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Grenfell refurb team dives into blame game

27 Jan Opening comments from parties involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower and the installation of the notorious cladding system have seen each seek to blame someone – or even everyone – else.

Grefnfell Tower, after the refurbishment, before the fire
Grefnfell Tower, after the refurbishment, before the fire

No one, however, is admitting any share of the blame.

Day one of the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick heard opening statements from contractors and designers responsible for the 2016 refurbishment of the tower, which saw the building reclad in materials that, it has since transpired, did not conform to Building Regulations. The cladding system, it has been established, in conjunction with the insulation material sandwiched beneath it, acted to exacerbate the fire that killed 72 inhabitants on the night of 14th June 2017.

Main contractor Rydon Maintenance Ltd (RML) said that it had no role in the selection of cladding materials. “The NBS specification was the basis on which RML was invited to tender. It was subsequently incorporated into the D&B Contract,” Rydon said.

Although it was working to a design & build contract, RML was not involved in establishing the design and specification for the project, it said.

Furthermore, no one had suggested to Rydon that there might be a safety issue.“RML was not informed at any stage that the work, either as individual components or as part of an overall design as specified or as installed, posed a risk to the health and safety of the occupants,” the company said

But Studio E Architects said it was not its fault that it specified a dangerous system – they had been tricked by the manufacturers.

“Product manufacturers produced materials and testing data which had the effect of misleading designers to consider that their products were safe,” the architects said. “Studio E did not have any knowledge at the time of the project that the products used on the tower were unsafe, and it could not reasonably have been expected to know that they were not safe.”

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They also sought to pass the buck for design work to the specialist cladding installer, Harley Facades. “The cladding was, and was always envisaged to be, designed by Rydon's specialist subcontractor, Harley, which was understood to have assumed responsibility for all aspects of the design of that item,” Studio E said.

Harley Facades said it had “no idea and no reason to believe that the principal materials used in the building envelope, namely the Reynobond aluminium composite material (ACM) and the Celotex RS5000 insulation, would behave as they did in the event of a fire”.

Harley said: “The Reynobond ACM had been certified as Class 0 and the Celotex insulation as suitable for buildings over 18 metres. It is only in the course of the disclosure for this inquiry, and, in particular, of expert reports and evidence from the manufacturers of the rainscreen cladding (Arconic) and the insulation(Celotex), that Harley now understand that their confidence in these materials and their certification was badly misplaced.

“Harley were not alone,” its statement continued. “At no stage in the lifetime of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project did anyone raise any question or concern about these materials, which were specified in the National Building Specification for the project, and known to all. This included the lead designers and architects, Studio E; the main contractor, Rydon; their fire consultants, Exova; and their clerk of works; as well as the manufacturers, Arconic and Celotex, and the suppliers of the materials, SIG and CEP.

“And finally, this included Building Control, who were charged with the responsibility for assessing whether the refurbishment complied with the Building Regulations and Approved Document B.

“Harley did not decide what materials were to be used in relation to the rainscreen cladding and insulation. These materials were specified by the architects and lead designers, Studio E.”

Michael Mansfield QC, representing victims of the fire, said: “Mr Chairman, you will recall that in my opening address at Phase 1 of this Inquiry, on 4 June 2018, I invited the core participants not to indulge in a merry-go-round of buck-passing. Regrettably, that invitation has not been accepted. Save for RBKC [Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea], who have made clear and welcome admissions of numerous failings of its Building Control officers , and to a lesser extent Celotex, each core participant who played a material part in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower has laid out a detailed case for how it relied on the work of others, and how in no way was the work it did either substandard or non-compliant. In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.”

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