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Art school fire report delayed again: Probe into blaze at the iconic Mackintosh building will take at least 18 months


The art school lies devastated after the second blaze

The report identifying the cause of the second fire at Glasgow School of Art is not expected to be published until next year – more than 18 months after the blaze.

The art school’s chairwoman Nora Kearney has told staff in an email the report may not be published until “the end of this year or the beginning of 2020”.

The blaze that gutted the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh building and devastated the 02 ABC concert venue, happened in June 2018.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said in June, on the ­anniversary of the second fire, its investigation was in the “final phases”.

But Dr Kearney said it would take another two months to remove rubble and debris from the building to help firefighters establish the origin and cause of the fire.

Professor Alan Dunlop, an architect and academic who trained at the art school, said: “It’s astonishing it is taking so long to produce the fire report.

“We are still no wiser as to why the building caught fire for a ­second time in four years.

“It seems strange it could take a year and a half to find the cause of the fire.

“It is disappointing because nothing can move forward until then.”

Politicians, who have called for a public inquiry into the fire, also criticised the delay.

Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White said: “It is completely unacceptable that we have had to wait this long for this report and that it might be 2020 before the investigation is finished.

“I understand it was a huge fire and there is a lot of rubble and debris to work through, but there is no reason why we can’t see some of the evidence now – CCTV footage, security guards signing in and out, what work was going on before the fire, when the alarm went off.

“People are getting fed up ­waiting for answers.”

Glasgow MSP Pauline McNeill said the delay could cause further concern to residents, some of whom were not allowed back into their homes until three months after the fire.

She said: “People are extremely anxious to see this report – the art school itself but also residents whose lives have been turned upside down.

“It is extremely ­disappointing as they were expecting to see the report at least before the end of the year. However, I do understand it is a complex investigation.

“The most important thing is there has to be full disclosure from the fire brigade about where they are with this.

“If people have to put up with further excavation, at the very least communicating with the public about why this is necessary is vitally important.”

In her email, Dr Kearney said work was continuing on the stabilisation of the Mackintosh building and “salvaging where possible”.

She said the next stage of the investigation by Scottish Fire and Rescue required access to the basement of the Mackintosh building. This would involve removing rubble and debris and take two months to complete.

She said: “The investigation and publication of the SFRS report rests with SFRS, although we would hope the report might be published towards the end of this year or the beginning of 2020.”

SFRS director of prevention and protection, assistant chief officer Ross Haggart, described the ­investigation as “ongoing” but said the art school had now hired a Coatbridge-based demolition firm to clear the basement.

He said: “On-site ­excavations and examinations will now recommence.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Fire investigators will maintain a presence throughout the work to remove this material.

“The fire investigation remains focused on likely origin and cause – but against the backdrop of an unprecedented large-scale fire scene within a complex and challenging site.

“There is no estimated timescale for the investigation being concluded, and we would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding as we continue our efforts.”

Glasgow School of Art said: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have been clear that this is a complex investigation.

“We are supporting them to make sure they are able to access all the areas of the building they wish to examine as they continue their detailed forensic work.”

The Sunday Post has revealed in recent months how insurance payouts covered the restoration to The Mack after the first fire in 2014 while millions raised from donors was spent purchasing new buildings and renovating parts of the building untouched by fire.

We also revealed turmoil in the executive team after the second fire last year, with the art school’s director forced out of his job.

More than 70 staff have left since the second fire, 40 of whom resigned. Six staff members signed confidentiality agreements while pay-offs totalled £210,000.

by Mark Aitken
Sunday Post – 6 October 2019