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Industry News


Grenfell landlord criticised at inquiry for slow response times and failure to address safety issues


fire in 2010 that spread smoke across 11 storeys and injured three people. The inquiry heard the Kensington and Chelsea


T


Tenant Management Organisation was told by the London Fire Brigade that the ventilation system needed a full test after it failed, causing injuries to residents. But the smoke extractor was not replaced until


the refurbishment and only after the KCTMO admitted in 2015 that the fire alarm and ventilation system were “beyond economic repair”. The system broke down again six days before the fatal fire on 14 June 2017 that claimed 72 lives. Many of the residents died from the inhalation of smoke and toxic gases. Shahid Ahmed was chair of the Grenfell Tower


leaseholders’ association and he told the inquiry that for years before the fire, the TMO was unresponsive to resident concerns about safety, and he strongly criticised its complaints process. “I thought the complaints procedure was a way


for the TMO to be judge, jury and executioner,” he said. “Their strategy was to refer me to the complaints procedure and exhaust GTLA. I felt their replies never gave sincere attention to GTLA’s


he landlord of Grenfell Tower took five years to replace a smoke ventilation system that had suffered “catastrophic failure” in a


serious and grave concerns in Grenfell Tower. The complaints I made never achieved anything. That was why I repeatedly requested that Grenfell Tower be subjected to an independent health and safety review in 2017.”


POOR ATTITUDES “I was sure that they were not taking the risk of another fire seriously,” Mr Ahmed told the inquiry. “I was scared for all of the residents. In spring 2017 Mr Ahmed drafted a statement,


with the help of a barrister, to the Housing Ombudsman and others titled “Health and safety and serious fire risk hazard”. It raised concerns about gas pipes being installed in stairways, the safety of the evacuation system and lift breakdowns. In March 2017 the TMO again refused his request for independent safety checks on the tower. “The real problem with Grenfell Tower was not


the age or state of the building, it was the attitude of the council and the TMO.” The inquiry also heard about problems with the


TMO’s communications with non-English speakers in the tower. There were very few translation requests for tenants’ newsletters, even though some contained important fire safety guidance. The inquiry was told that 52 of the block’s 120 flats had disabled occupants. On the night of the


Shahid Ahmed was chair of the Grenfell Tower leaseholders’ association and he told the inquiry that for years before the fire, the TMO was unresponsive to resident concerns about safety, and he strongly criticised its complaints process


fire a TMO document only listed 10 disabled residents. Fifteen of the 37 residents classed as vulnerable in the block were among the 72 who died. The TMO did not create escape plans for


disabled residents and instead relied on telling people to “stay put” despite fires in 2015 and 2016 at nearby tower blocks, Adair Tower and Shepherds Court which both required evacuations.


Grenfell expert witness claims the fire risks of cladding used on the tower were well known


An expert witness to the Grenfell Tower inquiry has said the combustible nature of the panels used on the high rise block’s façade should have been well known to contractors working on the refurbishment. An experienced facade engineer, Jonathan


Sakula listed 20 serious cladding fires around the world in the years preceding the June 2017 disaster that people in the industry knew about. Sakula said the construction industry had displayed a “head in the sand view” and “a failure of imagination” because the fires had not led to “great loss of life”. He told the inquiry: “The combustibility of these


panels was, in my opinion, well known in the industry, particularly since the UAE fires in 2012 to 2016.” Regarding the plastic foam insulation


used behind the panels on Grenfell, he added: “In my experience, the reasonably competent


Jonathan Sakula listed 20 serious cladding fires around the world in the years preceding the June 2017 disaster that people in the industry knew about


cladding contractor would have known that they were combustible.” “The UAE fires were reported at the time as


being specifically exacerbated by the ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding,” Sakula said. “Those involved in the cladding industry would, or at least should, have been aware of the dangers inherent in using this type of cladding on tall buildings.


8 | HMM June/July 2021 | www.housingmmonline.co.uk “As a general observation, I would expect the


manufacturers of relevant materials to have been aware of these fires, and their implications, to a greater degree than cladding contractors. I would expect such manufacturers to draw to the attention of their customers the relevant risks.” Sakula said the main reason for using the


combustible plastic-core cladding panels used on Grenfell was their cheapness compared with fire- retardant alternatives, and because they were lighter, which made them easier to install. The inquiry has previously heard that the saving from switching to the cheaper combustible panels was just under £300,000 on the £10million refurbishment. The inquiry has also heard that builders and


designers relied on certificates about the performance of the plastic materials, which in some cases were obtained through manipulation of test systems, and that they believed their use complied with building regulations.


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