Residents and businesses hit out over art school fire support

Media caption,
City in shock after art school ravaged by fire during multi-million pound restoration.

Business owners and residents affected by the Glasgow School of Art fire have claimed the local council is overwhelmed by the recovery task.

In a hard-hitting letter to Nicola Sturgeon, they have urged the Scottish government to intervene.

The letter claims key officials have taken leave and that the council appears to be "on holiday".

Glasgow City Council insisted it had gone beyond statutory requirements in providing assistance.

Two fires have affected trade on Sauchiehall Street this year; one at Victoria's Nightclub in March, followed by the blaze at the Glasgow School of Art and O2 ABC, in June.

Restoration work at the Mack building at the School of Art was just months away from completion following a previous fire in 2014.

In the open letter, campaigners claim that "much of the city has been turned upside down", and that the response by authorities has been "woeful".

It alleges Glasgow City Council has "stagnated in bureaucracy and egos followed by bunkerism once the enormity of the task emerged".

The letter, signed by Sauchiehall Street Inner Cordon Businesses, Garnethill Displaced Residents Group, and Blytheswood & Broomielaw Community Council, also questions who is driving the decision-making process.

The signatories say the Glasgow School of Art has been "allowed to dictate the manner and timeframe in which the Mack will be dismantled", and asks whether Historic Scotland is influencing the timeframe "at the expense of people's lives and livelihoods".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Traders say something needs to be done

They also claim that displaced residents are not being housed appropriately, and that "in the midst of a disaster the council have literally gone on holiday and key individuals have taken annual leave".

Safety concerns

In response, the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, said: "I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for all those impacted by this horrible incident and the council continues to respond above and beyond what our statutory requirements are during events such as the School of Art fire.

"But I simply fail to recognise any allegation of 'secrecy, bunkerism and egotism'. Our first and overriding responsibility was and remains public safety. We have been working for a significant part of the last month in an emergency situation. The enormity of the task was evident within hours.

"Actions taken by the council are about the protection of life and limb which have been threatened by a building which is structurally precarious. This, rather than any issue of history or heritage, is why it will take time to take down. We would no more put at risk the lives of our own staff or the demolition teams than we would members of the public.

"We are making significant progress on this matter and hope to reduce the cordon surrounding the area when it is safe to do so. It is our priority. But until then I must reiterate: we cannot grant access to residential or business property."

Image source, Police Scotland
Image caption,
The art school and nearby O2 building were gutted by fire on 15 June

A spokesperson at the Scottish government said: it recognised the "huge impact" the fire has had on businesses and households in the city, and that it was working closely with Glasgow City Council to offer financial support.

The spokesperson added: "The Scottish government will increase our contribution to hardship funding from 75% to 95% and make available £1,500, matched by the council, to residents displaced from their homes.

"We are working with Glasgow City Council to ensure the emergency funding is released to all those affected as soon as possible. We will continue to consider what further assistance might be required for all those affected."