A scheme that would mean a final end to a historic Scots music venue that was devastated by the Glasgow School of Art blaze in 2018 has sparked a new row over the conservation of Scotland's heritage.

The plans for the O2 ABC in Sauchiehall Street are currently running at least two years ahead of the 'inertia' hit rebuild of the world-renowned Mackintosh building which has been described as a 'national scandal', it can be revealed.

It has emerged that the new scheme would mean the total demolition of the much-loved venue - including its famous facade which still remains a feature of the city centre streetscape six years on from the GSA blaze.

It has emerged that Scotland's official heritage agency has already registered its objection to demolition with the city council, which has been talked about for some five years but have been held back.

Publicly funded Historic Environment Scotland (HES) told the council that it felt there was "insufficient evidence" that it was incapable of repair when proposals to totally demolish first emerged five years ago.

It added in its concerns seen by the Herald: "We consider the special interest of this building lies largely in the street-facing elevation and entrance foyer. While we encourage a complete scheme of repair and refurbishment that retains the auditorium, shop units and other spaces behind the façade, we would remove our object if a façade retention scheme were proposed – either involving immediate redevelopment, or with the façade propped and secured in a way that facilitated redevelopment at a future date."

But plans that are expected to be submitted to the council in April involve full demolition, including the facade.

A June 2018 fire destroyed the iconic Category A-listed Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building and gutted other buildings including the O2 ABC 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 GSA has already raised over £100m to date through insurance payouts and fund-raising off the back of the two fires for a reinstatement of the Mack.

READ MORE:  GSA's own experts issued fire warning eight years before Mack disaster

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Glasgow School of Art: Insurance claim fuels Mack rebuild 'inertia'

GSA raised over £100m from insurance and fundraising after Mack fires

The Herald has previously revealed 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 school's own schedule.

The Herald:

But it can be revealed that urban regeneration company Vita Group which has proposed a food hall and new student accommodation in place of the former O2 ABC venue in Sauchiehall Street has a timeline for any planning approval by Glasgow City Council set at October, this year. It has no plan to retain any aspect of the historic former cinema.

The Category C listed building, which is actually older than the Mackintosh Building and during its 148-year-old history has been a diorama theatre, a circus, a dancehall and a cinema, was wrecked in the blaze in the GSA blaze.

An expert study carried out by chartered surveyors for the owners of the o2 ABC seen by The Herald told the city council five years ago in support of demolition that economic reinstatement is "not in our opinion possible due to the extent of the visible damage and the likely effects of the fire, water and contamination damage elsewhere".

The Vita Group which is due to submit its full planning proposal in April, has said that the fire damage means that retaining the building or its facade "is not considered feasible due to the design, material condition, and strength validation challenges uncovered through a series of surveys and structural reports undertaken..."

It says its project would create a "vibrant" community space as well as "reduce a shortfall" in student flats in the city.

The company previously developed the Vita Student West End accommodation in the city, while another proposal by the group - for student flats on India Street in Glasgow - is currently going through planning departments.

The site has remained empty since the fire, and was described by Stuart Patrick - the chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce - as a "blight" on the area.

Plans to demolish the site entirely in 2019 were met with strong opposition from politicians, music industry representatives and conservation groups.

Many including the Scottish Music Industry Association, which jointly organises the annual Scottish Album of the Year Award, were among those which mourned news of an entired demolition.

But a council spokesman said at that time that it was by no means a given that permission would be given for the demolition of the listed building.

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

And it has been confirmed that plans to demolish are still pending because the council has been waiting for a redevelopment proposal. Glasgow planners are understood to be talking to the potential developer.

The Herald: Professor Alan Dunlop, one of Scotland's leading architects who is a stakeholder consultee for the Mack reinstatement project said: "Many people would hold the O2 ABC dearer in their hearts than they would the Mack. I have seen the proposals and it is bland fare. It is just like any other building in any other place. There isn't anything of special architectural interest in it.

"And even though it is only a Category C listed building, it is a recognisable building and a part of Glasgow's history and it would be sad to see that go."

Vita echoes the view of Mr Patrick in its proposals, saying: "Identified as one of the biggest challenges the city faces, the ABC site is just one of the many current blights of this vital artery through the city centre".

They say the entire demolition of both ABC and the Jumpin Jaks nightclub offered the opportunity to develop "a cohesive response for the site that interacts with both Sauchiehall Street and Glasgow School of Art as one unified city block".

The council has been warned that if it was minded to grant consent for demolition, it is required under the terms of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Notification of Applications) Direction 2015 to notify Scottish Ministers.

The notification gives the Scottish Government an opportunity to decide whether to exercise power to call in the plans and make the decision.

The building was first opened as the Diorama in 1875 and featured a canvas of paintings which told the story of the Battle of Waterloo.

It became the Panorama in 1878 and Hubner's Ice Skating Palace in 1885 and hosted Glasgow's first public film showing in May 1896.

For much of the first quarter of the 20th century, it was home to Hengler's Circus, before it became a dancehall, and then became an ABC cinema for 70 years.

The Herald: The ABC1 cinema, pictured in 1976

It's imposing full-height entrance, was designed by C J McNair, one of Scotland's celebrated cinema architects and according to HES is "typical of cinema design and was purposefully designed to advertise its presence and draw patrons into the building".

McNair was responsible for the building's conversion to a cinema in 1929 and added the dramatic entrance.

The last movie was shown in October, 1999, before the building was converted into a music venue with a pub and restaurants.

The Vita plan would see the food hall focused on allowing "concept" restaurants to open in the city, with a provision for student accommodation built above it.

It will tie into the ongoing regeneration plan for Glasgow's so-called "Golden Z" area, covering the city's central shopping precincts.