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No public inquiry into cause of two severe fires at Glasgow School of Art

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Ministers have declined a public inquiry into the cause behind two severe fires at the Glasgow School of Art.

The A-listed building, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was substantially damaged when a blaze broke out in its basement on June 15 2018 – near the end of a £35m restoration project after a previous fire in 2014.

A report in 2022 failed to find a cause for the blaze as well as the fire service, who were unable to find a cause due to everything in the building being consumed by flames.

Possibilities unable to be ruled out included wilful fire-raising, an electrical fault or failure and accidental ignition through some other cause.

The Scottish Government had said it was giving “careful consideration” to a public examination of the two fires – but revealed on Monday that there will be no public inquiry.

It comes after the Europe, external affairs and culture committee wrote to the Scottish Government in 2022 to highlight the work of a predecessor Committee – the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee – who had undertaken an inquiry to ascertain what lessons could be learned from the second fire.

Their report read, published in March 2019, read: “The Committee considers from the evidence gathered that the Mackintosh fires raise a host of associated issues which go beyond the cause of the fire itself and as such require further examination.”

Culture secretary Angus Robertson said that ministers do not support the calls “given the extensive investigations already undertaken by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service” into the 2014 and 2018 fires.

He advised: “The Scottish Government does not support the former Committee’s recommendation to establish a public inquiry with judicial powers into the 2014 and 2018 fires at the Glasgow School of Art, examining the risks posed by fire in historic buildings nationally and the ability of custodians to manage these properties.”

The Scottish Government also suggested a comprehensive review of fire safety in Category A listed buildings is “infeasible” – due to private ownership and a lack of regulatory frameworks.

The letter goes on to state: “Given the current financial landscape, it is difficult to identify a way that this could be funded, or justified.”

The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) said it remains committed to a faithful reinstatement of the building, and it plans to return it as a working part of the art school.

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

GSA chiefs aim to reopen the building between 2027 and 2032, following construction and renovation work.

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