RYDON CONTRACTS manager Simon Lawrence denied giving assurances about the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding not burning ‘at all’, while drawings were found to have been signed off incorrectly.
The second phase began this year, with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking for assurances that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extended. After resuming post suspension due to COVID-19, the first week saw a senior fire engineer state she ‘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 did not view it.
Earlier this month, two fire consultants said they gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents, before a reveal that Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’.
Last week, a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and ACM cladding was the ‘cheaper option’, before Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence admitted the company ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractors’ work.
Earlier this week, he admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E, and yesterday admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM. The Guardian has now reported he denied ‘assuring’ Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) that the ACM ‘would not burn at all’.
KCTMO head of capital investment David Gibson claimed Mr Lawrence said ACM panels were ‘inert’, providing the following statement: ‘I raised this with Simon Lawrence as a matter of serious concern and asked him if he could give some assurance that we would not have a Lakanal-type problem with the separation of rainscreen and insulation.
‘Simon Lawrence assured us that this would create no problem because the materials used were completely inert and would not burn at all. The meeting accepted his assurances in this regard and nothing came to my notice subsequently prior to the fire to question that these assurances were not accurate.’
Inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked Mr Lawrence if he recalled ‘giving such an assurance’; he replied ‘no, I don’t agree with that at all … I wouldn’t give technical assurances unless I had that information from the designers or specialists’. Mr Gibson said that the meeting in 2015 had been minuted, but none were not found in KCTMO records, while Mr Lawrence ‘never saw any’.
The inquiry also heard Mr Lawrence had tried to persuade KCTMO to use cheaper ‘face-fix’ cladding, an internal Rydon email from May 2014 showing him telling colleagues that ‘I’m giving it my hardest sales pitch as we speak. Come on the Essex boy patter’. BD Online reported in turn that Harley Facades had marked cladding drawings ‘approved for construction’ before being seen by Studio E, while Studio E marked subsequent drawings ‘as-built’ that referred to zinc cladding.
Mr Lawrence admitted that this was a ‘serious mistake’, and inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick said one drawing ‘bears the date 26 September 2013 […] what had been built by then?’. He replied ‘nothing’ had been, and ‘I would suggest […] that Studio E have taken an original tender drawing and have just put it in the pack of as-builts without checking it and/or updating it’.
The Harley drawings sent to Studio E were shown, Mr Millett asking ‘do you know why it was marked “approved for construction” before Studio E had even commented’; Mr Lawrence said that ‘I don’t definitively know why, but I would assume that it was a Harley internal process to say it’s ready to go out to be checked’.
He had ‘never asked’ either company ‘why they were doing this’, Mr Millett establishing that the schedule of services between Harley and Studio E ‘promised to ensure that all designs complied with the relevant statutory requirements’. Studio E’s Neil Crawford would stamp drawings ‘conforms with architectural intent’, and Mr Millett asked Mr Lawrence if he ever discussed with Mr Crawford how the stamp ‘would operate as an indication that he was satisfied that the design complied’ with regulations.
Mr Lawrence replied ‘no, I don’t […] believe [we] had a specific conversation about it’. Asked how he could be sure Rydon was giving KCTMO what it ‘had promised’ if it had not ‘made sure’ Studio E was ‘doing rather more than just checking for architectural intent’, Mr Lawrence answered that ‘because we had the building control as well that were one of the third-party obviously checkers and signing off […] we had several layers of checking of the information’.
Mr Millett asked whether building control had checked the Studio E marked designs before ‘they proceeded to construction’; Mr Lawrence stated that ‘if not’ he would have expected them to be signed off ‘shortly afterwards’. Mr Millett then asked whether he had realised ‘by laying off’ compliance to subcontractors, without any ‘means of supervising or checking that the work had been done properly’, Rydon was assuming a ‘risk of non-compliance and therefore breach of contract’.
Mr Lawrence said: ‘Well, all the works […] would be checked and signed off before completion and would be checked by building control at the very least and others as the works progressed. So I don’t think there was ever any thought that we would not be compliant and we would not be fulfilling our obligations.’
On whether it wasn’t a ‘little bit late’ to leave this to building control for sign off, Mr Lawrence said that the subcontractors were ‘believed to be competent specialists’; Mr Millett argued that when the drawings had been approved by Studio E, ‘none of the checks you’re referring to […] had been applied’, Mr Lawrence admitting that ‘they may not have been to every drawing at that time, no’.
Mr Lawrence was also asked about Rydon’s failure to use a fire consultant, despite project meeting minutes showing ‘he had promised to look into’ using Exova.
These stated that ‘it is considered that the proposed changes will have no adverse effect on the building in relation to external fire spread but this will be confirmed by an analysis in a future issue of this report’. However, this ‘never came’, he ‘could not explain why he had not chased it’, and Rydon had decided not to reconsider ‘its custom’ of not hiring fire specialists even after a fire at an earlier cladding project.
Mr Millet asked why, ‘if Rydon had no in-house design expertise’ how could it ‘decide [it] didn’t need a fire safety consultant’; Mr Lawrence said it was getting a ‘very good service’ from building control, though Mr Millet pointed out building control is a regulator, not a contractor: ‘They were external to the entire Rydon subcontract chain so you might expect them to pick up any non-compliances but is it really right to say that Rydon were relying on them as though they were part of the subcontractor chain, providing you with a service?’
Mr Lawrence responded: ‘Well, they were providing us with a service. We were paying for them to check compliance against the building regs and then check the work that was installed.’