The consultant who advised Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was “strong-armed” into removing criticism of the organisation from a report, the inquiry into the fire heard yesterday.
Simon Cash, project director at consultants Artelia, said the firm had written a report about why the refurbishment had stalled in spring 2013.
It had identified a number of failures in KCTMO’s management of the project – which at that stage was being led by contractor Leadbitter – that it said was being allowed to develop in a “piecemeal” fashion over time.
But this criticism was edited out of the version presented to KCTMO’s board after complaints from Peter Maddison, director of assets at the company which managed social housing in the borough on behalf of the council.
In an email, Mr Cash wrote: “I have taken on board your comments and reworded to read in a better light.”
“[Mr] Maddison and I had had a particularly strong conversation about the changes that had to be made,” Mr Cash told the inquiry.
“He was being very persistent and put a lot of pressure on us to make those changes. I was quite resistant because I felt that it was a true reflection of what had happened on the project, but at the same time this was a report that Peter Maddison was looking to present to his board… if we didn’t make the changes, then the report wouldn’t be presented.”
“So you were basically strong-armed into making these changes?” asked counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC.
“Yes,” replied Mr Cash.
He had earlier described how the project had stalled due to a £1.2m gap opening up between the price Leadbitter believed it would take to complete the project and the price quoted by Artelia’s quantity surveyor.
In a report, Artelia had recommended keeping Leadbitter on the project and wrote: “Replacing the principal contractor at this stage will incur additional time and expense without the guarantee that the TMO would be better served by the replacement.”
It said the correct approach would be to reduce the scope of the refurbishment of the tower – which included cladding, window replacements, a new communal boiler and four floors of new residential flats – so that it could be done within KCTMO’s £8.5m budget.
However, an email said Laura Johnson, director of housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), had “overruled” KCTMO on this point and that “value for money was to be regarded as the key driver” for the refurbishment.
As a result the work was removed from Leadbitter and a procurement exercise was carried out to find a new contractor.
This procurement saw Rydon appointed, and Mr Cash said he was “shocked” by emails which showed KCTMO negotiating with the contractor to reduce the cost of the job by £800,000 before the contract was awarded – in contravention of procurement rules.
“I wouldn’t expect that of an organisation [like] the TMO,” Mr Cash said.
The inquiry also heard today that Artelia offered KCTMO a client design advisor – an architect with 15 years’ experience who would have been able to review the designs to ensure they met specifications and statutory requirements.
But KCTMO opted to do this work in-house instead, despite limited expertise.
“Had you taken any steps to satisfy yourself that your client had knowledge of design and the regulations and what is compliant design?”
“No. I was satisfied that they said that they had the expertise in-house,” replied Mr Cash.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues today with further evidence from Mr Cash.
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
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