Grenfell cladding decision ‘driven by savings’

Inquiry hears of ‘unclear’ consideration for building regulations.

Grenfell 001

The Grenfell inquiry has heard how savings of some £376,000 were proposed by switching the tower’s cladding from zinc to ACM panels.

Documents filed with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) in July 2014 supporting the successful planning application for work on the tower indicate ACM panels were to be used, the inquiry heard.

But at that stage is was unclear whether consideration was given to compliance with Building Regulations.

An opening statement from fire safety consultants Exova outlined a meeting in April 2014 between KCTMO, Rydon, and Artelia – appointed as Employer’s Agent, CDM Co-ordinator and Quantity Surveyor for the refurbishment – during which substantive business began with a long list of “proposed savings”.

First on the list was £376,000 that would result from changing from zinc to aluminium panels and “using a face fixing, rather than cassette”.

The inquiry heard how Rydon then put that proposal forward to a ‘Grenfell Planners Group’ comprising representatives of RBKC, KCTMO, Rydon, Studio E, and Artelia in May that year.

In advance of that meeting, an internal Rydon email commented “The basis of the meeting is to propose the material change from ‘Zinc’ to ‘ACM – Aluminium’ cladding… so KCTMO can achieve their maximum VE [ie value engineering] target”.

A later email from Rydon indicated the “goals” for the meeting included “put[ting] forward our case that ACM is not an inferior product to Zinc”.

The inquiry heard how e-mails exchanged following the meeting indicated that the concerns of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea were “aesthetic”.

Cladding installer Harley was referenced in the statement as “still looking at the possibility of Zinc” but also being guided by cost.

An e-mail dated May 9th 2014 referenced an apparent discussion around “Zinc Patina” adding around £40,000 to the cladding package. 

The e-mail said: “My vote would be to avoid showing this to the planners!

In mid-June that year, Rydon emailed Harley proposing that the switch from Zinc to Aluminium be reflected in a cost reduction of between £419,000 and £577,000, depending whether the system chosen was the cassette or the ‘face fixed’ version.

The inquiry heard that following further deliberations, at the end of the month these figures were adjusted to £389,000 for the cassette system or £552,000 for the face fixed version.

By mid-July that year, Harley had identified a single cost saving of £454,000.

The inquiry heard how the initial grant of planning permission for the work was conditional on the submission of detailed drawings and samples of material for the cladding.

But the reason stated for that was “[t]o accord with the development plan by ensuring that the character and appearance of the area are preserved and living conditions of those living near the development suitably protected”.

There was, the inquiry heard, no reference to compliance with Building Regulations.

The ‘full plans’ application which KCTMO submitted to the RBKC planning authorities in August 2014 continued to indicate zinc cladding, as did the plans submitted by Studio that September.

Neither specified a particular insulation material or manufacturer.

The statement said it appeared that documents filed with RBKC on 1st July 2014 in support of the successful  planning application did indicate that ACM panels were to be used.

Unclear, at that stage, was whether consideration was given to compliance with Building Regulations.

The inquiry continues

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