THE ROYAL Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), as well as the main contractor Rydon, were criticised in evidence at the inquiry this week.

The Guardian reported that RBKC was accused of using ‘decisive influence’ to remove original contractor Leadbitter, with director of housing Laura Johnson said to have ‘lost patience’ when it said the refurbishment would cost £1.2m more than budgeted. Despite RBKC having told the inquiry it had delegated responsibility to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), she was said to have ‘overruled’ it and said RBKC wanted the works to go out to tender again – eventually won by Rydon.

Ms Johnson was also said to have changed the main priority from sticking to schedule to achieving ‘value for money’, according to quantity surveyor and employer’s agent Artelia, specifically its project director Simon Cash. An email shown described KCTMO director of assets as having been ‘overruled by Laura Johnson’, and Mr Cash said: ‘She had effectively told him that what she wanted would take precedence over what he wanted to achieve.’

He was shocked by aspects that were ‘irregular and improper’ in the procurement process, and Mr Maddison’s relationship with Rydon refurbishment manager Steve Blake was discussed again, with Mr Cash stating that Mr Blake’s boast that he had been ‘informally advised we are in pole position – ours to lose’ should have ‘voided the tender process’.

He had proposed an ‘offline discussion’ that he agreed was ‘effectively secret’ that would have got an informal agreement that Rydon could achieve savings before the contract was awarded, which was not considered with other bidders as ‘the gap between their bids and the budget was higher’. Mr Cash was also shocked that KCTMO had directly asked Rydon to find £800,000 in savings before being named the successful bidder.

In turn, it was revealed that KCTMO ‘rejected professional help’ to check that the project met building regulations ‘in order to save £30,000’, with the inquiry hearing that KCTMO ‘decided to do the job itself to keep costs down’ to around £10m. Artelia’s project manager Philip Booth said that his firm had made a ‘detailed offer’ to undertake client design advice, which would have seen it check ‘multiple changes made’ from original plans by contractors.

KCTMO’s project manager for Grenfell Claire Williams asked Artelia in early 2014 to put a proposal forward, as it had undertaken the same for the neighbouring leisure centre and academy for RBKC. The company told her that it could review builders’ plans and ensure they met standards as well as ‘all statutory and planning requirements’, and Mr Booth said that on such a project that had seen ‘significant cost-cutting’, a client design adviser ‘was a good idea’.

However, this proposal was rejected, and Mr Booth noted that while Artelia’s role would have included checking work against building regulations and fire safety, Ms Williams ‘was very clear that she felt that the TMO with their experience and expertise did not need the extra support … and could do it themselves and did not need the additional support and fees’.

Asked whether KCTMO had ‘expressly’ said that ‘we don’t want to incur the additional fees’, Mr Booth said ‘well, yes, they were very much about: do we need this role, you know, it’s 30 grand or whatever it was’. He also noted that he ‘made clear’ to KCTMO afterwards that it would have to sign off future designs.

BD Online reported in turn on evidence given by Artelia staff as well as emails they had sent, with Artelia’s Neil Reed shown to have emailed Mr Cash in May 2016 – the month the Grenfell refurbishment was supposed to have been completed – to complain that he had never ‘worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’, and that the completion was ‘becoming a farce’.

This had come just over a month after he had lodged a formal complaint with Rydon, in which he expressed ‘frustrations and concerns about a number of current issues with the project’. The email, to Rydon’s refurbishment director Steve Black, was sent in March 2016, and he stated: ‘Both the client team and consultant team hold a perception that Rydon could and should be doing more in the run-up to completion.’

Issues raised included that Rydon was ‘taking staff off’ the project including Mr Blake, who was replaced by Mike Brown, and Mr Reed’s email added: ‘To withdraw at this critical stage shows little respect for the client team and provides very little confidence that Rydon is committed to completing this project efficiently or effectively.’

He also complained that neither Mr Blake nor Mr Brown had attended a progress meeting the week before his email, despite Rydon’s schedule ‘slipping’, and he then listed five areas of the handover procedure that were being ‘compromised by the lack of effort’ to provide updated trackers, schedules and key documents. Artelia was acting as KCTMO’s cost consultant, employer’s agent and coordinator of construction, design and management (CDM).

Mr Reed’s aforementioned email to Mr Cash stated: ‘This is just to flag that this is becoming a farce: despite all our efforts to ensure a smooth landing I have to say I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance. We are all getting sucked into doing far more than we ought to at this stage of the project.

‘I am wondering if you need to write to TMO to express our concern and what we are endeavouring to do about it – additional site visits, additional meetings, endless emails on design related issues that don’t concern us as Claire [Williams] is the design lead etc, challenging contractor etc. Happy to discuss.’

The inquiry also heard that there were ‘internal frictions’ between teams within Artelia by the time its contract ended in October 2015, as the CDM Regulations changed that month and saw CDM coordinators (CDMCs) abolished, replaced by the principal designer role. KCTMO complained that Artelia only gave it two weeks’ notice that it needed to appoint a principal designer ‘or bear that responsibility itself’.

Confusion about who would take on the role saw Rydon and Studio E refuse, and Mr Cash warn colleagues that Artelia ‘could not do it – despite the potential for further fees – because it did not have control of the design’. Despite this, ‘at one point’ Artelia’s CDMC Colin James was named on an official health and safety form as the principal designer.

Artelia’s Andrew Malcolm, working as KCTMO’s employer’s agent, emailed his CMDC colleague Paul Burrows in October 2015 to complain about his ‘failure to communicate’ with KCTMO about the handover of the ‘CDM bundle’, stating: ‘With the greatest of respect, I don’t think this can be dumped on the client like this – assuming you’re expecting me to just forward this on… (or can it).’

Mr Malcolm asked Mr Burrows to arrange either a meeting or a call with KCTMO ‘ahead of my cold emails’ as a matter of urgency ‘and certainly within the fortnight’, adding: ‘I personally want to stop looking daft at client meetings for missing a deadline we (royal-Artelia-we) had 6 months+ to sort out, let alone any regulatory implications that may or may not have repercussions against Artelia….’

The next day, Mr Reed wrote to both Mr Cash and Mr Malcolm on a similar matter, complaining that Mr Burrows had not called Ms Williams: ‘Accordingly despite all the effort to ensure a smooth transition re CDM, Claire considers Artelia’s efforts in this regard appalling. Andrew [Cash] and I were quite embarrassed by the lack of professional closure that I think we all expected and planned for from Paul.’

Asked about this by inquiry counsel Richard Millett, Mr Cash agreed that there ‘appears to be’ friction within the organisation at this point, and that he ‘tried to smooth the waters’ but ‘felt the tone’ of the email from Mr Malcolm was ‘not acceptable’.