ARTELIA’S STAFF discussed how Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) had ‘struggled with design issues’, and chances they missed to help prevent the fatal fire.

The inquiry resumed on 7 September, and its first day saw Rydon’s commercial manager state that the company ‘struggled’ to find cladding specialists for the refurbishment of the tower. Last week, Harley’s owner Ray Bailey said that he did not know that Celotex insulation was flammable, and accused the company of ‘misleading’ his firm.

It was then revealed that his 25 year old son – Ben Bailey - was hired to project manage the refurbishment, while he had also called for a full combustibles ban; other Harley staff continued to testify, with no technical manager said to have been in place that was qualified to advise on fire performance, and an estimating error was made about cladding costs.

Then, its former design manager revealed that emails, documents and drawings relating to the refurbishment ‘appear to have been lost forever’ after a laptop was wiped. After that, it was revealed that ‘nobody’ at Harley ‘was designated with the responsibility of assessing the fire safety of products used’, alongside a series of revelations about lack of experience, cost issues and competence.

Ben Bailey then revealed that the insulation used was sold ‘at almost 50% discount’ for use on the tower, and then further evidence was given by Mr Bailey and cladding fabricator CEP’s senior sales manager Geof Blades. Later last month, Harley’s project manager admitted that he had not understood a warning about cavity barriers; one of the fabricators denied recommending the aluminium composite material (ACM) used; and other issues were raised.

At the end of last month it was revealed that the insulation used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was ‘originally suggested’ to meet an ‘aspirational’ thermal efficiency target, but without any ‘basic checks’ regarding fire performance. More recently, representatives of cladding subcontractor Osborne Berry agreed its work on the project was ‘shocking’ and ‘unacceptable’, while another denied having a ‘lack of respect’ for residents.

Finally, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s building control officer responsible for Grenfell, and his manager at the time, were questioned, before the council and main contractor Rydon were criticised in the first session of Artelia’s evidence.

BD Online and ITV News reported on Artelia’s staff and their evidence at the inquiry, with KCTMO said to have been ‘struggling’ to deal with design issues emerging during the project, yet it had ‘ruled out hiring specialist advice’ that would have cost £30,000, because ‘budget was a key factor on the project’. Artelia’s Neil Reed said he was ‘surprised by the number of inappropriate design queries’ from KCTMO’s project manager Claire Williams, and the number of design changes asked for.

He stated that ‘there appeared to be significant ongoing change which would be quite unusual in month nine of a construction project’, adding that ‘that’s going to cause some challenges and issues for the team to manage’. Mr Reed explained that changes in design and build contracts could lead to ‘significant cost increase so you need to get a grip on change’, and called the project ‘distressed’ at the time he took over as employer’s agent in March 2015, six months before it was due to end.

His predecessor in the role, Artelia’s Philip Booth, had previously mentioned that Artelia had offered to provide KCTMO with a client design advisor service, but this was rejected ‘after six months’ and KCTMO decided to ‘take responsibility for that function in-house’. Asked by inquiry counsel Kate Grange whether KCTMO ‘expressly’ said ‘we don’t want to incur the additional fees’, he said ‘well, yes, they were very much about, do we need this role, you know, it’s 30 grand or whatever it was’.

He said in turn that he had ‘not been concerned’ by this move as he knew KCTMO was a large organisation with experienced staff, and he was ‘happy’ for it to perform the role, but a ‘significant portion’ of his evidence focused on the ‘repeated queries’ he received from Ms Williams about design. Mr Booth described having to push back ‘knee-jerk’ requests for help, and ‘scope creep’ of being asked to get involved in design discussions.

In this situation, Rydon had responsibility for design, so he ‘tended to’ redirect these queries to them, adding that ‘it just surprised me that it kept happening and on occasion I think I probably got quite frustrated with it […] it shouldn’t be happening’. One of the emails he sent back to her saw him apologies for being ‘terse’, with Ms Grange asking if he ‘got the impression’ that Ms Williams was ‘struggling to deal’ with design issues ‘cropping up’, and ‘needed to reach out to you for help’.

He replied that ‘yes I can see that […] yes, possibly’, and did not agree that KCTMO was ‘trying it on’, but on being asked if it was normal to have ‘this volume’ of design queries on a project, he said ‘no’; Ms Grange also asked if the kind of queries raised by KCTMO were those that a client design advisor could have helped with, to which he answered ‘yes’. However, despite ‘frustrations’ Mr Reed said he had ‘not had any concerns’ that safety issues were being ‘overlooked’.

Mr Booth later suggested in his evidence that ‘maybe I could have done something’ to help prevent the fire, after it emerged that he had been sent an email by Ms Williams that ‘queried’ the fire performance of the cladding and referred to the fatal Lakanal House fire. He did not chase up the email in November 2014, which sought ‘clarification on the fire retardance of the new cladding’, and instead referred her to Rydon.

He was then ‘copied into another message’ sent by Ms Williams to Rydon, which had been prompted by her ‘Lacknall [sic] moment’, but Mr Booth said at the inquiry that he assumed she would have spoken with Rydon and ‘sorted it out’, so he did not pursue it further. He noted: ‘I had assumed it would be resolved. I got lots of these type of things and that was how things usually happened.’

In response, Ms Grange asked ‘wasn’t that a very important email on fire safety, potentially relevant to life safety on the project’, and ‘wasn’t that important for you to check it had been responded to?’; Mr Booth responded that ‘yes, it’s important’, but ‘I didn’t see it really as my job to check Claire was getting replies to every email.

‘Looking at it now, you question in your mind “maybe I could have done something” but I think at the time it was just another email query. I directed her where to go to get the answer and nobody raised it to me as an issue going forward. I didn’t at that time have any concerns that there was any fire issues with the cladding being proposed.’