The firm tasked with providing fire safety advice during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was excluded from the decision to use highly flammable cladding, a company representative told an inquiry.
In his opening statement, Mr Douglas of Exova Warringtonfire said that after 2014, when the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation handed the project over to the lead contractor Rydon, the company was not involved in the discussions or merits of using cheaper Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding on the outside of the building.
Mr Douglas explains that Studio E, Grenfell’s architects, “did not engage with Exova in selecting materials for the cladding system” and that the firm “was not directly involved in the application for planning permission.”
The first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry found that the ACM cladding installed on the tower during renovations was the principal reason for the rapid spread of the fire that engulfed the tower on 14 June 2017, killing 72 people.
Mr Douglas claims that the requirements needed to support the passing of building regulation approval were drawn up by Studio E without reference to Exova.
Information and details were allegedly supplied to demonstrate that the cladding system would comply and not be dangerous.
Mr Douglas says that Exova was simply not involved in the National Building Specification process and were not invited to approve or make comment on it.
Furthermore, Exova’s representative argued that in the early planning applications by Studio E in 2012, discussions involved matters such as appearance, colour and aesthetics, rather than concerns surrounding fire safety.
Exova were allegedly excluded from these conversations and the drawings they were provided with showed design outlines rather than details on ACM cladding.
However, Craig Orr QC, counsel for Celotex, the manufacturer of the combustible insulation used on the building disclosed correspondence of warnings about the ACM cladding emailed by an architect at Studio E to fire engineers.
In spring 2015, an employee of the cladding installer allegedly told a colleague: “As we all know, the ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!”
The inquiry continues.