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Chalcots was model for work on Grenfell tower, inquiry told

Contractor did not hire fire safety consultants because they had not done so in Camden

23 July, 2020 — By Tom Foot

THE lead Grenfell contractor did not think it needed to hire fire safety consultants to assess the west London tower as it had not done so on the Chalcots estate, the Grenfell Inquiry heard this week.

Rydon Maintenance Limited former contracts manager Simon Lawrence told the inquiry that no fire safety consultants had been hired to check over the refurbishment of the five towers in Swiss Cottage.

Mr Lawrence was the Chalcots site manager overseeing the works in Adelaide Road between 2006 and 2009, a project which directly informed the later overhaul of Grenfell, the inquiry heard.

When asked why Rydon had not employed fire safety experts to check works to the Grenfell estate, Mr Lawrence told the inquiry: “No, in my experience they didn’t, no. It wasn’t in my experience with Rydon … I hadn’t seen a specialist fire consultant employed on any previous projects.”

When asked if he was specifically talking about the Chalcots estate, he replied: “Correct.”

He added the company felt comfortable “with the risk” of overcladding Grenfell as it had done the work before at Chalcots, and was using “what we believed to be a competent specialist sub-contractor”.

Mr Lawrence told the inquiry the company, which he no longer works for, was reliant on its subcontractors and the council’s building control team to check compliance with fire safety regulations.

Rydon has not been found responsible for any wrong-doing in relation to either site. Its witness evidence to the inquiry said the Chalcots “designs were approved by, amongst others, London Borough of Camden Building Control”, adding: “Rydon Management Limited is not aware of any of them having expressed any concern at any point during that process” about the cladding or materials used.

The Grenfell Inquiry has already concluded that the cladding panels on the tower in west London fuelled the fire, which killed 72 people in 2017 and led to a wide-ranging review of safety on estates.

In an unprecedented operation, residents of the Chalcots estate had to be evacuated on the advice of the London Fire Brigade that year.

The five tower blocks in Adelaide Road were refurbished through a disastrous Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal signed off by Tony Blair’s government in 2004.

The New Journal has repeatedly called on the Town Hall for an inquiry into the events that led up to the evacuation, which left people driven from their homes and in some cases sleeping on a leisure centre gym floor.

The Grenfell inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore Bick, is looking at the scheme because the Chalcots project was used as a blueprint for Grenfell and that “members of the Rydon Maintenance Ltd Grenfell Tower Project team had experience at both projects”.

The cladding used on Chalcots was the same ACM [aluminium composite material] with a Polyethylene (PE) core and supplied by the same company, CEP. But the inquiry heard that one crucial difference was the “Rockwool” insulation used on the Chalcots estate, which was made by a different company

. The inquiry heard evidence about a fire in Taplow – one of the five towers on the Chalcots estate – in 2012 that completely gutted a flat and damaged cladding panels on the 17th floor.

“In the light of that fire, did Rydon think it appropriate to change its practice and start to engage fire consultants?” asked lead counsel barrister Richard Millett QC.

“Not that I saw,” replied Mr Lawrence.

The Taplow fire is described in Rydon’s witness statement as a “relatively severe, but there had been no significant spread either vertically or horizontally”, adding: “Given the above RML had no reason to be concerned about the design or the use of Reynobond PE grade ACM cladding.”

Camden removed cladding from the Chalcots in the wake of the evacuation.

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