being in Glasgow on the day of the fire and experiencing at first hand the public’s response to the devastation; and I recall following the story on social media when the news broke, finding it hard to comprehend the scale of the devastation. As Annabelle Ewing said, the community is still trying to come to terms with the scale of the loss.
Therefore, it is important that we use the opportunity to learn lessons from those fires, to ensure that, as much as they can be, our iconic, historic buildings are protected. Having met GSA’s acting chair, Professor Nora Kearney, yesterday, I know that the board strongly agrees.
Members have referred to a number of recommendations to the Glasgow School of Art, including that it should: consider putting the Mackintosh building into a trust; review how it presents information on its website—specifically, information related to items lost during the 2014 and 2018 fires—be more transparent in its processes, particularly in relation to any rebuild of the Mack; in consultation with the local community, establish formal methods of communication; and, before deciding the future of the Mack, undertake a full consultation exercise.
In the body of its excellent report, the committee also calls into question: the school’s approach to risk management; the capacity and expertise of the board and the priority it gave to safeguarding the building; the length of time taken to install the mist suppression system; and the school’s ability to articulate the lessons that it learned as a result of the 2014 fire.
A number of issues were raised. I am not the Glasgow School of Art and I am not responsible for many of those issues. I cannot respond to them all. Some have to be put in context. Of course, we must bear in mind that the contractor had day-to-day control of the site. The committee acknowledged that the school had oversight arrangements in place for that. Patrick Harvie mentioned not having access to the insurance policy. Our understanding is that the insurers did not give their consent to release that, because the claims are not closed. I am giving context for some of the points, because, at this stage, we do not know some of the answers to many of the issues that were raised.
The GSA is an autonomous body. Its board has responsibility for strategic decision making and ensuring operational efficiency. It has responded to many of the criticisms that have been made today.
It has made clear its intention—in principle—to rebuild the Mackintosh building. It has committed to review how it disseminates and shares information and to appoint a dedicated community engagement officer to support its efforts to build trust with its neighbours.
I recognise the concerns that members across the chamber have expressed about the need for trust and transparency and to give greater focus to a more positive relationship with the local community. During my meeting yesterday with management, a large part of our conversation was focused on that subject. The management team gave me many assurances and guarantees that it will be much higher up the agenda and that it recognises the concerns raised by local members and in the committee’s report.
On the question of a trust, the board has been clear that the Mackintosh building is core to what makes the Glasgow School of Art experience unique. As I said in my opening remarks and other members referred to, the board sees it not just as a building but as part of the teaching experience—as a tool for teaching in itself. However, the GSA has said that it will consider all options for the management of the building.
Of course, I am aware of the genuine and widespread concern raised in the press and in public discourse about decisions that the school of art has made in the years since the 2014 fire. It is not for ministers to pre-empt the outcome of the fire investigation or to form a view on the fire prevention strategies that have been employed during the rebuild project. However, as I said before, in some areas, we have to put things into context, with regard to who was in charge of the site on a day-to-day basis, when the second fire took place.
There have also been concerns around the use of public funding. The Scottish Government pledged £5 million in the wake of the 2014 fire, in order to support GSA to restore the Mackintosh building to its former glory. The phoenix bursary fund provided an extra £750,000 to support up to 102 final-year students to recreate their work. The UK Government provided £5 million for the purchase of the former Stow College building.
With regard to the debate that has taken place around the funding, the restoration of the damaged west wing was covered by the art school’s insurance. However, in consultation with Historic Environment Scotland, the decision was taken to include the whole building in the restoration works, in order to ensure the integrity and safety of building-wide systems and to ensure that the whole building was fit for purpose.
Therefore, we ministers are satisfied that the GSA spent the money that was provided by the Scottish Government in the way that was intended, given the need to extend the refurbishment beyond those parts of the building that were damaged by the fire and covered by the insurance.
I recognise that members are also concerned about the use of funds raised through public donations, which was mentioned by a few members in the debate. I understand that the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel is considering that matter at the moment, in light of many reports in the media. I have no evidence of any impropriety, but that investigation is taking place in response to the media coverage and there is, therefore, no more information that ministers can give in response to that concern at the moment.
Of course, the committee’s recommendations impact more widely than simply on the Glasgow School of Art. As I mentioned earlier, Historic Environment Scotland’s statutory remit in relation to fire mitigation in buildings of outstanding special architectural or historic interest will be considered by the Government. In addition, the agency will review and strengthen its guidance on the risks to buildings during conservation and renovation work and its technical guidance on fire safety management. Another feature of this debate is that many such fires take place in buildings when they are under construction. That is a vulnerable period and those issues are important, which is why members are raising them. All of that is important work to safeguard our heritage buildings in Scotland, and we will have to take into account the findings of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s investigations, once those are complete.
Given the time available, I will move on to the issue of the public inquiry, for which many members have forcefully made the case. I will repeat what I said before; it is absolutely right that we await the outcome of the investigations that are under way before giving further consideration to the committee’s recommendation to establish a public inquiry. The Government has not ruled out a public inquiry, but there are clearly many different factors to weigh up prior to taking any decision. No decision can even be contemplated until we know the detail of the SFRS’s investigations. That will provide us with a lot more evidence, which will enable us to take the right decisions moving forward.
In conclusion, I urge all organisations with responsibility for the upkeep and preservation of the many fantastic historic buildings that we have in Scotland to take heed of the detailed and valuable findings of the committee’s thorough and powerful report. I thank fellow MSPs again for their contributions to the debate, on which I and colleagues in the Government will certainly reflect.
As deputy convener of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, I am pleased to close the debate. I thank members for their excellent speeches.
The value of the Mackintosh building cannot be overestimated. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s importance to modern architecture and design is significant, and the stunning building was a remarkable fixture in the heart of Glasgow.
