A defective smoke control system in Grenfell Tower received sign-off after budget cuts led to the relevant engineer being made redundant, the inquiry has heard.
Appearing before the inquiry yesterday, Paul Hanson, principle fire engineer at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), attributed a number of failings with the smoke control system in the block to budget cuts at the council.
Mr Hanson, who joined the council in 1988, approved a smoke control system which has since been deemed “the lowest possible standard” by experts in the wake of the fire. But Mr Hanson said the failure to ensure the system met building regulations was down to a lack of personnel at the local authority following redundancies.
He told the inquiry that at the start of his time at the council, he was part of a five-strong “means of escape” team which considered building safety in the event of fire. But Mr Hanson explained that this team was reduced to three and later he was the only one, as the council was unable to replace people who retired or moved on.
He said “the reshuffle was based upon the need to reduce the cost of building control ” and that afterwards his workload “doubled”.
His comments echo complaints from his boss John Hoban, who told the inquiry last September that he had become “swamped” with work and was reviewing 130 projects at once.
Mr Hanson was taken through the Smoke Control Association’s (SCA) guidance on smoke control systems, in particular a section which states that when installing systems they must be tested to identify “dead spots”.
He said that he considered the SCA guidance a “useful guide” where there were concerns about particular systems, but that testing for dead spots was not standard practice.
The RBKC employee said this had not been done as it would normally be picked up by a building regulation engineering group, or ‘BREG engineer’. RBKC’s BREG engineer had been made redundant in 2015.
Counsel to the inquiry Kate Grange QC said: “I think what you’re saying is, because you didn’t have a mechanical electrical engineer, this part of the SCA guidance wasn’t followed, is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” replied Mr Hanson.
He told the inquiry that when he learned the council’s BREG engineer was made redundant, he asked for a meeting with senior figures at RBKC’s building control department to explain his concerns. Mr Hanson also claimed he stressed the need for a BREG engineer after his work at Grenfell.
He said: “After that job, I really felt it was so necessary and since then I’ve championed the council to re-employ one or at least two mechanical electrical engineers.
“I feel it’s very significant when we’re dealing with these mechanical ventilation systems, I would have felt a lot more confident in this job had I had a BREG engineer sitting beside me evaluating the scheme.”
Ms Grange took Mr Hanson through the SCA guidance and explained that in his approval of the smoke control system he had failed to satisfy a number of criteria which would prove the system worked.
Another failure highlighted by Ms Grange related to consideration of compartmentation and internal fire spread.
She asked: “You didn’t give any consideration to B3, internal fire spread, when it came to the smoke control system and its ability to maintain compartmentation, is that correct?”
Mr Hanson confirmed that he had not considered internal fire spread and compartmentation. A lack of compartmentation allowed smoke to fill communal areas in Grenfell Tower and prevented residents from escaping.
The inquiry continues.
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