’What on earth has gone wrong here?’ Glasgow politician asks in emergency Commons debate

The Mackintosh Building this week

Source: Michael Kobiela / Shutterstock.com

The Mackintosh Building this week

A Glasgow MP has spoken of his “anger and incredulity” that the Mackintosh Building could have burnt down for a second time.

He praised the work of the architects Page/Park in restoring the building after the last fire – and he branded “reckless” calls from people including architect Alan Dunlop for the shell to be demolished.

Speaking in an emergency debate in the House of Commons today, Paul Sweeney, Labour MP for Glasgow North East, said: “The grief I experienced after the fire in 2014 was profound. It felt like a part of our city had died that day.

“To now witness an even more severe conflagration consume this precious art nouveau masterpiece has left me both angry and incredulous that it could have happened again. What on earth has gone wrong here?”

He was of of a string of Scottish MPs in the lunchtime debate who called for the building to be rebuilt, declaring: “The Mac will rise again.”

He said: “The good thing about the Glasgow School of Art is that the last four years have seen a meticulous process of understanding the building take place. The work of the architects and craftspeople has been extraordinary.

“We therefore have a critical mass of knowledge and understanding of this iconic building and its construction that makes it easier than ever before to restore Mackintosh’s original vision.

“They are geared up and more than ready to take on that challenge and I will be making the strongest possible case that they be allowed that chance.”

He added: “I would like to ask the Secretary of State in the face of reckless calls to tear the building down what plans does the government have to support the safeguarding and renewal of such an important and iconic cultural asset for the world?”

Scotland secretary David Mundell, who visited the school’s degree show earlier this month and saw the restored library and “hen run” corridor, described it as a “unique and irreplaceable building” and said he was devastated.

“Many people like myself are in disbelief that this could happen again after the devastating fire of 2014,” he said. “Particularly so given the painstaking and careful efforts that have taken place over past years to restore the building.”

He said he had been struck by the love and passion of those involved in the restoration and added: “I feel particularly for those craftsmen who restored the hen run, who restored the library, bringing back these crafts. How they must be feeling this week when their work has been decimated. But I take on board the points he makes in relation to safety issues in buildings. My colleague the minister for heritage in the UK will have heard what he said and we will respond specifically to what he said.”

He confirmed that the cause was still not known and said any speculation would be unhelpful. In an uncanny echo of the situation before the first fire, he said a sprinkler system had been in the process of being installed but was not operational when the fire took hold on Friday night.

The fire brigade had told him a “comprehensive and professional probe” would be carried out.

He said the UK government gave £10m to the previous restoration and “stands ready to help again”.

He acknowledged the suggestion from Kettering MP Philip Hollobone that “far too many fires are breaking out in large buildings” which are either undergoing or have recently undergone renovation work “merits some attention”. Hollobone cited the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, but the Grenfell Tower, Battersea Arts Centre, Windsor Castle and the Cutty Sark are other examples.

Sweeney called on the government to review the way vulnerable historic buildings are managed and protected.

He said: “This fire represents a wake-up call for Glasgow and the whole country. We need to have a much more robust approach to protecting our amazing Victorian architectural legacy in Britain in the future or we will continue to see these tragic losses mount up as buildings of these ages continue to suffer degradation.”

He said government at all levels needed to step up and meet the challenge with “radical and imaginative measures”.