Ministers consider public inquiry into Mack as doubts rise over whether it will be restored

Ministers consider public inquiry into Mack as doubts rise over whether it will be restored

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The Scottish Government is giving “careful consideration” to establishing a public inquiry into whether the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) was properly insured before two major fires destroyed the Mackintosh Building.

After the GSA confirmed last week that it has chosen to enter into arbitration proceedings with its insurers, it is understood that the newly reappointed culture secretary Angus Robertson is currently contemplating the next steps.

Since June 2018, the GSA has been working through a complex insurance claim, supported by a team of external legal and insurance professionals. Following publication of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Fire Investigation Report in January 2022, insurers requested further information which the GSA provided to enable them to confirm policy cover. In the absence of this confirmation, the Glasgow School of Art said it has chosen to initiate arbitration.

Now ministers have confirmed that it is considering calls for a probe into the issues surrounding the rebuild.

A Scottish Government source told The Herald: “The Scottish Government has welcomed the Glasgow School of Art’s plans for a faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh Building.

“The Mackintosh Building is owned by the Glasgow School of Art, which is an autonomous body with responsibility for its own strategic and operational decision making.”

But the source added: “Careful consideration is … being given to the call for a public inquiry, and the culture secretary will update the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on any developments in this space.”

The GSA confirmed that the cost of work to date has totalled around £18m and has been funded by interim payments from the insurers.

The School also reiterated its commitment to an exemplary faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh Building as it prepares to issue a new tender for the appointment of architects, cost consultants and economic impact experts to update its Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC).

The June 2018 fire destroyed the building as it neared the end of a multi-million-pound restoration project following an earlier blaze in May 2014.

While a design team was supposed to have been put in place by August 2022 that still has not happened, with hopes of getting any council planning approval for the project not expected until the spring of 2026 at the earliest, according to estimates based on GSA’s own projected schedule.

It is said that GSA is hoping to have a design team in place by July to identify the “appropriate route to delivery”.

The restoration project will not be completed by the original 2030 deadline and is not expected to be completed within the next decade.

However, doubts remain over whether it will ever be restored.

Professor Alan Dunlop, a leading architect who is a stakeholder consultee for the project, said the latest twist shows that the board was “incompetently handling” the rebuild and feared that the project will never see the light of day.

“They won’t be able to rebuild without insurance,” he said. “You are talking of costs of over £100m and there are just so many issues relating to the costs of the whole thing.”

He believed that the Scottish Government should now intervene, adding: “We are not talking now about when it will complete but whether it will happen at all and the board should resign.”

John McAslan, of John McAslan and Partners, has called for Scotland’s wealthy philanthropists to step in, just as philanthropy played a key role in the rebuild of Notre Dame in Paris.

He said: “No blame should be apportioned to GSA for the sorry state of the School of Art, for as I understand it, an unsettled insurance claim is the cause of the delay. However, as the uncertainties continue, costs continue to rise for its authentic reconstruction and must surely be well above the £100 million figure referred to a few years ago.

“So there must be impetus brought to the rebuild of Mackintosh’s world-renowned masterpiece matching the extraordinary zeal of Notre Dame in Paris, which approaches completion just five years after the devastating fire.

“Also, like Notre Dame I believe philanthropic funding must be part of the mix, with an externally constituted board established to lead the reconstruction on behalf of GSA.”

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