Grenfell

CONSULTANTS ARTELIA warned Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) that the Grenfell refurbishment ‘would fail’ unless there was a ‘fundamental review’ of its scope; while resident issues and surveys were explored.

BD Online, Sky News, ITV News and The Guardian reported on KCTMO’s evidence at the inquiry, beginning with project manager Paul Dunkerton, who left the organisation in 2013. Artelia had warned KCTMO early on in the project that the refurbishment ‘would fail unless a fundamental review of its scope was carried out’, and that reassigning original contractor Leadbitter ‘was not the right solution’.

Artelia was said to have advised KCTMO that ‘re-procuring’ Leadbitter to ‘reconcile’ a £2m budget shortfall was not the ‘right solution’ because this would ‘incur additional time and expense’, and ‘there was no guarantee another contractor would be better’. It argued that a ‘far more fundamental reappraisal’ was both necessary and required of ‘what was achievable for the money’ KCTMO was prepared to spend.

The inquiry saw a status report from Artelia in April 2013, in which it wrote to KCTMO stating that ‘unless the project, in its current guise, is stopped and a review embarked upon to redefine the scope, programme and cost, it will fail’. Despite this, Artelia then wrote a new recommendation promoting reprocuring the work ‘a month after’, with Mr Drunkerton agreeing that this was a ‘volte-face’.

This change of focus came after a meeting where KCTMO explained its priorities had changed, with ‘value for money now the primary driver for the project’, and the inquiry was shown an internal Artelia email that described KCTMO’s project lead Peter Maddison being overruled by Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea director of housing Laura Johnson – who had been ‘engaged’ in a ‘confrontation’ with Leadbitter over costs relating to the neighbouring leisure centre project.

The company was originally set to be the contractor for this and Grenfell, but priced Grenfell ‘at more than £10m’ which was ‘well above’ Artelia’s estimate; itself higher than KCTMO’s £8m budget. All of this began a ‘value engineering process’, with an email shown from Artelia’s Alun Dawson to Studio E’s Bruce Sounes, where he asked ‘can you come back to us with a radical re-think of the scope/spec (whilst still meeting the original brief) […] to deliver it within budget’.

That email was sent in February 2013, and Mr Sounes replied that ‘it is not really possible to undertake a radical re-think without sight of the figures, a discussion with the client, and the involvement with the services engineer who is not copied into your email. Is the M&E not under review as well?’. He had emailed Mr Dunkerton a month before to point out that delays in novating Studio E to Rydon, the architects ‘had continued working on it’ with two full time staff.

The inquiry later heard that there were ‘at least three missed opportunities’ for creating a fire strategy, and residents were only asked ‘what colour cladding they wanted’, not what material. Three meetings about the project heard the statement ‘there is no existing fire strategy for the building’, with this printed in minutes from each meeting between project companies and bodies between June and July 2012.

Mr Dunkerton had attended these, and when asked why he ‘did not question’ the lack of a strategy, said this was ‘not his area of expertise’ and that ‘it wasn’t for him to make a call on that’, as he was relying on fire engineers Exova to ‘sort out’ fire safety. Pressed on whether he had relayed the lack of strategy to superiors, he said they ‘had seen the minutes’, adding that ‘I was more of an administration role rather than making any judgement, authorisation or instructions’.

He also said there had been ‘heavy resident consultation’ during his time as project manager, and that he had gauged the thoughts of residents via newsletters, questionnaires and drop in consultation sessions – the newsletters explaining cladding systems and how they would be used. Some sessions had samples of cladding for residents to ‘feel and touch’, he added, but he admitted he ‘provided no explanation’ as to each sample’s fire resistance.

Asked by inquiry counsel Andrew Kinnier if anyone from KCTMO or the contractors had provided residents ‘with information regarding the fire retardancy’ of materials, he said he did not and was not aware that anyone else had. Questions asked of residents about the cladding in summer 2012 included ‘what do you think the external cladding should look like’, with options including ‘colourful, robust, white aluminium, not reflective [and] leave as is’.

In July, that question was used as a basis for the statement ‘there is no clear opinion about the colour or type of external cladding’, and when pressed by Mr Kinnier as to whether residents ‘were not consulted on the type of cladding’ but just the colour, he suggested there had been given ‘other opportunities’ at the sessions to see and touch samples – ‘ at this particular newsletter they didn’t say that, but they were advised about the types of cladding’.

Asked about the ‘discrepancy’ between the question and the later assertion, Mr Dunkerton said the survey wanted to get opinions on ‘specific questions to target’ residents’ views on colours, with the one meeting in July 2012 seeing only one resident attend, but he believed that there had been ‘heavy resident consultation’ throughout the project.

He added that residents ‘were consulted about matters including a new canopy, the communal areas, security, cladding, the children’s play area, flat sizing, gas, heating, hot water and windows’, and that ‘I did evening sessions with the residents with the project team, during working hours drop-in sessions, we set up a project room within the base of Grenfell Tower displaying proposals of designs. There was the newsletters that we drafted out’.

Finally, the inquiry heard about leaseholder concerns and KCTMO treatment of tenants, with leaseholders having raised concerns about fire door compliance in December 2012 that ‘were left unanswered for two months’. The Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association told KCTMO at the time that ‘we are confused as to whether the current doors are fit for purpose’, having been told it was their responsibility to ensure regulatory compliance.

In February 2013, the association asked again for KCTMO to ‘please confirm whether we need to change our current doors’, and asked why it took so long to reply, Mr Dunkerton said: ‘I’m not an expert in fire doors and I wouldn’t be able to give them advice on whether their fire doors are compliant or not. I probably would have had to wait for information to come through from consultants. That’s possibly what the delay may have been.’

KCTMO was also said to have ‘singled out’ tenant and safety campaigner Ed Daffarn as an ‘antagonist’, with Mr Dunkerton shown to have told colleagues in a March 2013 email that Mr Daffarn – who escaped the fire in June 2017 – was one of two ‘main antagonists on the Lancaster West Estate regarding Grenfell Tower’.

Mr Daffarn later predicted that a ‘serious fire in a tower block […] is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice’, and had asked KCTMO to update residents on planning application progress. At the inquiry, Mr Dunkerton said that ‘perhaps my choice of words wasn’t great’, but that ‘they were more vocal than other residents and leaseholders’.