ARCHITECTS STUDIO E were ‘not asked’ about their experience of high rise residential cladding pre appointment to Grenfell, while Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation’s (KCTMO’s) value engineering was denied to be ‘cost cutting’.

BD Online and Construction Manager Magazine reported on the latest evidence given at the inquiry, specifically continued testimony from former KCTMO staff. Former interim director assets Mark Anderson was ‘unable to tell’ the inquiry why he had not asked Studio E if it had experience of cladding high rise residential buildings before recommending the company’s appointment, despite inquiry counsel Andrew Kinnier describing this as an ‘obvious’ question to ask.

On being asked by Mr Kinnier about this, Mr Anderson said that – of it being obvious to ask – ‘it is now […] I don’t know why I didn’t ask that question’, and added that at that stage the cladding type had not been decided, while he ‘did ascertain’ that Studio E had ‘experience of complicated cladding projects’, while individual architects at the firm had experience of residential refurbishment.

Mr Anderson shared that he had had ‘at least two’ meetings with Studio E director Andrzej Kuszell and reviewed procurement documents for the neighbouring leisure centre project (KALC), which had been designed by Studio E, before he recommended them. He had also asked his team to research both the firm and consultants working on KALC to establish ‘professional standing, client base and competence’.

However, inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick interrupted and suggested that the ‘first step should have been to consider whether they wanted Studio E’, to which Mr Anderson replied: ‘There was nothing to indicate we wouldn’t want to use them. There was a process I went through to satisfy myself that the pre-construction professional team were suited to a project of that nature.’

Mr Kinnier asked Mr Anderson in detail about the refurbishment’s procurement, and whether it was compliant with European procurement (OJEU) rules, because ‘for speed, the plan was to rely on the OJEU process’ undertaken by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for the KALC project in 2011, described by Mr Anderson as ‘rigorous’. Asked if that KALC notice had mentioned Grenfell, Mr Anderson said ‘not specifically’, but it had ‘referenced’ housing regeneration.

RBKC’s legal and procurement specialists had, he said, ‘initially advised’ that relying on the previous procurement process for appointing Grenfell’s consultants ‘would be OK’, but this advice changed twice, and he decided to introduce a limit for fee bids ‘to keep them below’ the OJEU’s £174,000 threshold. BD Online pointed out that Mr Kuszell’s evidence in March saw him admit Studio E would ‘probably not have been appointed’ due to lack of experience if there had been a ‘competitive process’.

The inquiry also heard that residents were unhappy with the KALC project, and ‘so the improvements to the estate were intended to repair relations’, with RBKC wanting to run both projects ‘in parallel’, requiring the Grenfell one to ‘catch up’ in order to ‘achieve efficiencies’, confirmed by Mr Anderson. These efficiencies included cost and programme, and Mr Anderson’s witness statement said that using the same consultants would save ‘up to nine months’.

On the joint procurement process, he noted, ‘RBKC never said “you must do it” but there was a very strong message that that was their desire’, leading Mr Kinnier to ask ‘what came first […] the pragmatic benefits of using Studio E because of their connection with KALC, or looking at their qualifications, expertise and experience?’. To this, he replied ‘I think it was a combination of both’.

A confidential internal report on Grenfell in January 2012 was shown, which said that because the KALC project would have a ‘significant effect’ on residents, the council wanted to fund a ‘legacy project’, and RBKC was ‘desirous that [this] be reflective of the design proposals for KALC, benefit residents of the estate and is delivered efficiently’.

Asked if ‘reflective’ of KALC’s design proposals meant ‘look good next to KALC’, or ‘not look bad’ next to it, Mr Anderson said this was ‘not his recollection’ of conversations before that report, but that ‘rather these were concerned with modernising’ Grenfell, improving the tower’s thermal efficiency and upgrading flats’. On the phrase ‘delivered efficiently’, Mr Kinnier said ‘does that mean for the lowest possible cost?’; Mr Anderson responded ‘that’s not my understanding’.

He noted in turn that his definition of efficient was about ‘getting maximum output for your available budget’, and conceded that while cost played a part, it wasn’t ‘necessarily the prime driver’. The conclusion of the evidence given by KCTMO’s then project manager Paul Dunkerton meanwhile saw him deny a suggestion that value engineering was ‘cost cutting’, with his witness statement presented that he had given before the hearing.

In this, he said he was aware that Artelia – the managing agent – had begun to look at procurement options because original contractor Leadbitter ‘were proving difficult to work with’, and a value engineering exercise had started in May 2013 – though he said he ‘had no involvement’ in this. Mr Kinnier presented an email Mr Dunkerton had sent in February 2013 to Artelia’s Alun Dawson, discussing options for value engineering.

On this, Mr Kinnier asked if Mr Dunkerton agreed that the email showed ‘that at the least he had views on the scope’ of any value engineering, to which the latter replied ‘yes, I put forward some suggestions’. Asked what the scope of his involvement with this was by February 2013, he responded that he was ‘more administration’, and would put forward suggestions about what KCTMO could look at for value engineering.

Mr Kinnier asked if a ‘fair overview’ of the list of ‘things that ought to be considered’ was that a ‘lot involved removal of works from the project’, to which Mr Dunkerton responded that ‘yes, there was consideration of removing some elements of the design’. Pressed by Mr Kinnier as to whether he would agree that value engineering ‘promotes the substitution of materials and methods with less expensive alternatives but without sacrificing functionality’, Mr Dunkerton disagreed.

He said that ‘I wouldn’t say that was specifically the aspects of the VE. I would say, as it suggests there, what could we afford to do, and remove items from the design to bring the project back in line with the available budget’. In response, Mr Kinnier asked whether ‘given that answer, what these proposals look like is more akin to cost-cutting’, which Mr Dunkerton again disagreed with, stating ‘not exactly, no.

‘I would disagree with that. I would say that this was looking at what we could afford to do within the budget and looking at areas that weren’t necessary to achieve the outcomes’. One of the suggestions his email had made was to ‘look at alternative material for cladding’, and Mr Kinnier asked if this was his suggestion or that of project lead Peter Maddison.

Mr Dunkerton replied that ‘I think that was already mooted within the project team, as far as I’m aware, and there were various different available types of samples available to residents and the TMO to look at the cladding’. He could not recall who suggested its use first in meetings he’d attended, and asked whether he or Mr Maddison had a particular material in mind, he said ‘not particularly, no’.

He also confirmed that aluminium composite material cladding was ‘one of a number of different options’ being discussed, and asked if there was any discussion of why alternatives to zinc cladding were cheaper, he said ‘not that I recall’ – and could not recall any discussion of fire safety aspects.