THE GRENFELL inquiry’s building control specialist said that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s (RBKC’s) building control checks contained ‘fundamental failings’.

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

It was then revealed that his 25 year old son Ben was hired to project manage; other Harley staff testified that no technical manager was 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. 

The inquiry was then told ‘nobody’ at Harley ‘was designated with the responsibility of assessing the fire safety of products used’, alongside revelations about lack of experience, cost issues and competence. Ben Bailey revealed that the insulation used was sold ‘at almost 50% discount’, and then gave further evidence alongside cladding fabricator CEP’s senior sales manager Geof Blades.

It was revealed at the end of September that the insulation was ‘originally suggested’ to meet an ‘aspirational’ thermal efficiency target, but without any ‘basic checks’ regarding fire performance. In October, Harley’s project manager admitted 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.

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. Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s (RBKC’s) building control officer and his manager at the time, were questioned, before the council and Rydon were criticised in Artelia’s evidence. 

Artelia staff discussed how KCTMO had ‘struggled with design issues’, and chances they missed to help prevent the fatal fire; and had warned it that the refurbishment ‘would fail’ unless there was a ‘fundamental review’ of its scope, while resident issues and surveys were explored. Earlier this month, Studio E were ‘not asked’ about their experience of high rise residential cladding pre appointment, while KCTMO’s value engineering was denied to be ‘cost cutting’.

More recently the government appointed Ali Akbor to the inquiry panel, while further KCTMO evidence was heard, including that it held a ‘secret’ meeting with Rydon to cut costs; its project manager ‘threw away’ most of her hand written records when she left in 2018; and it was said to have been ‘frustrated’ with Rydon’s progress.

Finally, and most recently, KCTMO’s then director of assets and regeneration Peter Maddison gave evidence, including that he ‘never discussed’ related cladding issues at meetings discussing the Lakanal House fire; he denied a meeting with Rydon pre appointment was ‘improper’; and covered issues around the cladding, cost quotes and recently submitted diaries.

Inside Housing has now reported on the results of a report undertaken by Beryl Menzies, the inquiry’s building control specialist, in which she found that building control checks undertaken by RBKC to ‘assess’ if the refurbishment met building regulations featured a series of ‘fundamental failings’, specifically its decision ‘not to ask about the building’s cladding system’. Her report was read out at the inquiry on Tuesday this week.

It also identified a ‘litany’ of failures, including ‘a failure to spot out of date information provided’ by the project team, and Ms Menzies said she believed ‘the initial full plan application to building control should have been rejected before work started’. The report said in turn that building control failed to identify that some of the building information was ‘out of date and contradictory’, including a fire strategy from Exova that ‘did not address the actual proposals’ put forward.

Her report added: ‘The building control body does not appear to have sought details or sort to ascertain or corroborate that the materials or the cladding system as a whole, were in accordance with the recommendations of approved document B or BS9991 for a building of this height. Failure to ask for detailed information about the cladding system was a fundamental failing.”

Ms Menzies went on to state that the building control board had ‘failed to recognise’ that no cavity barriers had been indicated in ‘initial designs to seal the cavities or opening in the walls’, and her evidence focused on the role of building control ‘in the lead up to, and during the refurbishment of’ the tower. She described the role of building control as being the ‘third line’ of protection for construction projects, and said it ‘should ensure’ construction meets building regulations.

RBKC had consulted with London Fire Brigade (LFB) over the building’s fire strategy, and asked whether RBKC building control officers should have highlighted to LFB the ‘lack of information’ regarding cladding proposals, Ms Menzies said: ‘I don’t think the application should have been accepted to start with, because building control had categorically stated that they couldn’t say whether it was acceptable to them. I don’t think it should have gone at this initial stage to [LFB].’

She was then asked about the performance of RBKC’s building control officer for Grenfell, John Hoban, who had given evidence last month and said he was ‘swamped’ with work during the time of the project, with 130 projects ‘at once’. She felt he had struggled and was badly managed, commenting: ‘Having heard the evidence of Mr Hoban and had sight of HR records, I feel he was struggling.

‘It was stated and recorded that he was, at one stage, 50% behind on site record keeping, and yet during that time he was asked to, and took on, two additional patches. That seems to be bad management and a [bad] decision with regards to getting the best out of a building control officer.’