Public inquiry into Glasgow Art School fires rejected

fire at glasgow school of art
The second fire broke in June 2018 [Getty Images]

The Scottish government has turned down a request for a public inquiry into two fires at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA).

The former culture committee said a number of issues required further examination. But culture secretary Angus Robertson said he did not support the recommendation.

On 23 May 2014, a fire caused extensive damage to the A-listed Mackintosh building - designed by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

An even more devastating blaze broke out near the end of a £35m restoration project in June 2018. A report in 2022 failed to find a cause.

Mr Robertson said that the Scottish government "has long recognised the cultural and historical significance of the Mackintosh building".

However, he told MSPs on the Scottish Parliament's culture committee that the government "does not support" a call for a public inquiry into the blazes.

The committee had previously recommended that an inquiry, with judicial powers, should be set up to examine the risks posed by fire in historic buildings and the ability of building custodians to manage such properties.

But Mr Robertson said while ministers had looked at the feasibility of holding a review of fire safety in A-listed buildings, most of these properties - including the Mackintosh building - are privately owned.

He said that neither the Scottish government nor Historic Environment Scotland had the "necessary frameworks or regulations currently in place to implement such a comprehensive review".

In a letter to MSPs, Mr Robertson said he believed the "resources required, not just financially but in terms of expertise and personnel, would be extensive".

He wrote: "Given the current financial landscape, it is difficult to identify a way that this could funded, or justified, given the protections already given to historic buildings in fire safety and construction legislation, and the progress already made since the 2018 fire."

The culture secretary said the "extensive damage" suffered in the 2018 fire had meant the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had been "unable to determine its likely origin and cause".

Prof Alan Dunlop, whose paintings depicting the fire at the art school were shortlisted for an international prize, said he was "disappointed but not surprised".

Prof Dunlop has been a persistent critic of GSA management's handling of the two fires and ran for chair of the board in 2022.

"A public inquiry would have shone light into the darker ineptitudes of governance and leadership - past and present," he said.

"Communication between the school of art and those interested in the future of the Mackintosh building has been consistently poor.

"The Garnethill Community have been treated shamefully as have generations of art students. No inquiry means no accountability and no justice."

GSA previously said it was committed to a faithful reinstatement of the building and planned to eventually use it as a working part of the art school.

The school said work to date, totalling about £18m, had been funded by interim payments from the insurers.

Restoration plans have faced delays due to disputes with insurers.