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Ex-RIBA presidents slam Grenfell inquiry’s ‘mistake’ to snub institute

Grenfell tower fire crop

Former RIBA presidents Jack Pringle and Angela Brady have heavily criticised the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry for refusing the institute’s application to be a core participant

The status would have allowed the RIBA to provide written opening statements to the inquiry and highlight particular evidence on any aspect of the investigation affecting the institute.

An update from the independent inquiry earlier this month revealed that the RIBA was refused the role. The inquiry starts in earnest next month.

Angela Brady, who was RIBA president from 2011 to 2013, described the decision as a ‘mistake by the selection team’.

She said: ‘The RIBA and its team of specialist architects could make a very valid part of the team and draw on a wealth of experience and knowledge as building and design experts.

‘Architects are the only members of the design team who have a full understanding of the whole building process and specification details. Why would they not be included?’

Brady, who is a director at Brady Mallalieu Architects, also slammed the inquiry for not including an architect among its three ‘assessors’ announced so far.

These assessors – acting as advisers to chair Martin Moore-Bick – include civil engineer David Nethercot, who will examine Grenfell Tower’s design, construction and refurbishment.

‘Why is there no architect as one of the three key assessors?’ said Brady. ‘Maybe they don’t realise the value we architects bring and are out of touch, or don’t want to engage a full team of experts. The result would be a lot quicker and more professional if they did.’

In its latest update, the independent inquiry stated that 25 organisations and professional bodies had been granted core participant (CP) status.

In total, 545 applications for a CP position were received, including those from individuals. Of these, 393 have been accepted, 111 refused and 41 deferred or waiting to be considered.

According to the inquiry’s website, core participant status is defined under Rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006, and can include individuals, organisations or entities with a ‘significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the inquiry relates’.

Jack Pringle, who was president at the RIBA between 2005 and 2007, described the decision not to include the RIBA as ‘ridiculous’.

He said: ‘It’s architects who design housing and other building types and we co-ordinate the input of all the other disciplines including the fire strategists. We liaise with the Building Regulations and fire brigade. We are the key operators in that world.’

He added: ‘It seems unfathomable to me that they haven’t included a suitably qualified architect to advise them’.

He also slammed the lack of an architect on the expert fire-safety panel as ‘completely ridiculous’. This panel, which was formed to recommend to the government any immediate action it should take to improve public safety, and to help to identify the buildings of concern, was criticised by the profession when it was announced in June.

The RIBA declined to comment further on its omission from the inquiry.

An RIBA spokesperson previously told the AJ: ’The RIBA’s application for core participant status was not accepted. The inquiry recognised that it can benefit from the expertise of our members, but we do not need to be a core participant to give evidence.

‘We continue to engage closely with ministers, civil servants and advisers involved in the various strands of work related to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, making recommendations to enhance the future fire safety of buildings for all residents and users.’

But Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts said that the inquiry needed to limit the number of core participants because it would delay the findings otherwise.

‘Looking at it from the perspective of the inquiry team, they clearly have to limit the number of core participants there are, in order to make progress,’ he said.

‘If there are many, many participants it’s going to hold up the inquiry. I completely understand why the judge has limited the number of core participants to those directly affected.’

A spokesperson for the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry told the AJ last week that each assessor had ’specific experience and expertise that was felt likely to be of assistance to the chairman’.

’The inquiry is still at an early stage and additional assessors will be appointed if this is required either for the duration of the inquiry or for a specific part of the inquiry,’ the spokesperson added.

‘Matters of design and the choice of materials for use in high-rise buildings from an architectural perspective will be an important aspect of Phase 2 of the inquiry.’

The first procedural hearing for the inquiry will be held on 11 and 12 December 2017 at Holborn Bars, central London.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    I can understand why it will be helpful in due course to have an architect expert, or more than one, assist the inquiry, because there are numerous matters of regulation, briefing, design, specification, procurement and building management to be considered. However, I cannot see what an organisation such as the RIBA would bring to the table. It, as an organisation, has no specific expertise in these areas and no locus.

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  • Chris Roche

    When I began studying Architecture in the late 70's the profession was at a low ebb, with the media regularly castigating architects for designing high-rise towers un fit for families. Some of the criticism was unfair and ill-informed, however history appears to have proven the sceptics correct, with a few note worthy exceptions, including this year's RIBA Gold Medal winner Neave Brown. Nonetheless, the legacy of this period remains in the public imagination, and clearly in this instance the RIBA have failed to make a compelling argument for their inclusion on the Core Panel. This is hardly surprising given the perception of conflicts of interest - both historical and current.

    Chris Roche / Founder 11.04 Architects

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  • I think there is a perception that "the interest" as core participant for RIBA, would only be self interest. However there should be an architect expert however this is organised, because it is architects who integrate the requirements & understand for example why some surfaces are important to rate, others not, how ventilation can compensate for configuration etc., etc., our profession is not simply a matter of design there is a huge public interest component, however it is stymied by political expediency & economic criteria. All professions are at risk of not being impartial, engineers included!

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  • Frances Maria

    There are essentially two issues here; RIBA as an organisation had its application for Core Participant status refused, and secondly, no architectural professional of any description has been appointed as either an Assessor or an Expert Witness. Both the Assessors and Expert Witnesses will review the evidence submitted; the former are part of the Inquiry Panel and will advise, whereas the latter - not officially part of the Inquiry panel - fulfil more of an analytical role. It is in the capacity as an Expert Witness or an Assessor where I believe an architect or architectural technologist would have been beneficial. Although the expertise of those appointed cannot be doubted, engineers and fire experts do not perceive buildings in the same way that architectural professionals do, and thus the architectural perspective could only have been beneficial to the Inquiry. I hope that later on an additional Assessor or Expert Witness is appointed who has an architectural background. Core Participant status is something different altogether, and is less formal and intended to include members of the public who are directly affected. Unfortunately the regulations as they stand mean that a professional organisation such as RIBA or an individual practicing architecture only loosely fits the criteria. The way the legislation is worded makes it very difficult for anyone who is not directly involved (eg. residents, organisations involved in refurbishment etc.) to make a valid case. However, I would like to say that this does not prevent RIBA from participating in the Inquiry. I am not a Core Participant, but this has not prevented me from being involved. If RIBA has relevant information it can contribute, or even comments or advice to give, then it can make a submission directly to the Inquiry. This will then be reviewed and given full consideration as part of the overall process

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