Potential cost savings and miscalculated budgets contributed to the decision to use combustible cladding in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in 2014, an inquiry has heard.
The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower blaze, which broke out on 14 June 2017 killing 72 people, resumed earlier this month.
Contractors involved in the procurement of combustible cladding, which was responsible for the rapid spread of the fire, have told the inquiry a series of decisions during the building’s refurbishment in 2014 led to the use of aluminium composite material (ACM).
1. Rydon “quids in” due to cladding change
Zak Maynard, commercial manager at Rydon – one of the key contractors involved in the refurbishment – told the inquiry that he was “joking” when he emailed bosses to tell them the firm would be “quids in” if it used ACM.
During the inquiry, it was revealed during a value engineering exercise that Harley Facades, a subcontractor, estimated the use of ACM cladding on the tower block would save £576,973.
In March 2014, Rydon discovered it had underestimated the cost of construction in its bid by £212,000 and consequently decided to conceal some of the proposed savings from its client.
Rydon told its client, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the saving would be £376,175.
Harley revealed in June 2014 that it had also miscalculated the savings generated by using ACM cladding by a ‘six-figure sum’. As a result, Harley and Rydon agreed to go ‘50/50’ on the reduced saving.
In an email to his bosses sent on 24 June 2014 and submitted as evidence to the inquiry, Maynard wrote: “First part of the battle now we will agree to give them [Harley] 10% of the savings back and we are quids in!”
2. Incorrect estimations led to a “reduction in quality”
Later in the inquiry, Maynard agreed that an “incorrect estimation had led to further cost pressure and a reduction in quality” on windows for the tower.
In an email shown during the inquiry, Everglaze Insulations told Maynard in April 2015 it could not agree to Rydon’s prices, adding it was “just not in a position to lower the costs”.
Maynard told the firm Rydon “would need to look elsewhere for this work”.
Rydon instead worked with SDP Solutions, a contractor it was “comfortable with who was able to provide a more competitive price”, Maynard said.
Richard Millett, lead counsel for the inquiry, asked: “Is this an item where incorrect estimation had led to further cost pressure and a reduction in quality?”
Maynard responded: “An estimate had been provided that we were struggling to match, so yeah.”
3. “Close relationship” with cladding supplier
Mark Harris, the commercial manager at Harley Facades who worked on the Grenfell refurbishment, told the inquiry he had a “close relationship” with cladding manufacturer Alcoa and supplier CEP.
Harris denied there were any incentives provided to use Alcoa’s ACM product, instead citing a positive relationship with Alcoa’s Deborah French.
Harris said: “Debbie had been really good, proactive in providing information, samples and things such as that […] She did an awful lot of running around for us. So you build up that relationship with somebody and you start to trust them.”
After striking the deal, in an email shown as part of the inquiry, Geof Blades at CEP, wrote: ”Mark, All I can say is that you’ll be taken out for a very nice meal very soon.”
4. Contractor calls for urgent reform of regulations
Ray Bailey, managing director at Harley Facades, told the inquiry that combustible cladding should be “banned immediately”and “things need to change” in regards to building and fire safety regulations.
He added he was “pretty certain” if the firm was faced with the same job as Grenfell now, “we would have done it exactly as we did back then”.
Bailey said: “I can’t think for a second that anybody in the construction team working on Grenfell or on the hundreds of other buildings that we similarly constructed across the UK […] would have thought for one minute that anything we were doing was unsafe.
“If I could go back in time, armed with what I know now, the certification, the testing regimes, the caveats, the misinterpretation of the building regulations, that are not just restricted to us but the whole industry, this stuff – Reynobond, Celotex, Kingspan – none of it would be on the wall.
“The legislation is complicated to use, it’s not very clear, and I think any form of combustible insulation or cladding should be banned immediately. I know that’s not my place to say, but if the building regs banned it, it wouldn’t be on the building.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.