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Student flats plan places Glasgow School of Art under threat

Plans for student flats adjoining Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s world-renowned Glasgow School of Art are under attack with the institution claiming the A-listed masterpiece would be “very adversely affected” by the scheme.

The GSA, heritage and conservation groups have been joined by politicians and members of the public in submitting objections to the major proposal for the city’s down-at-heel Sauchiehall Street.

The institution’s director Tom Inns has urged the city council to reject the plans, claiming “the unique setting and architectural character of this building would be very adversely affected”, while the Charles Rennie Mackintosh (CRM) Society said a second bid for World Heritage Site Status would be damaged by the plans. Urging the developers to resubmit a design that “has empathy with an A-listed building of such importance”, CRM Society director Stuart Robertson said:

“His (Mackintosh’s) legacy of work clearly contributes to a much wider social and economic role in Glasgow and across Scotland as a whole and for these reasons this proposed plan must not happen.”

Revealed by The Herald last month, plans have been lodged to demolish the late-1960s block housing the former Jumping Jacks nightclub to make way for the new scheme.

The application, if approved, would see the creation of a 185-bed student housing development, including roof gardens, study rooms, common areas and a cinema room. At street level it is proposed to reinstate the retail and leisure units, as well as providing improvements to the public realm along Dalhousie Street.

But in his objection and in a letter also sent to culture minister Fiona Hyslop and the statutory heritage body Historic Environment Scotland, Professor Inns described the plans as an “over-development”. He said part of the research being conducted as part of the £60million restoration of the Mackintosh building following the fire which gutted the building in 2014 had underpinned the importance of natural light in the school. Describing it as Mackintosh’s “masterwork” and “one of the first modern buildings in history”, Professor Inns also described claims by the developer that GSA was closely involved in the pre-application as “misleading”, adding the plans were contrary to Scottish Planning Policy.

He concluded: “It is considered that the importance of the Mackintosh building and its special interest, as well as the setting within the conservation area, have not been given due regard and, in conclusion, we consider that the proposal should be refused.”

Architectural heritage group the New Glasgow Society said:

“This is a proposal that compromises the character of Sauchiehall Street, regardless of its impact on the Art School, and the present 02 ABC building – both structures of obvious historical and aesthetic importance. We deserve better.”

Others amongst the 45 objectors include local MP Alison Thewliss and councillor Angus Millar, the Friends of Glasgow West, Pollokshields Heritage and the Scottish Stained Glass Symposium.

In a letter in today’s Herald, Ann Laird, of Friends of Glasgow West, said:

“The opportunities and wider benefits of development here, regenerating an important Glasgow thoroughfare, may be real but this comes at too high a cost, major negative impact on one of the city’s key assets.

“The intense international interest following the fire in 2014 is testimony to the GSA building’s exceptional cultural, heritage, tourism and wider economic value.”

Development partner Urban Pulse has previously described the proposals as “very much in-line with the aspirations of the city to rejuvenate Sauchiehall Street”, adding that it had “invested a huge amount of time to consider the views of our neighbours and the local population”.