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Grenfell survivors say Studio E faces ‘serious questions’ over refit following inquiry report

Grenfell shrine anthony coleman
  • 6 Comments

Grenfell survivors have said Studio E Architects and others involved in the tower’s ‘devastating refurbishment’ face serious questions and those found responsible should be charged 

In its response to the probe’s first report, published this morning (30 October), Grenfell United said its confirmation that the building did not comply with building regulations was one of ‘the most important’ findings.

The group, which represents survivors of the fire and bereaved families, said the council and tenant management organisation (TMO) as well as the firms involved in the 2016 refurbishment must be held accountable. Those firms include architect Studio E as well as contractor Rydon, cladding manufacturer Arconic and insulation supplier Celotex.

It said: ‘This finding adds to our determination to see criminal charges brought against those responsible for turning our homes into a death trap.

‘Phase two of the inquiry must now focus on where the responsibility for the devastating refurbishment lies. [The council], the TMO and all companies involved must face serious questions. There can be no more hiding or trying to shift the blame. This is just the beginning.’

The ‘strong’ inquiry report was welcomed by survivors, who said that rather than firefighters being scapegoated for the building failures,  the report showed how they were let down by their ‘training, procedures, equipment and leadership’. 

The group said: ‘Justice means different things for all of us but the truth needs to be at the heart of our collective healing. We have been waiting a long time for this report. Today’s findings give us some confidence that our journey towards truth has finally begun.’

Phase two of the inquiry must now focus on where the responsibility for the devastating refurbishment lies

Following the publication of the report this morning, reaction has poured in from firefighters, industry groups and politicians.

At a House of Commons debate on the report this afternoon, prime minister Boris Johnson said it was clear that the cladding was responsible for the fire having escalated in the way that it did. 

He said that while ‘no report, no words, no apology’ will ever make good the losses from the fire, the findings meant the world was ’finally hearing the truth’. 

Johnson added that the ‘truth will out, justice will be done, and Grenfell Tower, and the people who called it home, will never be forgotten’.

Labour’s Rushanara Ali asked Johnson if he regretted the cuts to the fire services he oversaw during his time as London mayor but he responded that the inquiry chairman, Martin Moore-Bick, had made ‘no findings that I know about lack of resources’.

Following Johnson in the debate, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the Grenfell fire an ‘avoidable tragedy’ and criticised the government’s slow reaction, pointing out that dangerous cladding remains on high-rises across the UK.

Corbyn said that while the report has criticised the London Fire Brigade, it was ‘not firefighters that deregulated building safety standards’.

’It was not firefighters that deregulated building safety standards’

He continued: ‘It wasn’t firefighters who ignored the concerns of tenants. It wasn’t firefighters who ignored a coroner’s report and failed to put sprinklers in high-rise blocks and it wasn’t firefighters who put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower.’

Corbyn also criticised cuts to the fire services which he said Johnson was ‘at the forefront’ of while London mayor.

Responding to an intervention by Labour MP David Lammy, who told the house many people believe what happened at Grenfell Tower amounted to corporate manslaughter, Corbyn said justice was needed.

He added it would be for the courts to find out if people installed cladding that they knew to be dangerous, and that the government should ‘not stand in the way of that’. 

The report, which was informed by 50,000 pages of evidence, found that fewer people would have died had the fire brigade taken certain actions earlier.

Moore-Bick highlighted ’systematic failures’ in the fire brigade’s response and described its preparation for a fire of its scale as ‘gravely inadequate’.

Responding to the inquiry report, Dany Cotton, the London fire commissioner, said the brigade was ‘disappointed’ at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in ‘completely unprecedented circumstances’.

She said: ‘I want to express our deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The suffering of the bereaved, survivors and community will never be forgotten by any of us in the brigade.’

Cotton said the London Fire Brigade would fully consider Moore-Bick’s numerous recommendations on high-rise safety, adding she was disappointed the inquiry did not recommend the wider use of sprinklers.

In its reaction to the report, the London Fire Brigade Union (LFBU) said that criticism of individual rank and file staff and control staff was ‘not justified’.

Its statement read: ‘Firefighters did not wrap the building in flammable cladding and should not be scapegoats for the real culprits of the fire.’

This has been echoed elsewhere, including by the Local Government Association (LGA) which has said the inquiry has made a ‘fundamental error’ in examining the response to the fire before examining its causes.

’The consequence of this is to scapegoat the fire service while those responsible for the fire have yet to be exposed or held to account.

’It is clear that the fire was caused by a catastrophic failure of the building safety system in England. This has been proven by the number of public and private buildings with flammable material and the number of modern buildings which are behaving in unexpectedly dangerous ways when they catch fire. Reform of this broken system cannot come soon enough.’

