A VOLUNTEER at the Hill House in Helensburgh says he’s worried about security and fire safety risks as the property’s doors are closed for construction work.

As of today, the Hill House, owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), is closed to the public until the late autumn at the earliest to allow for the construction of a huge ‘box’ aimed at protecting the building from weather damage for at least the next five years.

But Denis Hendry, who has volunteered at the Hill House for the last 15 years, says the closure of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece raises concerns over security and fire safety – which have been heightened following the devastating second fire at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building last month.

Dr Hendry told the Advertiser his fears had been heightened by the recent departure of property manager Lorna Hepburn from her post at the Hill House.

He said: “At a meeting of volunteers with NTS management it was made very clear that with the property manager gone, there would be no night-time security cover at the Hill House.

“It seems to me that with a £5 million budget, to have someone employed to make sure the site is safe and secure would not be excessive.

“I fear very much that something could happen to the building while it’s not occupied.

“Given what happened at the Mackintosh Building, why not spend £10-20,000 on a couple of security guys? As it is, we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope nothing goes wrong.”

Dr Hendry also raised his concerns with NTS chief executive Simon Skinner – but said the reply he received didn’t fill him with confidence.

“It was a very skilled letter in PR terms,” he said, “but to me it was essentially an attempt to tick a couple of boxes while hiding behind not spending any money.”

A spokesman for the NTS said: “Although the former property manager lived close by, she was not providing 24 hour cover for the property.

“The majority of our properties, and indeed most museums, galleries, historic houses and public buildings today, do not have staff present overnight as there is reliance on alarm/monitoring systems to alert emergency services if required.

“We would make the point that In any case our first duty of care is to staff and we would not expect our staff to tackle intruders or try to fight a fire – they would merely be expected to alert professional first responders, which is precisely what the electronic systems do.

“The Hill House is subject to 24-hour monitoring by our systems.

“The property has been subject to not just one but three separate independent fire risk assessments.

“Sprinkler systems have been suggested by some commentators who have not been party to these assessments, but these are very difficult to retro-fit into heritage buildings and in themselves can actually cause as much damage to interiors as a fire – and this certainly would be the case at the Hill House given that much of its importance lies in the interior decorations and detailing, which would all be destroyed by water.

“The cause of the latest GSA fire has not been established, so it not possible at this stage to determine if there are factors there that would cause a variation to fire regulations.

“The two buildings cannot really be compared despite sharing the same architect. There are no naked flames in the Hill House, nor are flammable materials, like paints and chemicals, stored in it.”

The Trust announced last week that it had raised more than two thirds of a £1.5m appeal to meet the cost of conservation at the Hill House.

The ‘box’ is aimed at protecting the building while long-term conservation options are investigated.