The cladding subcontractor for Grenfell Tower substituted the insulation to avoid a delay in delivery of just four working days, without checking the new material’s fire performance.
It has emerged since the fire that 276 square metres of Kingspan Kooltherm K15 was used on the tower, despite rival brand Celotex being specified.
Project manager Ben Bailey explained at the Grenfell Inquiry today that sub-contractor Harley ordered the product as an alternative when the supplier, SIG, could not provide the preferred Celotex RS5000 in time.
He said in his witness statement that the supplier had “mistakenly sold an order of Celotex RS5000 intended for Grenfell Tower elsewhere”.
Informed that the Celotex would arrive on 10 July rather than 3 July, Mr Bailey wrote: “Are you joking?! Is K15 held in stock at the same thickness?”
Emails then show a purchase order for the product being sent just minutes later.
Mr Bailey argued that the timestamp on this email was wrong and he had in fact taken an hour to speak to technical members of the team, who reviewed a certificate for K15 and assured him it was an equivalent product.
But the certificate specifically notes that it only complied in a specific tested build-up with cement fibre cladding – not the combustible aluminium composite material used on Grenfell – and said Kingspan should be contacted if the product was being used on buildings taller than 18m.
Mr Bailey conceded that this was not done.
Mr Bailey, the son of Harley’s founder and managing director Ray Bailey, was made project manager aged just 25, having recently graduated from Oxford Brookes University where he had studied business and management.
Richard Millett QC, counsel for the inquiry, pointed out that the K15 panels would be delivered on 4 July, just four working days before the Celotex would have arrived.
“Was the delay so critical that you had to change insulation?” he asked.
“I appreciate what you’re saying, but when you have got limited materials, that delay can be quite significant,” Mr Bailey replied. “Because you could have teams of fixers not doing anything because there isn’t any material… Rydon [the lead contractor] was also putting pressure on subcontractors to stick to programme.”
Mr Bailey said he notified Rydon of the plan to change the insulation, but did not tell the client Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) or the architect Studio E. The contract did not permit product substitution without permission from the client.
A further order of K15 was placed in September 2015, which Harley paid in cash because it was close to going into administration and could no longer buy materials on credit.
Both K15 and Celotex RS5000 had a Class 0 fire rating, but this was irrelevant for high-rises where insulation is required to meet the higher standard of ‘limited combustibility’. Neither product meets this standard.
The inquiry heard earlier that Mr Bailey had contacted Celotex seeking an alternative insulation product for a previous job he was working on – Merit House – where Kingspan K15 was being used.
“Celotex had not passed a test allowing it to be used on high-rises in a specific build-up involving non-combustible cement cladding panels”
At that stage, Celotex had not passed a test allowing it to be used on high-rises in a specific build-up involving non-combustible cement cladding panels.
The firm therefore told him it did not have an option, but noted that Harley was due to be working on the Grenfell Tower job and should be contacted later regarding sales for this project.
In August 2014, Celotex emailed Harley to say that its RS5000 product had passed a large scale test and was therefore “Acceptable For Use On Buildings Above 18m”.
Harley’s designs then incorporated RS5000, despite the architects’ specification referring to FR5000, a similar Celotex product.
In March 2015, Celotex’s Jonathan Roome emailed Mr Bailey asking which outlet it would use to supply the insulation, saying he would “make sure that the pricing… is looked after for you”.
A purchase order then showed that the firm was offered a 47.5% discount on the product, totalling £45,803. It also received a quote for Kingspan K15 where the discount was only 26%.
“Was the fact that you were getting a discount of this magnitude something which influenced the choice of insulation for Grenfell Tower?” asked Mr Millett. Mr Bailey denied this.
Further emails showed Celotex then contacted Harley, asking if it could use Grenfell Tower as a “case study” for the insulation.
“However, he accepted he was aware that this would be ‘among the first times’ it had been installed on a high-rise”
“Did you get the impression that Grenfell would be a guinea pig for RS5000?” asked Mr Millett.
Mr Bailey again denied this, saying it was intended to demonstrate the insulation capability of the project. However, he accepted he was aware that this would be “among the first times” it had been installed on a high-rise.
Earlier in the day, Mr Bailey was questioned about his knowledge of building regulations and fire safety. He said this was limited and accepted he had a “misconception” that insulation materials rated Class 0 could be used on tall buildings.
He explained that his role on the project was mainly managing the work programme, ordering materials and arranging delivery to site – with some inspection of the installation work for “snagging” defects.
Like other Harley witnesses, he said the responsibility for ensuring designs complied with relevant regulations lay with the architects, despite contractual terms appearing to place this responsibility with Harley.
The inquiry continues tomorrow with further evidence from Mr Bailey.
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Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry
After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?
Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means
Week three: Architects of misfortune
This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points
Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’
The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment
Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’
Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon
Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’
Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence
Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’
Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks
Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’
This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor
Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’
With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’
With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report
Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’
With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports
Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’
This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports