Insurance arbitration delays Glasgow School of Art rebuild

An insurance dispute has stalled plans to rebuild a Grade A-listed School of Art building severely damaged by fire in 2018.

The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) has revealed that it has entered into “arbitration proceedings with its insurers” over plans to rebuild its historical Mackintosh building due to a “very complex insurance claim” arising from the devasting fire in 2018.

With the fire believed to have started on one of the upper levels of the east side, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) later confirmed that at least half of the building had been “well alight” within 38 minutes of crews arriving. Notably, the building had been undergoing £35 million worth of restoration work to repair damage from an earlier fire in 2014, with this second blaze resulting in further extensive damage.

As previously reported by the FPA, a three-year investigation by SFRS concluded that the cause of the fire was “undetermined”, as much of the physical evidence that could help investigators had been “too badly damaged”. Following the blaze, work began to stabilise the structural integrity of the building, with over 5,500 tonnes of debris cleared by 2022. In 2023, the Library Tower was dismantled, and a temporary roof structure was installed along with a “protective white membrane ‘wrap’” around the building.

However, as revealed in a series of investigations by The Herald, plans for the rebuild have slowed considerably with concerns that the repair of the Grade A-listed building might never go ahead. Explaining the delay, the GSA said in a statement:

"Since June 2018, the Glasgow School of Art has been working through the very 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 Glasgow School of Art provided to enable them to confirm policy cover.

"In the absence of this confirmation, The Glasgow School of Art has chosen to initiate arbitration.

"The arbitration process is subject to a confidentiality provision which means that we are not able to disclose any further details."

As reported by BBC News, the GSA added that the cost of the works to date had come via interim payments from the insurers, totalling £18 million.  

Professor Penny Macbeth, director of the GSA, confirmed that the school was “committed to the faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh Building, and for that to be done in an exemplary way, returning it as a working art school building at the heart of Glasgow’s creative and cultural eco-system”.

While the protective wrap installed in June 2023 does its job of allowing the building to dry out over the next couple of years, it is important that we move forward with parallel work strands in what is a complex building project.

What we are now doing, through the SOBC addendum process, robustly testing our previous assumptions, economic impact, timelines and approaches to delivery, whilst initiating arbitration with our insurers, will ensure we can make strategic, evidenced-based decisions, ensuring the Mackintosh Building is successfully rebuilt and contributes to the regeneration of Sauchiehall Street and this part of Glasgow City Centre.”

In 2023, the Guardian reported that a tentative completion date of 2030 had been set for the building to reopen as a graduate school; however, according to The Herald, this is no longer likely.