The UK construction industry has a culture that values cost savings ahead of safety and this was of “particular relevance” to the Grenfell Tower project, an expert witness has said.
Concluding his evidence today, Paul Hyett, a senior architect with more than 40 years’ experience, warned that “frantic cost-cutting” exercises force design decisions on unqualified construction professionals, resulting in poorly built and specified buildings.
The inquiry – which has examined the refurbishment of the tower in detail – has seen evidence showing that the originally specified non-combustible zinc and aluminium cladding panels were switched for a cheaper product with a highly combustible polyethylene core to help make budget savings of £800,000.
It has also seen that the major focus of the project was pointed towards achieving ‘value for money’ after warnings in 2013 that it could not be achieved within the set budget of £8.5m.
In his report, Mr Hyett said: “The culture within the UK construction industry has been oriented with an emphasis towards cost and value engineering at the detriment of safety.”
He added that of “particular relevance” to Grenfell was an observation made in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report on building safety, which noted that “value engineering can often result in uncontrolled, undocumented and poorly designed changes being made to the original design intent”.
Asked about these comments, Mr Hyett said that there are design and build contractors who are “highly responsible” when it comes to reducing costs in a safe way.
But he added: “Frantic cost-cutting exercises are common in the building industry… and the end result of that in this situation is that people who have not had proper training are pressured to make decisions against desperate constraints of time… and we see that with faulty specifications and faulty design drawings.
“I’m afraid our industry is not in good shape in this respect in many of its constituent parts.”
At Grenfell, a gap around the new windows should have been packed with non-combustible Rockwool insulation according to original design drawings, but was instead filled with highly combustible Celotex following on-site decisions.
Mr Hyett did not specifically explain which part of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment he was referring to in his comments.
Later in his report, he said of the architectural profession: “Within my own profession, and despite so much that is evident in the form of real and good progress in recent decades across so many fronts, there has of late been much more emphasis placed on design aesthetics and the perceived elegance, ‘richness’ and efficiency of the planning, spatial organisation and appearance of buildings, than on technical aspects of design, particularly as they relate to safety of the building in use.”
Earlier in the day, he was critical of a data sheet written by insulation manufacturer Celotex to describe its product, RS5000, in summer 2014.
While this sheet made it clear that the product could be used only in the specific cladding system that had passed a ‘large-scale test’, it also described the plastic insulation as “suitable for use” on tall buildings without any immediate qualification.
Mr Hyett said that while a “reasonably competent architect” should have been able to read and understand it, the wording created “the potential for it to be misunderstood”.
“The presumption is that the product is compliant and the specifier has to interrogate the literature… there is no qualification, which should be there in my opinion,” he said.
“Anybody specifying should be able to read that document and on reading it conclude that [the insulation] is not compliant, but it should not be made such hard work.”
The conclusion of Mr Hyett’s testimony marks the end of ‘module one’ of the mammoth second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Opening statements for module two – which focuses on how the products in the cladding system were tested and marketed – will begin tomorrow morning.
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
Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’
Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Pete Apps recaps
Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’
This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps
Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment
Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block.
Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’
The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports
Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’
As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings
Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer "manipulated" official testing and marketed its product "dishonestly". Peter Apps tells the story
Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’
This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports
Week 21: 'It's there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety'
The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports
Week 22: 'All we do is lie in here'
In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports.
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