Nineteen months of 'inertia' over the rebuild of a Scottish national treasure has been described as a "scandal" that will add millions to its estimated cost of more than £100m.

A June 2018 fire destroyed the iconic Category A-listed Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building as it neared the end of a multi-million pound restoration project following an earlier blaze in May 2014.

But attempts at the reinstatement of the masterpiece originally designed by renowned Scots architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh have stalled and serious questions raised about whether the restoration will ever happen.

The Herald can reveal that a design team was supposed to have been in place, according to the GSA itinerary, by August 2022 - but that still has not happened with hopes of getting any council planning approval for the project not expected until the spring of 2026 the earliest, according to estimates based on the GSA's own schedule.

It has been confirmed that no new architect procurement process is currently being undertaken nor has any new timescale for this been defined. According to the school's project itinerary, that process alone is expected to take four months.

Funding arrangements have still not been confirmed and neither the Scottish or UK Governments have been approached to date by the GSA in any bid to secure funds to cover the capital costs of any restoration. The business case schedule talked of confirming funding arrangements in April 2022.

No steps have yet been taken to appoint a main contractor for the reinstatement of one of Scotland's most internationally renowned landmarks.

An original GSA risk management analysis seen by The Herald categorised a delay of more than six months with the project as "catastrophic".

A clear contrast has been made with the work done on the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was severely damaged by a blaze in 2019 and is scheduled to reopen at the end of this year.

READ MORE: Lachlan Goudie: ScotGov must intervene over School of Art fails

Glasgow School of Art: We 'appreciate' concern over future of Mack

Glasgow School of Art: students and politicians recall the 2014 fire

One of the issues believed to have put a spanner in the works is a botched process for procuring architects to design the project.

The Herald:

The search to lead the project was canned in March, last year in advance of a reset that has never happened.

Architects John McAslan + Partners were the original top scorers in the bid to oversee the rebuild. But it was then awarded to another firm, understood to be Hawkins\Brown after a recalculation.

Prominent architects and painters have expressed despair at the lack of action and believe government should be stepping in to ensure that Scotland retains the the Charles Rennie Mackintosh legacy.

The art school’s business plan envisages a “fundable and affordable” reconstruction project over a timeline of around five years.

Muriel Gray, the first female chair of the board of governors at the GSA, said five-and-a-half years ago, three months after the 2018 fire that people argued that a rebuild would take "anywhere between four and seven years" but that it would "depend on insurance money, getting the right people in place to do it, building regulations, all the standard technical and financial stuff".

Alan Dunlop, one of Scotland's leading architects who once put his hat in the ring to become the next chair of the GSA and is a stakeholder consultee for the project said: "There can be no doubt that the program for the faithful restoration has been delayed.

"Now, over a year since the failure of the last procurement process nothing appears to have happened to appoint a team or commission an architect, so I would say that inertia has set in.

"Whether the GSA think that it is more bother than it's worth is an interesting question. The board, past and present have certainly faced much harsh criticism, not only from architects, fellow Glaswegians and lovers of Mackintosh internationally, the majority of it valid but also from the locally Garnethill residents and surrounding business community, who complain they have been kept in the dark over the future of the building and harassed by the disruption caused by both fires.

"I would absolutely agree that the Mack was the crown jewel of Scotland's art, architectural and historical inheritance, so yes, this is a national scandal in which Glasgow School of Art, The Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland have played their part.

The Herald:

"I don't expect much from the Scottish Government nor the city council. Their failure to truly recognise its significance does not surprise.

"There seems incompetence and an abject failure to realise, particularly under the old GSA board, leadership and governance, that what they had was unique, precious and of such national and international renown that it had to be cared for. Two fires in four years, the last which destroyed the building, indicates this was not the case."

The GSA say that they "understand the sense of concern from many people" and do not believe it is fair to compare progress to what has happened with Notre Dame.

The art school says they remain committed to the faithful reinstatement of the Mack.

Founded in 1845 as one of the UK's first government schools of design, the GSA can trace its lineage to the 1750s and the Scottish Enlightenment - the period in 18th- and early-19th-century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. It was then that the Foulis Academy was established, the UK's first school of art.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a 28-year-old junior draughtsman at a Glasgow architecture firm when he drew up the designs for the building that many consider his masterpiece.

Mackintosh’s School of Art was originally designed to house the entire school community, fine artists, designers, and architects.

The first half of the Glasgow School of Art building was completed in 1899 and when it was unveiled it was deeply unpopular.

But Scotland would grow to appreciate the architectural genius of the odd building with its great grid-like structure and its iron work around the windows.

The Herald:

The dramatic art nouveau design of the building in the Garnethill area of the city centre took another 12 years to be completed, finally opening in 1909.

It heralded the birth of a new style in 20th Century European architecture.

It became one of Scotland's most admired and influential buildings and Mackintosh, under-appreciated in his own time, was lauded as one of the country's finest designers.

The thick sandstone building was as renowned as the intricate detail and ornament of the interior.

The Mack is synonymous with both the GSA, the city and Scotland, inspiring generations of students, attracting scholars and researchers to use its archive and collections, and hosting over 27,000 annual visitors to the regular exhibitions and student-led tours.

The GSA is now home to 3,500 students and staff and graduates have included Dr Who actor Peter Capaldi and the late Harry Potter actor Robbie Coltrane, as well as novelist and muralist Alasdair Gray.

