At the inquiry today, a Rydon director said it “haunts him” that the design design around the windows of the tower was not challenged after it was revealed that he had been warned about the importance of cavity barriers following a fire in a similar block.
Following a fire in 2012 in a block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, which had the same aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding as Grenfell, cladding subcontractor Harley Facades produced a report that concluded the design of the windows were essential to preventing the fire spread.
The report said it was “apparent that the design of the facade and fire-stops has unquestionably worked well, as despite the severe heat the extremes of the damage have been compartmentalised”.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has already seen chains of emails between the contractors, architects and building control inspectors which show they resisted the idea of including fire breaks between floors at Grenfell Tower and did not design cavity barriers above windows -– as required by building regulations.
During phase one of the inquiry, experts concluded that the windows at Grenfell “had very little capacity to resist a fire”, allowing the blaze to break out of the flat it started in and ignite the combustible cladding on the walls.
The same team was used during the refurbishment of Chalcots Estate as was used on Grenfell Tower, with Rydon acting as principal contractor and Harley Facades as subcontractor.
Stephen Blake, who was refurbishment director at Rydon for the duration of the Grenfell project,
visited the Chalcots Estate with Harley Facades following the 2012 fire and was the only Rydon staff member on the distribution list of the report produced by the subcontractor.
A picture from the report showed Mr Blake pointing to the fire breaks in the windows under the conclusion that the “fire breaks were still intact and prevented fire spreading between flats”.
When asked during the inquiry, Mr Blake agreed that his experience at the Chalcots Estate gave him “first-hand knowledge of the importance of cavity barriers to the prevention of fire spread in high-rise overclad buildings... by the time you began work on the Grenfell Tower project”.
He said the fire did not cause him to consider whether combustible insulation or ACM cladding should be used on buildings over 18m.
He also said that he did not check with Harley Facades or the architects on the project whether property cavity barriers were being provided in their designs.
Mr Blake said: “I relied on Harley’s in particular. The notation from their report here would show me that they see it as particularly important. So why would they not apply that same level to the work they’re doing at Grenfell?”
When asked by Richard Millet QC whether there is anything he would have done different with hindsight, Mr Blake said it “haunts” him that the cladding and window design was not challenged “because it was believed to be correct”.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues.