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Grenfell public inquiry opens with focus on tower's design

Grenfell tower (34552739503) chiraljon
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The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire opened today with its chair saying that the tower’s design and the adequacy of the Building Regulations would be key focal points

Speaking at the inquiry’s formal opening, Martin Moore-Bick outlined an approach of two-phases – both of which will be carried out at the same time – focusing heavily on the high-rise block’s design, giving ‘particular importance’ to its most recent refurbishment by Studio E Architects and the ‘fitting of external cladding’.

The retired judge added he would be examining whether Grenfell Tower complied with the Building Regulations, which would themselves come under scrutiny.

At least 80 people are known to have died when the west London tower block was engulfed in flames exactly three months ago on 14 June. Moore-Bick described the tragedy as ‘unprecedented in modern times’. 

He said the first phase, looking at immediate impacts and what ’steps must be taken quickly to ensure that those who live in [towers] are kept safe’, would concern how the Grenfell fire started and spread, together with the evacuation of the residents and the response from the emergency services. 

Moore-Bick said there was ‘an urgent need to find out what aspects of the building’s design and construction played a significant role in enabling the disaster to occur’ and to establish whether there were, potentially, ‘similar defects in other high-rise buildings’.

The retired judge said he hoped the initial evidence-taking sessions would be held before the end of this year, with the aim of producing a ‘first report’ by Easter 2018, which will have to be ‘limited to the first phase of the inquiry’.

He admitted this would be a ‘challenging goal’, requiring ‘much hard work’ and the ‘active cooperation’ of all those involved. 

The second phase of the inquiry, Moore-Bick stated, would look at the broader issues of regulations and compliance and ‘how the building came to be so seriously exposed to the risk of a disastrous fire’. 

’That will involve,’ he said, ‘an investigation into the design of the building, its modification from time to time … the decisions relating to design and construction that were made in connection with each of those modifications, and the reasons for those decisions.’

He added: ‘I shall also be asking whether, at each stage of its development, the building complied with regulations then in force, and whether the regulations themselves were adequate. The extent to which fire-risk assessments were carried out and what steps were taken in response to them will also come under scrutiny.’

‘Those and similar questions will assume particular importance in relation to the most recent refurbishment of the building and the fitting of external cladding.’

Studio E Architects completed a £10 million refurbishment of the west London tower block in 2016. The work included installation of Reynobond PE cladding over PIR insulation boards. 

Moore-Bick admitted this second, twin-track phase was ‘likely to take longer’ than the first, due to the large amount of documentation required. However, he said, the process of gathering evidence ‘has already begun in earnest’.

The judge insisted the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry would ‘find the truth’ behind the disaster on June 14, and make recommendations as to the action needed to prevent a similar tragedy happening again. The inquiry, he said, can and will ‘provide answers’.

He stressed that the inquiry would not determine criminal or civil liability for the tragedy, but added that he ‘shall not shrink’ from making recommendations that could form the basis of separate criminal or civil cases.

Separately to the public inquiry, the Metropolitan Police is leading a criminal investigation into the fire, which it said involve ‘every element of the construction’ of the building, and will ‘investigate any criminal offences that may have been committed’. 

Elsewhere in his opening statement, Moore-Bick said that his inquiry would require the assistance of people with ‘expert advice in more technical areas’.

In particular, he said, this would concern the ‘development of fires in high-rise residential buildings, and the intricacies of the Building Regulations, with particular reference to protection against fire’. 

He said he was currently in discussions with this first group of assessors, who would be announced in the ‘next week or so’. 

Regarding the inquiry’s terms of reference, which were published last month, Moore-Bick said were ‘deliberately cast in broad terms’ to give him the scope to focus on all the areas that could prove ‘fruitful’. 

The RIBA had criticised these terms of reference for not examining the ‘overall regulatory and procurement context’ for the UK construction industry. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Mr Pevsner

    Sad to see the RIBA so out of sync on this very important matter. When the institute attracts talent to its committees we'll have influence as a profession. I'm retired now but was always saddened by the calibre of folk on the RIBA committees. Like using a toddlers group to critique fiscal policy.

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  • Rainscreen Cladding; Stack Effect; Vertical Openings. The problem has been known about for years.
    The janitor will get the blame.
    We need to ditch the Building Regulations and adopt the IRC. Been saying that for years as well.

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