The company that put the cladding on Grenfell Tower has told the public inquiry into the disaster how employees “watched in horror” as the tower burned having “no idea and no reason” to believe the ACM they installed would behave as it did.
Further evidence of KCTMO favouring the inclusion of ACM cladding options emerged in the opening statement to the inquiry from Harley Facades.
In that statement, Harley said the ACM and insulation had been certified as suitable and it was only during the course of disclosure for the Inquiry – in particular expert reports and evidence from the manufacturers Arconic and insulation specialists Celotex – that the company saw its confidence in these materials was “badly misplaced.”
The statement said that “at no stage” in the lifetime of the tower’s refurbishment project were any questions or concerns raised about these materials – which were specified in the National Building Specification for the project, and know to all.
This, the statement said, included the lead designers and architects, Studio E; the main contractor, Rydon; their fire consultants, Exova; and their Clerk of Works, as well as Arconic and Celotex, suppliers of the materials, SIG Limited and CEP Limited and Building Control.
The inquiry heard that that at the time of Harley’s involvement in the Project, it had around 16 employees and operated as a managing subcontractor for external façades.
It did not undertake fabrication of the components of the external façade or carry out installation with its own labour.
Instead, it sourced materials, coordinated supply and fabrication of the external façade, and subcontracted installation, which it managed.
Harley had an inhouse design resource, but depending on capacity would also subcontract the production of working drawings.
The statement outlined Harley’s first involvement in the Project was in September 2013, when company representatives met with representatives of Studio E – the architects engaged by KCTMO.
This, the inquiry heard, was an “informal meeting” with Harley still to tender for the Project let alone be appointed.
The inquiry heard that during the meeting several aspects of the Project were discussed including available rainscreen products, interface details, work programme, access and budget.
A number of cladding options were discussed including Zinc and ACM, as well as cladding configuration.
“It appeared that at this stage Studio E had provisionally decided that the cladding would be zinc due to its appearance”, the statement said.
In July 2014, following the tendering process, budgeting discussions, and continuing correspondence in relation to choice of material and colour configuration – of which KCTMO had yet to make a decision – Harley was formally appointed as the external façade subcontractor on the Project by Rydon, KCTMO’s principal contractor.
The lead designer for the Project, including for the external façade, was Studio E. and the design for the external façade came from Studio E to Harley.
These designs were then translated into working drawings by Harley, primarily through its subcontractor.
The inquiry was urged to note that Harley were neither subcontracted to carry out, nor involved in, any internal modifications to the tower – save for the entrance way – including in relation to the internal window reveals.
Nor, the statement said, did Harley decide what materials were to be used in relation to the rainscreen cladding and insulation – these being specified by the architects and lead designers.
In the case of Grenfell Tower, Harley’s assumption was that the products specified for use in the cladding and the insulation of the rainscreen were suitable for the project, the inquiry heard.
With it apparent that various cladding options were being considered prior to Harley’s involvement, an e-mail trail demonstrated rates that ACM under consideration at an early stage.
The inqury was told Studio E drawings dating as far back as 2012 refer to the use of “Composite Zinc Panel: Quartz Zinc” – a product that comprises two sheets of zinc bonded to a polyethylene core
By September 2013 – on the day of the first meeting between representatives from Harley and Studio E – an email referenced referring to discussions they had had the previous day, requesting a bigger sample of “NOVA COMPOSITE” – another product comprising zinc bonded to a low-density polyethylene core.
The statement says it was the understanding of the individuals at Harley involved in the Project at this early stage that there was a “desire” on the part of KCTMO to include options for alternative rainscreen cladding materials – including ACM – in the tender.
The inquiry continues