People were devastated by the 2014 fire; footage from the scene is heartbreaking. Then, at the point of the building’s resurrection and rebirth, to witness a second fire that was reported as being more devastating than the first was terrible. The shock of the two fires, and questions about how that could possibly happen, prompted the committee to undertake its inquiry in order to examine the overall management and custodianship of the Mackintosh building, and to consider what lessons can be learned and what we can do to better protect Scotland’s built heritage.
Although it was not the focus of the culture committee’s inquiry, we should not underestimate the human cost of the two fires. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service responded professionally and passionately to both fires, but we cannot overstate the risk that was involved in tackling those dangerous and complex incidents.
The loss of the O2 ABC venue is also a blow to the cultural life of Glasgow and, as Pauline McNeill’s members’ business debate earlier this year highlighted, the 2018 fire has been extremely disruptive for residents and businesses in the area. They have expressed to the committee their dissatisfaction with the GSA’s approach. The 2018 blaze caused substantial disruption to the Garnethill community: many local residents and businesses were displaced for a substantial time.
The committee convener, Joan McAlpine, and other members have today set out the committee’s concerns, which are significant enough for it to call for a public inquiry with judicial powers, following the conclusion of the SFRS investigation. Although the GSA has questioned the committee’s conclusions, the committee remains convinced that there is a need for further analysis of what happened and why, and that further scrutiny and expertise need to be applied to the sequence of events that led to the two catastrophic fires.
At times, the committee’s inquiry was challenging. Committee members received contradictory evidence, which we had to weigh up in order to identify the areas in which we believe there remain concerns about how the Mackintosh building was left vulnerable to fire. Measures can be implemented to reduce the risk of fire and to limit the effect of the damage that it causes if it does happen. The Glasgow School of Art sought to implement a range of measures, but as other members have highlighted, there had been delay in installing a water-mist suppression system prior to the 2014 fire, even though the risk of fire was evident.
Although the challenges of achieving compartmentation in an historic building are recognised, questions can be raised about the extent to which that happened during the construction phase before the 2018 fire, which appears to have spread very quickly through the site. The committee awaits the SFRS’s report, but what it learned during its inquiry suggests that more could have been done on the construction site.
As interesting as the committee’s report is, there is more to come following its publication. The committee received a lengthy response from the Glasgow School of Art, which, in an attempt to counter some of the concerns that were raised by the committee, also managed, in my view, to confirm some of its concerns. I will make a couple of points on those.
The 2014 fire was found to have been accidental. Following it, the GSA agreed to five key targets for fire protection for the Mackintosh building once it was returned to it as a functioning school. The targets included improved compartmentation and installation of fire stopping in ducts, a state-of-the-art fire-detection system, a water-mist suppression system and a smoke-extraction system.
Those targets were all sensible measures that should, it is arguable, have been applied in the building prior to the fire. However, I have a concern that they do not recognise the need for a culture change in the approach to health and safety and fire prevention in the building. The fire was classed as accidental, but there is no evidence that the GSA has reflected on the culture of the school, or on how to ensure safe or appropriate use of modern equipment or materials there. The culture of an organisation is as important as its processes and prevention measures.
The school’s focus on an individual student’s mistake indicates its lack of consideration of whether it was in any way responsible for the set of circumstances that enabled that mistake, which had significant consequences and risked fatalities. There have been reports of the tension between artistic expression and concerns about health and safety, and between the purpose of the art school and safeguarding of the building. It is not good enough for the GSA to dismiss such concerns.
The GSA has made it clear that the Mackintosh building was compliant with the relevant fire safety standards, which I do not doubt. It described the water-mist suppression system as an “enhancement”, although we know that it was not installed in 2014. The focus of fire safety standards is protection of life; I do not think that they claim to be able to protect grade A listed buildings. The question is whether enough emphasis and priority were given to protection of the building. The committee was not satisfied that that could be demonstrated.
The future of the Mackintosh building is still to be decided, but the GSA has so far been resolute in its intention to rebuild. We should all recognise the uniqueness of the building. It is owned by the Glasgow School of Art, but it belongs to the country. The impact of the two fires has again raised questions about the appropriateness of GSA’s having responsibility for it. Is it the best custodian, given its other responsibilities in running an internationally competitive art school? [
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Other universities and colleges own grade A listed and historic buildings, but the Glasgow School of Art is alone in having such a unique and valuable building as part of its working estate. It is a complex building. I do not question its value to the few students who get to work there, but there are questions to be answered about whether such use of the building is appropriate. The GSA defended dual use of the school, but questions have been asked about the focus that such use receives as part of its activities.
The school generates strong passions. As architect Malcolm Fraser commented in his evidence to the committee:
“They were not looking after the jewel at the heart of their estate; that was the primary failure of Glasgow School of Art, and many institutions do the same. They fail to care for the jewel at their heart.”—[
Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee
, 20 September 2018; c 8.]
The suggestion that the Mack be placed in a trust is not new, nor would it necessarily mean that students could no longer access the building. Furthermore, that would alleviate some of the burden on the GSA and would better prioritise the building’s safety. The committee therefore suggests that the GSA give serious consideration to placing any future Mackintosh building in a trust, perhaps once a new director of the art school has been appointed.
The committee made a number of recommendations about the role of Historic Environment Scotland. I welcome the response to them by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs. I welcome her willingness to review and to consider those and other matters that the committee raised in relation to Historic Environment Scotland. I hope that she will soon be in a position to update the committee on progress.
I welcome the opportunity for us to debate the committee’s report on the Glasgow School of Art fires. It is clear from the discussion that many unanswered questions remain and deserve further scrutiny. The committee will continue to pay attention to the project, as it goes forward.