Glasgow School of Art had ‘major’ fire safety ‘flaws’

Glasgow School of Art had ‘major’ fire safety ‘flaws’

AN ARCHITECT has claimed that the Mackintosh building fire earlier this year was due to fire safety planning on the site being ‘seriously flawed’.

The listed building caught fire after a previous blaze in 2014. Sprinklers ‘had not been fitted’ after the first fire at the Mackintosh Library in the building, which was ‘almost entirely destroyed by fire’ in May 2014. A spokesperson for the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) stated at first that ‘it was understood’ that automatic sprinklers had not been fully fitted due to the building undergoing refurbishment’.

Later, a report found that flammable insulation panels that ‘also give off toxic gases when set alight’ were used in the refurbishment, ‘rather than more expensive mineral ones which do not burn’. Fire inspectors are still investigating ‘whether these’ materials used ‘exacerbated the spread’, but described the insulation panels as ‘similar to those used’ on Grenfell Tower.

In September, a fire safety expert criticised the refurbishment’s use of flammable insulation after the heritage building burned down for a second time, and now The Times has reported on the views of Alan Dunlop, professor of architecture at Liverpool University, who said that the building’s destruction in the fire this year indicated that fire safety planning was ‘seriously flawed’, despite the project team stating that a ‘rigorous’ approach had been taken.

The area of the building that caught fire was occupied by main contractor Kier Construction, with Professor Dunlop an alumnus of the school of art. He drew attention to open duct work that was spread throughout the construction site, and noted that a fire suppression system ‘had been ordered but was not operational’.

He stated: ‘Much like the sprinklers and use of existing duct work to carry services, these might have seemed like sensible decisions at the time, which would have to be agreed and confirmed. Now in retrospect and without the apparent “rigorous” fire safety regime in place they appear like major flaws in the site operations.’

The principal of the school, Professor Tom Inns, resigned last week after it was revealed that the building had hosted an event last December that was ‘one of a number’ of such events held there, despite it being a ‘vulnerable’ construction site. The school insisted that Kier ‘had a fire plan in place to mitigate risk’ that had been reviewed by SFRS and Glasgow City Council building control before the school signed it off, and it also said it had ‘made sure there was 24/7 manned security’.

With the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) only having ‘gained site access’ last week to investigate the fire, the Garnethill Displaced Residents Group questioned the services’ investigation’s ‘integrity’, as the delay in starting ‘could cripple’ the investigation due to the site’s ‘deterioration’. However, other local residents stated that SFRS had ‘been active’ on site since the fire by undertaking drone surveys and working from cranes.

While Kier declined to comment, David McGown, assistant chief officer of SFRS, commented that experts had entered the site ‘following work to ensure their safety’ in what remains of the building, adding: ‘I would like to stress once again that this is a very complex process and will therefore take time.’

Professor Dunlop noted that any insurance settlement ‘would be dependent’ on the outcome of the SFRS investigation, and believes that claims by the school that insurance would ‘cover the cost of a rebuilding project’ were ‘likely to be proved wrong’, stating: ‘As in all insurance contracts there will be matters of liability and accountability to be established. My own view is that there will be an inevitable call on the public purse.’