Grenfell Tower

THE INQUIRY resumed after a summer recess, with Rydon’s commercial manager stating that the company ‘struggled’ to find cladding specialists for the refurbishment of the tower.

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 was reported to resume on 7 September during August, and Building has now reported on the first day of evidence after the resumption, where Rydon commercial manager Zak Maynard admitted that the company had ‘struggled’ to find cladding specialists, with Harley Facades the ‘only specialist the firm had ever used’, and Rydon having ‘lacked cladding subcontractor contacts’.

Having ‘struggled to attract interest from firms in the sector’ bar Harley, Mr Maynard noted that it had ‘not been able to get estimates for recladding’ from companies ‘other than Harley’, and as managing surveyor at the time of the refurbishment, he noted that completing the tender package ‘had been a challenge’. Inquiry counsel Richard Millett then asked him about an internal email sent by Rydon’s estimator Katie Bachellier that referred to the ‘difficulties’ it was experiencing.

The email saw her discuss the ‘difficulties the firm was encountering in pricing the Grenfell job in time for the submission’, and it ‘may be necessary to ask for an extension on the tender deadline’, with her email adding that ‘we could also cite the fact that we are struggling to drum up any interest from cladding contractors’.

Mr Maynard agreed that Rydon’s ‘ability to get its bid together’ for the project had been a ‘threat to its chances of winning a job seen by senior managers as the “best opportunity” available to the firm at the time’, and Mr Millett also asked if Mr Maynard had been aware of these difficulties, with Mr Maynard responding that ‘we’d only used Harleys, therefore our cladding database or knowledge of subcontractors was probably limited and that probably restricted us in that part of the tender’.

He also said that he ‘understood that other cladding firms were approached’ to give prices for Rydon’s bid, and agreed with Mr Millett’s suggestion that ‘they must not have been interested in the job’. Mr Maynard stated: ‘We could get that on a lot of projects. A lot of people aren’t necessarily keen on pricing jobs when they’re just not a live job or a firm project. So I think that quite often the estimators come up against that battle.’

With the previous reveal that Rydon had made an estimating error with its winning bid that gave a price £212,000 ‘lower than it should have been’, while the budget set by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation ‘quickly turned out to be £800,000 less than Rydon’s winning bid’. The company ‘sought to offset some of the shortfall’ caused by its error by ‘holding back’ savings from the ‘value engineered’ move from zinc to ACM cladding.

The inquiry also heard that Harley had made a ‘six-figure error’ with its figures for ACM alternatives, so the eventual savings from the switch to ACM were £77,000 compared to the original £200,000 estimated. Mr Millett asked Mr Maynard if he ‘had been driving as hard as he could’ to ensure Harley ‘bore as much of the cost as possible’, and for Rydon ‘to make as much of a saving as possible’.

He responded that he ‘was doing my job as best as I could, yeah’, and also believed that Rydon ‘had been fair’ in reaching a price compromise with Harley ‘on the grounds’ that the latter had made an error which ‘in theory’ was ‘their problem’. Rydon’s exploration of the use of cladding with Rockwool’s Duo Slab, a ‘non-combustible insulation material’ that would have got eco funding for the project, was also explored.

Mr Millett presented Mr Maynard with emails between the two companies that suggested the ‘potential use’ of the Rockwool material ‘had been parked’ when Harley ‘pointed out it would only have attracted’ the funding if it was used ‘with a complete system of Rockwool cladding and rails’. When asked why Rydon had not asked for a quote for this, Mr Maynard said he was ‘not sure’.

He was also asked whether he knew that insulation on buildings above 18m needed to be of limited combustibility, which the Rockwool material was and the ‘eventually-specified’ Reynobond was not, and answered that he was ‘not aware of the requirement’.