In July of 2010, six local authorities across Scotland answered the UK government’s call to attempt to gain UNESCO World Heritage Status, joining 32 others from across the UK including the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. 

The six Scottish sites were Arbroath Abbey, Buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow, The Flow Country, The Forth Bridge, Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof: The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland and St Andrews, Medieval Burgh and Links.

Glasgow City Council, on behalf of a partnership that also included Argyll & Bute Council, submitted an application to the UK Government for the Mackintosh buildings of The Glasgow School of Art and The Hill House (as a serial site) to be included on the new UK Tentative List of potential sites to be nominated to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status “in recognition of the evolving worldwide importance of Mackintosh’s masterpiece”.

After considering the work of Mackintosh and their potential for World Heritage Status, consultants appointed by Glasgow City Council recommended that the bid focus on his two ‘masterpieces’, The Hill House in Helensburgh and The Glasgow School of Art, relying on the rest of his output ‘to help set the cultural context’.

The UK government planned to submit a ‘tentative list’ of sites to UNESCO in 2011 with a view to making nominations in 2012.

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In anticipation of the list, Glasgow City Council confirmed that, if World Heritage Site status were to be awarded, the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art “would be protected by a surrounding visual setting/buffer zone, with all new development with a potential impact on the building required to be sensitively designed to have a positive impact, to enhance its setting within the Conservation Area and to safeguard its outstanding universal value”.

The bid was submitted to The Department for Culture, Media and Sport by Steve Inch, then Executive Director for Development and Regeneration Services at Glasgow City Council, who had responsibility for a range of functions, including City Planning, Property Development and Management, Economic and Social Initiatives and Transport Policy.

Mr Inch’s description of the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art in the application form noted that “every space within the building is unique and memorable, including the cubic cage of the staircase, the southern high gallery, tiling and the leaded glass panels in the doors”.

Mr Inch also wrote that The School of Art “has a large percentage of Mackintosh’s entire original documentation and the largest collection of Mackintosh furniture in the world”. 

Responding to a question in the application as to what distinguished the serial site from other similar sites, Mr Inch wrote that “no other site exhibits the acknowledged genius of Mackintosh, his unique ability to combine the Scottish vernacular with Japanese and Free Style Architecture and the celtic, poetic and aesthetic Glasgow variant of Art Nouveau, the "Glasgow Style", based on geometry and a straight line instead of a curve.”

The Herald: The Hill House formed part of the failed UNESCO bidThe Hill House formed part of the failed UNESCO bid

In March 2011, The Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed a total of 11 sites across the UK and its overseas territories would form the new UK tentative list for potential nomination for world heritage status.

The three Scottish sites that were chosen for the list were The Flow Country, The Forth Bridge and Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof: The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland. 

A panel of experts concluded that ‘The Buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’ did not have the potential to demonstrate ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ (OUV), which is defined by UNESCO as being of “cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”.

In their report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the independent panel of experts, in explaining their decision, wrote: “Two of Mackintosh’s surviving buildings had been proposed. The Panel considered that at this stage the case had not been made for potential OUV. Mackintosh was influential within Europe but often through designs which were never executed. There was uncertainty about the overall significance of his work and that of contemporary architects. Any future proposal based around his work would need to be supported by a thorough and comprehensive study of the work of architects in this era. This might be an area for research.”

“In discussing The Buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Panel thought that it would have been helpful to have had guidance on the relative significance of architects on the world stage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and also a more considered overall judgment on which are their truly outstanding buildings,” the panel added. 

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Speaking in 2022, Glasgow MSP Paul Sweeney, a board member of the Glasgow City Heritage Trust, criticised the “pathetically inadequate” project to rebuild the Mack following the devastating fire in 2018 and suggested that the programme “would have been classed as a national mission” if the Grade-A listed building was “an architectural asset of similar significance in Edinburgh”.

The capital’s Old and New Towns, which cover an area of approximately 4.5km2 and contain  nearly 4,500 individual buildings as well as ancient monuments, designed landscapes, and conservation areas, were inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995. 

Mr Sweeney also contrasted the rebuild project of the Mack with the program to rebuild and restore Notre-Dame Cathedral following the catastrophic fire which engulfed the iconic Paris landmark in 2019. 

The MSP said: “When you compare it with the restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris which was ravaged by fire a year after the Glasgow School of Art but is on track for completion by 2024, it becomes increasingly clear that this is not a national priority.”

Notre-Dame Cathedral is set to reopen for religious services and to the public on December 8, 2024, five-and-a-half years after the fire that destroyed the most visited monument in Paris.

Restoration work at Notre-Dame, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991, is expected to continue until 2028. The estimated budget for restoring the 861-year-old landmark is around €846 million (£723 million).