A former Herefordshire Council building control surveyor claims he was “misled” by Kingspan and BBA documents when he issued an approval certificate for Kingspan K15 which stated it was a material of limited combustibility.
David Jones, appearing before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, produced the certificate in May 2009 following a request to undertake the work by LABC.
The Inquiry heard earlier this month that the certificate, described as “wholly inaccurate” by lead counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC, confirmed that K15 could be used in a mixture of insulation thickness, masonry or steel-framed substrates, a minimum cavity cap of 50mm with a range of rainscreen claddings.
In fact, K15, a quantity of which was used during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, was composed of a combustible plastic foam and could not be described as a material of limited combustibility.
“There were some very misleading statements, very misleading diagrams, that seem to me now to be designed quite deliberately to lead people down a certain interpretation.”
In yesterday’s (4 March) hearing, David Jones told counsel Rachel Troup that he was “reticent” about taking on the work on the certificate. “I could see that it was to do with material testing and certification and I knew that that was not within my scope.”
Jones explained in a witness statement given prior to the hearing that he understood Herefordshire Council was selected by LABC not for any particular technical expertise, since there were no buildings in Herefordshire over 18m at that time, but because of its proximity to Kingspan’s Pembridge offices.
In his statement, Jones said he understood that the certificate would be used primarily as a marketing tool. “Many product manufacturers like having their product associated with and endorsed by the LABC brand. It can also be said that an LABC system approval certificate can assist in the product’s processing through building regulations approval, which again can be used by manufacturers as a marketing benefit.”
Asked whether he thought contractors, builders and architects would have relied on the terms of LABC approval certificates as independent certification of a product and its compliance or otherwise with the Building Regulations, Jones said: “No, I don’t believe so. I have always viewed the LABC certificates to be more for the benefit of the building control body that was processing an approval, as background information to the work they were doing, rather than something for the designer to rely on.”
Jones said in his witness statement that he felt there was pressure on local authority surveyors to be open to new products and innovative solutions “which the approved documents had yet to assimilate” because private building control bodies were “frequently known to exploit local authority stereotypes in their marketing”.
Jones produced the certificate based on a BBA certificate and documents produced by Kingspan. He confirmed that he took the assertions in the BBA certificate at “face value” and that in coming to form a judgement that K15 was a material of limited combustibility, he stepped outside of the strict definition within Approved Document B to come up with an alternative.
He agreed that this decision was in part due to the pressure he had described. He added: “As far as this sort of limited exercise with Kingspan goes, there was no incentive for me to try and please Kingspan or keep them happy in terms of future business, because there was no future business, Kingspan were not clients of ours.”
Jones said that approvals of this type “came along once in a blue moon” and the payment for them was “inconsequential”.
He said: “£500 was about what we would have charged for building control on a kitchen extension. So it was neither here nor there. So really there was no incentive for us to do these type approvals, other than a sort of obligation to help LABC when they asked us to.”
Jones said he had asked the LABC and Kingspan early on in the process why he was being asked to “essentially replicate” what was in the BBA certificate. Troup asked if he understood that he was being asked to do a “bit of a cut and paste job”.
Jones said: “Yes, I think that probably does describe it. I was to go and meet with Kingspan, take the information they gave me verbally, take the BBA certificate, extract the information, filter out the parts of it that didn’t relate to the Building Regulations, and just re-present it in a format that sort of marched the Building Regulations A to B…I was told it was not to be a particularly in-depth assessment.”
Troup asked Jones: “Your type approval summary relied entirely on previous assertions which went unchecked by you; is that fair?”
Jones replied: “Yes, in respect of the BBA certificate.”
Asked if he considered his work to be of an adequate standard, Jones said: “I think in terms of the scope of what I did, it matched what LABC had asked of us. But with hindsight I don’t think that scope was adequate. I don’t believe it should have been done at that sort of level.”
He added: “When I look back at the scope that was asked of us, you know, £500 worth of work, I don’t believe it was appropriate. The result of that sort of scope in terms of the certificate was always going to be very, very limited and barely scratched the surface.”
He said that he considered declining the work until a conversation with LABC in which the “very limited scope” of the work was discussed.
Jones said he felt he had been misled in the process by Kingspan and the BBA. He said: “There were some very misleading statements, very misleading diagrams, that seem to me now to be designed quite deliberately to lead people down a certain interpretation.
“It would have been easy to include clarifications and caveats about what the testing actually related to, what the limitations on the use of the product in systems over 18m were. It would have been very, very easy to do, both in the Kingspan literature and the BBA certificate and it seems to me odd that there’s almost a deliberate move not to include those clarifications and allow different interpretations by ordinary industry professionals like me.”
The Inquiry continues.