Grenfell

HARLEY FACADES staff continued to testify at the Grenfell inquiry, with revelations including that no technical manager was in place that was qualified to advise on fire performance, and that an estimating error was made about costs of cladding.

The second phase began with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extendedAfter resuming post COVID-19 suspensionthe first week heard a senior fire engineer ‘did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment’, while another was sent the cladding design report but didn't view it. 

Two fire consultants gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents; Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’and a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was the ‘cheaper option’.

Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence admitted it ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractor work; admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E; admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM; denied giving assurances about ACM not burning ‘at all’; and called residents ‘rebels’ and ‘persistent and aggressive’.

There was ‘no evidence’ Rydon employees had responded to emails ‘seeking clarification on cladding safety’; and Rydon project manager Simon O’Connor admitted he ‘did not know’ about nor was 'familiar' with fire safety regulations or building regulations, and was ‘unaware’ of some responsibilities ‘as it was his first’ such jobThen, final site manager David Hughes believed Rydon had been ‘quite thorough’ in checking work quality.

Towards the end of the first period of hearings, refurbishment director Stephen Blake gave evidence, and the inquiry heard that Rydon was asked for a ‘quick and dirty’ costing for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, and was ‘informally advised’ it was first choice for the job ahead of the end of procurement.

He then said he had been ‘haunted’ by the ‘lack of scrutiny’ that the cladding and window designs were given, before two of the site managers stated they had ‘assumed’ window insulation was fire resistant. Just before the inquiry paused until September, internal issues at Rydon were revealed, as one site manager was described internally as ‘a chancer who wants to do as little as possible’.

The inquiry resumed on 7 September during August, 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.

Most recently, it was revealed that his 25 year old son was hired to project manage the Grenfell refurbishment, while he had also called for a full combustibles ban. BD Online reported on the evidence given by Harley’s technical manager on the refurbishment, Daniel Anketell-Jones, and its former estimating manager Mike Albiston, with the former admitting that he was ‘not qualified’ to advise on the fire performance of materials when on the project.

Mr Anketell-Jones said that he had ‘only just started’ a Masters degree in facades when Harley was working on the Grenfell refurbishment, and the inquiry heard that the company ‘did not have a technical manager in place who was qualified to advise on fire performance at the time products were being specified’ for the project. He said he was ‘only qualified’ to advise on structural performance of construction products relating to the building regulations.

This was while he was working for Harley, and he said that he had no academic training in fire performance until after he left the company in 2016, though he had begun a Masters in Science in façade engineering at the University of Bath in late 2014 or early 2015. While he had been promoted to design manager before Harley was hired for Grenfell, ‘it was not part of his job to assess the technical compliance of products’.

His predecessor in the role, Graham Hackley, had held this responsibility, but ‘he was not sure who the responsibility fell to’ after Mr Hackley left the company. Asked by inquiry counsel Kate Grange when a successor to Mr Hackley was appointed, Mr Anketell-Jones said ‘there wasn’t one appointed until I’d done enough of the degree to start moving into that role’, but he did not consider himself qualified to ‘assess the technical performance of products at any stage’ that he worked for Harley.

He added that he passed on issues ‘that he did not feel qualified to deal with up the chain of command’ at the company, with Ms Grange stating that Mr Bailey had described Mr Anketell-Jones as Harley’s technical manager during the Grenfell project in his own evidence. Asked if he agreed with this description, he stated ‘no, I don’t’, and said that ‘I don’t think I was made the technical manager until the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 perhaps. I hadn’t had any training in that area yet’.

With no email trail found that showed Mr Anketell-Jones had asked for help from senior colleagues due to his lack of necessary qualifications, he added that ‘they were fully aware of what my areas of expertise were’, and that at the time of the Grenfell project, he did not know there was a difference between Class 0 rated materials and products classed as of ‘limited combustibility’. He also did not know the difference between a fire stop and a cavity barrier when working on the project.

Asked about his knowledge of relevant guidance about combustible materials on high rises at the time, he noted that ‘I was looking at structural design and not façade design so I wouldn’t’ve been sent these sort of things. They weren’t circulated to me’. He was also not aware of the contractual agreements between Harley and Rydon, which gave Harley the same responsibilities for design and statutory compliance that Rydon owed to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).

Mr Albiston’s evidence meanwhile saw him admit that the cost impact of an estimating error he made was ‘minimised’ by the choice of ACM cassettes, with the news outlet stating that Harley ‘had a particular interest’ in using the Reynobond ACM cassettes ‘because it lessened the impact of a costing error’. The error was made during estimations for value engineering options, and omitted £200,000 from the price given to Rydon.

However, Mr Albiston pointed out that the error ‘did not affect the costing’ given for zinc cladding, which was KCTMO’s first choice, but the costs of flashing, smoke stops and crown supports ‘had been left off’ the prices of ACM alternatives. An email from him in June 2014 to Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence saw him state that the estimate had been ‘a bit low’, while the cassette price had been ‘more accurate’.

While the error would have meant a cost of £200,380 for either of the Reynobond options, he said there would be an ‘additional shortfall of around £37,650 if face fix was selected’, with Mr Albiston asked by inquiry counsel Richard Millett if it was ‘fair to say’ that the costing error would have been minimised by about £40,000 if ACM cassettes were then selected.

Mr Albiston said ‘I believe that’s the case, yes’, and when asked if this was a better option from Harley’s perspective, he agreed that ‘it would have been, yes’. Another email, from May 2014, was shown between Harley commercial manager Mark Harris and Mr Lawrence, discussing cladding options and containing the phrase ‘as discussed on site, our preference would be for cassette for lots of reasons !!’. Mr Albiston said the preference was ‘possibly because of the cost savings’.

The inquiry also heard that architects Studio E had been ‘positive’ about the use of ACM cassettes after visiting another project that had used them, and believed that Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea planners ‘would support’ their use. Despite this, Rydon ‘believed’ that face fixed panels offered the ‘cheapest value-engineering option’, while Harley had used this on previous projects with Rydon at the Chalcots Estate in Camden and Ferrier Point in Newham.

Mr Albiston said he had been ‘horrified’ when discovering the estimating error he’d made, but added that ‘it was not the only estimating error encountered’ by the team, referencing the underpricing from Rydon previously revealed of £212,000. He was also asked if he had been aware, while working on Grenfell, that there was a fire performance difference between the cassette and face fixed versions, answering ‘no, I did not know’.