PLANS for the restoration of the iconic Mackintosh building have triggered a rift within Glasgow School of Art (GSA), with fine art staff fearing the loss of vital painting studio space when it opens its doors again.

Sources have told the Sunday Herald that staff in the school of fine art are furious at proposals which could see a large number of students from other disciplines such as architecture and design move into the building once it is back in use.

It is feared that pressure on space means some students will have to be moved from painting studios - which were purpose-built by Mackintosh and regarded as some of the finest in the world - to make way for schools which involve computers rather than paintbrushes.

It is understood staff have written to Professor Tom Inns, director of the Glasgow School of Art to express their concerns that the flagship school of fine art risks being marginalised under the plans.

The GSA is renowned for having produced some of the most highly-regarded artists in the world, such as Alasdair Gray, Joan Eardley and Peter Howson.

Scotland’s Makar Liz Lochhead, who was a painting student at GSA in the 1960s, said: “If it meant the loss of any of the painting studios, I would be very disturbed and disappointed and feel it wasn’t in the spirit of Mackintosh.

“I would be concerned if anything was to stop the wonderful painting studios which I was lucky enough to study in.”

However she added she would have to know what the plans were for definite before commenting further, and that she doubted GSA would implement such a move.

Artist David Harding, a former head of environmental art at GSA, said it would be “terrible” if painting students were not able to fully utilise the studios.

He said: “It just seems it would be killing it as an art school. Having the smell of oil paint and people going round in heavily soiled smocks and things like that – for visitors that is so terrific and reinforces what the building is about.

“The studios were designed for painting and to turn it into any kind of museum, or fill it with architect and design students, is counter to the whole buildings intention.”

Dugald Cameron, a former director of GSA, said the Mackintosh had to remain as a working building for the purposes for which it had been “wonderfully designed”.

He said: “These great painting studios should be where painting is carried on – that is still relevant.”

However he also pointed out there was an argument that all students who attend GSA should be given the opportunity to spend some time in the Mackintosh building.

He added: “I think one has to remember that when the building was complete with both parts of it, it was used for fine art, design and architecture. When I was a student, certainly architecture had a place in it.

“However I certainly believe the great painting studios should be used for painting.

“The Mackintosh building’s great achievement is it manages to be adapted to each generation.”

Inns, who was appointed director of GSA in September 2013, insisted no decisions had yet been taken on how the Mackintosh building would be used once it is restored.

He said: “The Mackintosh Building is an incredible and inspirational resource from which as many GSA students as possible should be able to benefit.

“As part of the restoration project development we are exploring many options for how we can ensure this, but no decisions have been made at this point.”

Last year’s devastating fire, triggered by flammable gases for a canister of expanding foam, destroyed the building’s Mackintosh Library and the contents of the studio room above it. Thousands of books and 90 oil paintings were lost.

A huge fundraising appeal – backed by Hollywood star Brad Pitt - is ongoing to raise the £20 million needed to restore the building, which is hoped will be fully back in use in 2018, the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth.

There was furious debate in the aftermath of the fire over the rebuilding of the Mackintosh library, with some arguing it should be revitalised in a new form, rather than a replica.

But last year Inns said it would be rebuilt as Mackintosh intended, with some 21st century technology included.