The company which managed Grenfell Tower decided not to appoint a design advisor who could have checked the proposals for the deadly cladding system in order to save money on its consultancy fees, the inquiry into the fire heard today.
Philip Booth, a project manager at consultants Artelia, explained how the firm had advised Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) that the services of a ‘client design advisor’ (CDA) was necessary to assist on a project as complex as Grenfell.
This would have seen Richmal Hardinge, an architect with 15 years’ experience, appointed to oversee the design work for the refurbishment, including checking drawings for compliance with regulations such as the fire safety rules in Approved Document B.
But the housing manager opted not to take on this advisor – which would have added around £30,000 to the consultancy fees – and instead to do this checking work in-house in order to reduce its expenditure, Mr Booth said.
“The TMO’s budget, as you can clearly see, was a consideration on this project and they didn’t want to incur the additional fees,” he said.
“Did they expressly say that to you, ‘we don’t want to incur the additional fees?’’’ asked Kate Grange QC, counsel to the inquiry.
“Well, yes, they were very much about, ‘do we need this role? You know, it’s 30 grand’ or whatever it was,” said Mr Booth.
He added: “I think she was reassured that there were specialist cladding designers coming in and there were warranties which related to the products. I said yes, but you will still need to sign it off.”
An email from Claire Williams, project manager at KCTMO, said that she believed the design advisor would not “particularly apply to cladding” as this was “designed and under guarantee”.
But Mr Booth said this contradicted the advice he gave her: “I was saying that while you might know social housing and what the right thing is for a kitchen. A CDA will be able to do everything, otherwise you will have to do it yourself.”
Asked to what extent cost saving drove this decision, he said: “It certainly was a consideration but it wasn’t the only part. They genuinely believed they could do the job themselves and were best placed to do it.”
Mr Booth also said that in hindsight he may have pushed harder for KCTMO to reverse this decision as the project developed. “Maybe Richmal may have picked up some of the issues that have gone on.”
He added that a CDA role was a “checking and reassurance” vehicle, but it would not be expected that designers would put forward non-compliant proposals.
The cladding system on Grenfell Tower used combustible insulation in breach of official guidance, combined with highly combustible polyethylene-cored panels and failed to include cavity barriers around windows, as required. The system has been found to have been the “primary reason” for the rapid spread of the fire up and around the building.
Earlier in the day the inquiry heard the conclusion of evidence from Mr Booth’s boss at Artelia, Simon Cash.
He was grilled about the process by which Artelia handed over health and safety information to KCTMO in late 2015, towards the conclusion of this process. The firm had been gathering this information as part of its construction design management co-ordinator, which relates to rules about health and safety.
But with the files only partially complete, an internal Artelia email said: “I don’t think this can be dumped on the client like this.” Another email added: “Claire [Williams] considers Artelia’s efforts in this regard appalling.”
Mr Cash said this comment was simply in relation to one of Artelia’s team not contacting Ms Williams at the time he had promised to hand over the information.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues with further evidence from Mr Booth tomorrow.
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
Each week we send out a newsletter rounding up the key news from the Grenfell Inquiry, along with exclusive analysis of what it all means for the social housing sector.
Already have an account? Click here to manage your newsletters