THE aftermath of Glasgow School of Art fire continues to be a fast-moving and developing situation, impacting on the lives of residents, the livelihoods of business owners and the culture and heritage of this city.

There is a real sense of grief, of despair, of loss amongst those whose homes, businesses and jobs have been badly affected, as well as those attached to the School of Art.

I have met with and spoken with residents and those representing them, as well as business owners. I have said several times that we cannot always give those forced from their home or place of work the answers they want to hear. But clarity, particularly around timescales, the structural integrity of the Art School and the potential impact of this on the surrounding area, is now emerging.

At the end of last week the city council announced that the sudden collapse of parts of the building was likely, rather than possible, and that it would have to be dismantled. That process has now commenced but while any part of the building remains unstable there is still a risk of falling bricks or stone moving quickly downhill and into the buildings on Sauchiehall Street.

As regrettable as this turn of events is it has allowed us to provide an indicative timescales to residents. I explained to the households displaced by the fire on Sunday, this will be months rather than weeks. It is likely going to be two or three months. After public safety, providing residents and businesses with access to their properties is our main priority. Right now, it simply isn’t safe to do so.

At the time of writing, officers are finalising details of how the welfare fund supported by the City Council and Scottish Government will operate. I expect those details of this financial support to be made public imminently. There is also now a single point of contact for residents on all issues where the City Council can assist.

The most obvious issue is that of being left temporarily homeless. Some people baulk at the use of the term homeless, but homelessness simply describes a set of circumstances in a person’s life. It can happen to anyone and should not come with any judgement or stigma. People are often helped by our homelessness teams because they have been decanted from their properties – following the recent fire at Kebabish in Govanhill, for example. Anyone can find themselves in this situation and the Council in this case, like many others, has an obligation to provide a roof over residents’ heads.

One recurring issue in the last fortnight is insurance. The City Council remains in regular dialogue with the Association of British Insurers to smooth out a number of issues. The Chief Executive will write a letter for any resident who needs one for their insurers confirming that their properties are uninhabitable and that they are within a cordon because they cannot be accessed because of public safety concerns. This week we are facilitating a clinic hosted by leading legal firm Harper Macleod to provide information to businesses and residents on certain insurance and legal issues.

We have endeavoured to respond not simply to an emergency situation and the personal impact but also to the medium and longer term impact on, not just Sauchiehall Street, but the city centre as a whole.

The Sauchiehall Street Task Force met for the second time yesterday. I am confident the taskforce, which includes business organisations and affected businesses, council officers, politicians and School of Art representatives, will do everything in its power to restore Sauchiehall Street to its traditional position as one of Scotland’s leading destinations.

The current City Deal investment to create the Sauchiehall Avenue is an example of the type of project that will make the street a desirable place in which to live, work, study, visit and invest. We have great confidence in the future of Sauchiehall Street.

The Task Force has agreed explore the potential to have the Sauchiehall District identified as an area for a designated priority regeneration zone and will also explore different sources of resource and investment, including private sector investment.

Last week, I accompanied the Secretary of State for Scotland to the School of Art site. Mr Mundell and I had a conversation about the medium and longer term needs of the area and agreed to meet in London in the coming weeks to discuss what that will look like.

This remains a hugely complex situation, in terms of the human impact and the technological and heritage issues we are confronted with.

It is too grave a situation to be used for political opportunism. Instead, we should grasp this as an opportunity to accelerate and direct our energies, efforts and resources into making our city centre the best it can possibly be.