The Grenfell Inquiry has heard how one of the Grenfell Tower architects had clashed with building control officers over fire barriers in the wall structure.
The architect said they were “miffed” at the demands of a Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) building safety officer regarding the prevention of fire spreading up the tower, complaining it was causing cost increases and delays.
The inquiry heard how a fire engineer hoped building regulators would not notice the evacuation arrangements might not be compliant with up-to-date building regulations.
In an email to a colleague, one fire engineer wrote: “Let’s hope [the building control officer] doesn’t pick up on it.”
Growing list of issues
The Grenfell Inquiry has already found that cavity barriers intended to stop flames spreading were poorly fitted or completely missing, helping the fire reach the top of the 24-storey tower in fewer than 30 minutes.
The inquiry also found that the single evacuation staircase had become overheated and smoke-logged, which hampered rescue efforts and proved fatal to some residents.
The inquiry saw emails sent in March 2015 in which John Hoban, senior building control surveyor at the RBKC, insisted that the new wall structure include fire-stopping to prevent flames spreading between floors for at least two hours.
But Neil Crawford, an associate at Studio E Architects, replied that this was not needed and that cavity barriers would suffice.
“The subject of fire barriers is raising a lot of concern on site not least because of program and cost,” Crawford said.
“We are all miffed as to why this detail is not a cavity barrier.”
Regulation approval a “negotiation”
The Grenfell Inquiry heard how Tony Pearson – a senior consultant at the fire-engineering consultancy Exova until January 2016 – referred to the obtaining of building-regulation approval as a process of “negotiation”.
As an example, the fire engineers submitted a justification for having just one staircase to evacuate flats and for other uses on the lower floors, which they knew was “debatable”.
Pearson said it was “a first attempt at justification and if building control comes back and says we are not happy with it, then we will revisit it”.
He said: “RBKC building control department had a bit of a reputation as hard to convince to accept anything non-standard.”
Pearson said he knew about the risk of unseen rapid fire spread through facades due to a lack of proper cavity barriers.
He said he also knew that several storeys could be affected, and that panels could fall off and aluminium panels could melt.
Pearson told his boss, Terry Ashton, on 31 March 2015: “If significant flames are ejected from the windows, this would lead to failure of the cladding system, with the external surface falling away and exposing the cavity.”
The second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry is in its second week of resumption after more than three months of delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The findings of phase one were published in October 2019.
The inquiry continues.