Committee calls for public inquiry into Glasgow School of Art fires


The circumstances surrounding the two fires at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building should be the subject of a public inquiry with judicial powers following an inquiry into the issue by MSPs on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.

The Committee’s inquiry concluded that the evidence they gathered raises a range of issues which go beyond the cause of the fire itself and require further examination. The public inquiry, which the Committee is calling on the Scottish Government to establish, should also look at the risks posed by fire in historic buildings nationally to establish what lessons might be learned.

Their inquiry also found that Glasgow School of Art (GSA) did not give sufficient priority to the safeguarding of the Mackintosh building and the board should have had more expertise in managing a building of this nature. The Committee also recommends that the Scottish Government review the remit of Historic Environment Scotland in order to ensure that it has sufficient powers to intervene to protect buildings of national significance.

The Committee concluded the following specifically on the approach of the Glasgow School of Art:

• In the period up to 2014, the GSA appears not to have specifically addressed the heightened risk of fire to the Mackintosh building.
• The Committee was not convinced that an adequate risk management approach had been taken by the GSA with specific regard to the Mackintosh building;
• The Committee is concerned about the length of time taken for a mist suppression system to be installed in the Mackintosh building and questions whether more could have done in the interim period to protect the building;
• The lack of transparency regarding what specific measures were taken as a result of the reviews implemented following the 2014 fire. The GSA has also been unable to publicly articulate what lessons were learned from the 2014 fire;
• A loss of trust with the local community which needs to be repaired.  The Committee recommends that the GSA establish a formal method of engaging with the local community on a permanent basis.

Convener of the Committee, Joan McAlpine MSP said:

“The Board of Glasgow School of Art were custodians of this magnificent building, one of the most significant to Scotland’s rich cultural heritage. They had a duty to protect Mackintosh’s legacy.

“Glasgow School of Art itself must learn lessons from its role in presiding over the building, given that two devastating fires occurred within their estate in such a short space of time.

“Throughout the inquiry, further serious issues have been raised which need proper and thorough investigation. Given the complexity of these issues but also their importance, the Committee is calling on the Scottish Government to establish a public inquiry, with judicial powers. This reflects the seriousness of the loss caused by these two fires. 

“More broadly, the Committee is not convinced that sufficient support is currently in place to protect our most culturally and historically significant buildings.”

The Committee also concluded the following in relation to the protection of other historically significant buildings:

• Despite the leadership role of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), HES adopted an arms-length approach to safeguarding the Mackintosh building from fire. The Committee recommends a review of HES’s remit, giving it extended statutory powers to intervene in cases where there is a risk to an asset of national significance;
• The Scottish Government, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and HES should undertake a review of Category A listed buildings with unique cultural or historic significance to ascertain if any additional interventions might be introduced to mitigate the risk of fire;
• The Government should review the adequacy of powers to compel owners to put in place enhanced fire safety measures; the public funding available, and the flexibility attached to that funding, to protect buildings of national significance;
• The Scottish Government should review the legislation concerning safety in historic buildings during the constructions phase of a project to identify any additional legislative measures that could be put in place. 

Deputy Convener of the Committee, Claire Baker MSP said:

“If anything positive at all should come out of the loss of the Mackintosh it should be that further protection is put in place for some of Scotland’s most significant historical buildings.

“Throughout our investigation, it has been clear that there are weaknesses in the policy protecting our heritage. This is why the Committee has set out some very clear steps that must be taken in order to prevent any further loss. 

“Particularly key to this is giving Historic Environment Scotland further powers to intervene where there is a serious fire risk to some of Scotland’s most important buildings.”

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