Rydon did not appoint a fire safety adviser on the Grenfell Tower project despite promises to do so, and instead relied on advice from the Building Control department at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Inquiry into the tragic 2017 blaze has heard.
Giving evidence to the Inquiry yesterday, former Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence confirmed that Rydon didn’t have its own in-house fire safety expertise and made a decision not to appoint fire safety consultants.
Instead, it relied on the expertise and advice of specialist subcontractor Harley Curtain Wall, architect Studio E, and Building Control, he said. He also confirmed that Studio E was not privy to the decision not to appoint a fire safety adviser.
During the hearing, leading counsel for the Inquiry Richard Millett QC asked Lawrence: “It is right that you or Rydon had been involved in the refurbishment of Chalcots [the Chalcots Estate in the London borough of Camden] and there had been a fire there in 2012? In the light of that fire there, did Rydon think it appropriate to change its practice and start to engage in fire consultants?”
Lawrence answered: “Not that I saw but you would have to ask Rydon that.”
Millett then asked: “If Rydon had no in-house design expertise, on what basis could the Rydon in-house team decide that they didn’t need a fire safety consultant?”
Lawrence replied: “I think we felt that the advice from Building Control and their fire specialist Paul Hoban along with Studio E, we felt the design was going well and we were getting a very good service from Paul Hoban and Building Control.”
Building Control role
Millett questioned Lawrence’s use of the word “service” in reference to Building Control. He asked: “You have mentioned Building Control a number of times in the questions and answers we have had today and you now say that you were getting ‘good service’ from them. But Building Control weren’t part of your subcontractor chain were they?”
Lawrence argued that while Building Control was not a subcontractor, they were paid by Rydon to check compliance against Building Regulations.
But Millett persisted: “Whatever you pay them, Building Control are a regulator aren’t they? They are external to the Rydon team aren’t they? And in fact they are external to the entire Rydon subcontract chain.”
Lawrence confirmed that this was the case.
Millett went on: “Building Control are there, are they not, to provide you with the answer to the question whether this design or construction passes or fails the test under the Building Regulations? They are not there are they to provide you with advice as to whether the building was safe or how to go about passing the Building Regulations.”
Lawrence replied: “They will give advice on the interpretation of the regulations and in particular Paul Hanson, as an example, would give advice if there was a 30-minute fire door that needed to be a 60-minute fire door then they would point you in the right direction and say that needs to be a 60-minute fire door. So you would get advice to that extent.”
Millett asked: “Is it right you saw Building Control’s role as an adequate and reliable substitute for having a specialist fire safety engineer in your chain as a subcontractor?”
Lawrence replied: “I think not just Building Control but also having a specialist subcontractor that is dealing with a specialism, whatever it be, a design team that has knowledge and should understand design in accordance with Building Regulations, and then for all of that work then to be checked by a Building Control officer – not only the plans but also the installation. That is all I have ever seen in my experience at that time.”
The Inquiry continues.