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh building was gutted on June 15, 2018 as it neared the end of a multi-million-pound restoration following the previous fire four years earlier in which the famous Mack library was lost.

The nearby O2 ABC music venue also suffered “extensive damage”.

Two years ago a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) report into the fire determined that the blaze was so fierce and all-consuming that the cause can never be known conclusively.

The first phase of preparation works for rebuilding of the Mack was completed over two years ago.

It involved stabilising the world-renowned building and removing tonnes of debris from the fire that devastated it in 2018.

GSA's own planning experts believe that it will take between 18 months to two years to get planning permission for any project, although the school's own scheduling expected it to be completed in nine months.

With the process running 19 months behind, the submission of a planning application would not be expected to happen, according to the GSA schedule till the summer of 2025.

When the GSA teamed up with advisers and consultants Avison Young to produce the strategic business case for the new restoration three years ago it was considered that the Mackintosh building was an "integral part" of the Glasgow School of Art’s future.

Details of the full analysis reveals that the case for a landmark development that "not only reinstates but builds on the illustrious heritage of the original Mackintosh building was "overwhelming" and that it would "protect the nation's heritage" and "consolidate the work class reputation of a national institution".

It said the best value option was to undertake a "faithful reinstatement... whilst innovating to ensure that technology and sustainability are at the building's heart".

The Herald:

Glasgow School of Art fires: read the series in full here

It confirmed the case for investment by the GSA in a project that provides an "appropriate response to the severe fire damage sustained by the world-renowned Mackintosh Building, one of the most culturally significant buildings in Scotland and internationally, and the former heart of the GSA’s campus".

It said: "A powerful case is created for a project that will enable the GSA to continue to grow its special contribution to the cultural, creative and economic prosperity of Glasgow and thereby wider Scotland. In doing so, it will protect the GSA’s heritage, create a landmark sustainable, fit for purpose building, catalyse local regeneration and add to the student experience and world-class reputation of the GSA in a global competitive market."

The Mackintosh project would bring a "key asset of the school to the fore, linking learning and video teaching innovation, with state of the art research and innovation".

Video: Renowned Scottish architect Alan Dunlop speaks of his concerns over the future of The Mack.

The GSA's take on the business case said: "The original Art School building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a quintessential heritage asset and synonymous with its global brand. Today a landmark development of equal calibre, is required to support GSA in reaching its future ambitions, building on its illustrious past whilst continuing to innovate and reimagine creative practice for the future.

"This iconic building will create an environment that will help boost Glasgow’s position as a leading creative and cultural global city, supporting the economy by providing graduates with high level creative, digital and cultural acumen, attributes necessary for the future creative economy.

"This will be a building with convening power; it will attract influential figures who will collaborate with the GSA on a range of business, research and enterprise and community-led initiatives. Audience and community engagement will be transformed by the porosity of the space both through the physical and virtual domain. The iconic gallery, library and archive spaces, will enable us to reach new audiences and develop new tools for enquiry led practice, bringing opportunities from the creative, digital and tech sectors for audiences of the future. This in turn will attract investment both in terms of research and innovation funding."

A governors' analysis of the business case, said: "The listed status of the Mackintosh building presents significant constraints in terms of the options for its future development but at the same time helps to ensure that a unique building is preserved and enhance."

Separate consultants Porter Planning which examined the heritage aspects of the plan said that reinstatement "in some shape or form" was the preferred option from a historic environment perspective.

The Herald:

The Scottish Government's Historic Environment Scotland agency has already told the GSA that they would "struggle" with any suggestion that reinstatement was not possible and has said it would object to any proposal that does not involve keeping the Mack.

The GSA’s campus in Glasgow comprised of 14 buildings, including the iconic Mack masterpiece, the 2013 award-winning Reid Building, designed by US architect Steven Holl; and the refurbished Stow Building providing studio, technical support, workshop, and ancillary spaces for the School of Fine Art.

Painter, broadcaster and author Lachlan Goudie, whose popular four-part BBC series, A Story of Scottish Art, led to the publication of a book of the same name said: It is the most painful scandal, I think, in recent history of Scotland's cultural heritage, that this absolutely extraordinary and globally important masterpiece of architecture has been allowed to fester as a crumbled ruin for so long. It's a source of civic and national shame, and I despair at the lack of joined up collaboration between institutions, the Glasgow School of Art, funding bodies, the Scottish Goverment and cultural networks to make this feel urgent. It is so urgent.

"The Glasgow School of Art was at the very heart and soul of Glasgow's identity and the city and the School of Art were custodians of a masterpiece that resonated across the globe and turned the attention of people who might not have thought of Glasgow as a place worth visiting as an absolute treasure trove of artistry and architectural brilliance.

"The one thing that really galls me is the absolute lack of political intervention. It is as if the Scottish Government think it is far too toxic to involve themselves in questions of culture and the nation's cultural legacy. I haven't heard anything. It makes me so furious."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has welcomed The Glasgow School of Art’s plans for a faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh building.

“The Mackintosh Building is owned by The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), which is an autonomous body with responsibility for its own strategic and operational decision making."

Ministers say they and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) continue to "engage closely" with the GSA at senior management and board level on "institutional governance, its plans for the delivery of high quality education, and GSA’s decision making regarding the rebuild of the Mackintosh".