Why was the Grenfell Tower covered in cladding as part of its refurbishment?

 

By Paul Coleman

 

The Grenfell Tower fire led to the deaths of 72 Londoners during the early hours of 14 June, 2017.

Twenty-eight months later, in October 2019, the government publishes a report of the first phase* of a public inquiry into the catastrophic fire. The inquiry is led by a retired judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

In this first phase report, Moore-Bick primarily analyses the response of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to the fire. The LFB management comes under fierce criticism from survivors and bereaved relatives.

They say the LFB management failed to stem the fire’s death toll; notably by failing to order residents to leave their flats and evacuate the tower once it quickly became clearly obvious the fire was beyond the control of firefighters.

 

Principal reason

Grenfell fire survivors, bereaved relatives, evacuated residents and the wider traumatised local community broadly welcome Moore-Bick’s report.

Yet a significant few publicly criticise him for concentrating the first phase of his inquiry largely on the night of the fire and the LFB’s response. They wanted the first phase of the inquiry to have dealt with the question of why was the Grenfell Tower covered in flammable cladding as part of its refurbishment – and by whom?

Moore-Bick, in his report, does conclude that aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen panels, clad to the Grenfell Tower’s exterior, are ‘the principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up, down and around the building’. ACM panels, adds Moore-Bick, ‘acted as a source of fuel’.

Moore-Bick also states ‘insulation boards behind the ACM panels…contributed to the rate and extent of vertical flame spread’.

 

Responsible

Moore-Bick goes further to state ‘there was compelling evidence that the external walls of the building failed to comply with Requirement B4 (1) of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 2010, in that they did not adequately resist the spread of fire…On the contrary, they actively promoted it. It will be necessary in Phase 2 to examine why those who were responsible for the design of the refurbishment considered that the tower would meet that essential requirement.’

Moore-Bick strongly indicates that Phase 2 of the inquiry will focus on how the materials used in that refurbishment contributed to the spread of the Grenfell fire and to the horrific deaths of 72 Londoners.

*

Refurbishment?

London Intelligence also believes Moore-Bick’s second phase ought to clarify a broader question – why was the Grenfell Tower covered in any form of cladding as part of its refurbishment?

For instance, did those responsible clad Grenfell Tower primarily in an attempt to make the builder more structurally secure and safer?

However, if those responsible for the Grenfell Tower’s refurbishment clad the building for some other purpose – such as to beautify it, perhaps to make it look less like a council housing tower – then that would raise further questions for those responsible to answer.

 

Strong feeling

Grenfell’s bereaved, survivors and other impacted residents regularly attended Moore-Bick’s long inquiry. Thousands of people still also amplify their ongoing call for justice by marching silently through the streets of North Kensington on the fourteenth of each month since the fire (above). Firefighters stand in solidarity with those concerned marchers.

Residents’ campaigning pressure – asserted by Grenfell United and Justice4Grenfell – has compelled Moore-Bick to state that the second inquiry phase will also look at how the Lancaster West estate’s management body, the Tenants Management Organisation, ignored warnings from the local community on many occasions before the fire about fire hazards.

‘There is a strong feeling among them that their voices were ignored and that if attention had been paid to them the disaster could have been avoided,’ states Moore-Bick.

‘They reflect what is said to be a general lack of concern on the part of the authorities for the residents of the tower and the wider community.’

 

*

  1. Phase 2 of the Inquiry is expected to begin in early 2020, following which the final report will be written and subsequently published.
  2. The Inquiry is being conducted in parallel to investigations being carried out by the Metropolitan Police and by Her Majesty’s Coroner for Inner London (West), Professor Fiona Wilcox.
  3. Then Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 15 June 2017 a public Inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower on the night of 14 June 2017. Sir Martin Moore-Bick was appointed as the Chairman of the Inquiry by the Prime Minister on 28 June 2017. For the purposes of section 5 of the Inquiries Act 2005, the Inquiry was formally set up on 15 August 2017.
  4. The Inquiry is investigating a List of Issues that has been separated into two phases. Phase 1 focuses on the events on the night of 14 June 2017. Hearings for Phase 1 began on 21 May 2018, and concluded on 12 December 2018. Phase 2 of the Inquiry is focusing on the remainder of the list of issues and hearings. It begins in early 2020, following which the final report will be issued.

 

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2019

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