The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) opted against upgrading Grenfell Tower’s lifts to ‘firefighting’ standards and insisted instead on a cheaper option during upgrade works in 2004, a former consultant has claimed.
Giving evidence today, Ian Moorhouse who worked for lift consultant Butler and Young on the project, said that after securing the Grenfell contract he was told by Dave Steppel, KCTMO’s building services manager, that he should not “include consideration of firefighting lifts” in his feasibility report for the project.
Butler and Young were employed by the KCTMO in 2004 to undertake consultancy work to upgrade the lifts within the block. This work would increase the capacity of the lift from eight to 12 people, while also increasing its speed. The contract was worth more than £600,000.
However, the design, and subsequent work, did not include an upgrade that would see Grenfell’s lifts meet firefighting lift standards.
On the night of the fire, the lack of a firefighting lift within the tower hindered the response by the London Fire Brigade (LFB), with lawyers of the bereaved and survivors concluding that the failure to upgrade to these standards had “grave consequences”.
Firefighting lifts include a number of extra protective features, including a secondary power supply, water ingress protection and lift landing doors. They also include a fireman’s switch, which allows fire services to take control of the lift in an emergency and prevent further use by occupants.
The lift at Grenfell on the night of the fire did have a fireman’s switch installed but the inquiry has since found that it failed on the night, meaning that the LFB were unable to take control of it.
The phase one inquiry report stated that three residents – Ali Yawar Jafari, Mohamednur Tuccu and Khadija Khalloufi – died after getting into a lift around 30 minutes after the outbreak of the fire and it filling with smoke.
In his evidence today, Mr Moorhouse said that he had discussed firefighting lifts in phone calls with Mr Steppel but he claims he was repeatedly told that they did not meet TMO standards and should not be considered.
He said he attended a meeting in 2004 along with Mr Steppel, where he was again told not to consider firefighting lifts.
Discussing what was said at that meeting, Mr Moorhouse said he was told that the TMO did not wish to have firefighting lifts considered in the feasibility study, and that they would instead opt for fireman’s lifts.
When asked whether there was much discussion around this, Mr Moorhouse said: “There was not a lot of discussion around this because he was quite emphatic that fireman’s lifts were what were required.”
Fireman’s lifts include fewer protective features when compared to a firefighting lift and are also much cheaper. Mr Moorhouse said that the inclusion of a secondary power source, required for a firefighting lift, could add up to £100,000 to the project costs.
Stephen Ellis, another former Butler and Young employee who also gave evidence today, gave a similar figure for the cost difference.
Mr Moorhouse’s claims came despite a first statement to the inquiry saying he had no recollection of discussions with KCTMO about firefighting lifts, before adding detail in his second statement.
Asked to explain the difference, Mr Moorhouse said: “When I received my first request [for] a statement I had been retired for 16 years and these were for matter of 18 years old.”
However, he said that after making his initial statement he had read the inquiry’s expert report and the project brief and this gave him “further food for thought” on many matters and this “filled in gaps in his memory”.
Mr Moorhouse also said that while he had kept bundles of handwritten project files during his time at Butler and Young, he had destroyed these in 2006 after his retirement. A written record of the conversations has not been found.
The inquiry saw extracts from the report of the inquiry’s lift expert Roger Howkins, who said that he would have expected a “reasonably competent” lift consultant to have considered modernising the lift to meet firefighting lift requirements during the project’s design phase.
Firefighting lifts were a requirement on all new buildings over 18 metres at the time of the Grenfell work, but there was no requirement to upgrade lifts in existing buildings. However, Mr Howkins said he considered it good practice to consider upgrading existing lifts to firefighting standards.
The inquiry continues on Monday morning.
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