Firefighters did not wrap the building in flammable cladding and should not be scapegoats for the real culprits of the fire

The RIBA’s fire safety group chair, Jane Duncan, said the report made for ‘difficult reading’ and that significant cultural change was needed to address fire safety in construction.

‘The frightening truth remains that England’s fire-safety regulations lag behind other countries including Wales, Scotland, the USA and UAE. Aside from the combustible cladding ban on new-build housing over 18 metres, the government has still not yet committed to the simple regulatory changes that are so desperately needed to ensure our buildings are safe.

‘Since the night of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there have been several other residential fires, and of the 435 existing buildings identified with cladding systems similar to Grenfell, only 114 have had this successfully removed and replaced.

‘For more than two years, the RIBA has been calling for new regulations on cladding, sprinklers and means of warning and escape because our buildings are not safe. Action is needed now.’ 

Studio E was approached for comment.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Am I missing something here? I understand that the refurbishment was a PFI contractor led one, and that the architects' original specification was cost cut to save a few million off the tender price?

    This disaster has brewed for a long time, and it will happen again, soon. Forty years of neoliberalism, privatisation and deregulation takes its toll. Bring back traditional, architect-led procurement and the clerk of works. That is the only way the 'golden thread' that has been ripped out of the construction industry will return.

    It is shameful that this inquiry is taking so long, has started the wrong way around and the fire brigade are being blamed for a fire that should never have happen, which is more or less impossible to fight. People are not fooled by this attempt to obfuscate matters and try and sweep the systemic failures of decades under the carpet. Justice will be done in the end, even if it takes decades. Bring the criminals to justice. Never give up the fight!

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  • Studio E's original drawings for the cladding showed zinc sheet cladding and Rockwool insulation - all non-combustible. Furthermore the windows were positioned in the existing concrete external walls - with no fire path back into the dwellings. Drawings were once on the web.

    All this was changed by cladding contractors who offered a cheaper price, and by Kensington and Chelsea Housing Committee, who wanted more differentiation of appearance for social housing.

    Shame that the enquiry part 1 looked at how poorly we were equipped to face a fire which should not have happened had there been any proper controls in place. For decades buildings were designed so that fire would not spread as it did at Grenfell, and that people were safe to stay in place.

    All that thrown away for a saving of I think £350,000.

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  • There was great pressure from the victims to expedite the inquiry, so it was entirely right and correct that it has been split in this way.

    I am sure that Studio E’s role will be fairly considered in part 2. No one seems to be seriously criticising the findings of part 1. By all accounts the leadership of the fire fighters was a shambles.

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  • Industry Professional

    From my point of view Part 1 has made a good start. Let us hope Part 2 is as thorough and unbiased.
    There is no getting away from the fact that the LFB were only the last line of defence and that there was something seriously wrong with the building for the fire to spread in the way it did.
    If so many people had not died words such as "shambles" might be a bit strong but tragically they did so...…..
    I believe it is fair to say that, despite what compartmentisation and so on should have controlled, the leadership of the LFB should still have considered "what if" scenarios more in their long-term planning and training, even if this purely gave an indication of when Command for a largescale emergency could justify an order to evacuate. I suspect that those leading on the night were worried of making the situation worse by ordering an evacuation until it got to a point where they had left things too late. Jeffrey (Engineer)

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  • Industry Professional

    As a follow-up to my previous comment, I would like to stress that I think the LFB found themselves in a very difficult, if not impossible situation. They are brave and skilled but not super-human. Hence, as I stated earlier in the year, I think it is unfair if undue criticism is levelled at the LFB when the building's construction, as a result of many financial and some consider political factors, was the primary cause of so many deaths and so much distress. Jeffrey (again)

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  • Thank you, David, for confirming that Studio E's approach was robust, but compromised by cost cutting and an allegedly incompetent cladding design. I too remember the original drawings in the pubic domain.

    Quite frankly, blaming the LFB for this is like blaming the police for crime, but I think that was the purpose of scheduling the inquiry the wrong way around. The systemic failings should have been the starting point for the investigation, in terms of how did a death trap come to be built and managed in this way?

    It is simply not good enough to start fabricating hindsight conjectures about what the LBF should have done on the night. Ordering an evacuation in what should have been a compartmentalised building with one staircase may not have helped matters much—where is the evidence that it would have?

    We need a far more robust and far reaching approach to the next stage of the inquiry that answers these fundamental and far reaching questions. This avoidable tragedy is symptomatic of a broken construction industry and a broken country. This must be redressed fully if there is any hope for the future.

    What the hell was this cladding down on this building in the first place? Who allowed this in the building regulations and certification process? I think BRE and BBA have some very big questions to answer, not to mention the politicians who privatised the former in the first place, which led them to pursue profit over public safety, allegedly. See "BRE unveils five-year plan to double turnover to £80m" by Vikki Miller, Building 16 March 2007.

    We need answers and we need them quickly...get these people into the dock so that they can be cross-examined.

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