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Grenfell Tower contractor had never novated an architect, inquiry hears

Stephen blake
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The Rydon director leading on the contractor’s Grenfell Tower refurbishment has admitted the company had never previously novated an architect on a project

The inquiry into the 2017 blaze which killed 72 people was also told by Rydon boss Stephen Blake that he thought it was the responsibility of Studio E Architects to arrange and pay for all the specialist fire safety advice.

At the end of his second and final day of giving evidence, Blake said he had been ‘haunted’ by the lack of scrutiny over the cladding and window details, and that he should have been more vigilant over a late switch in insulation material.

Earlier the inquiry had been shown an internal email from a boss at Artelia, the employer’s agent for client the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, saying they had never ’worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’.

On the question of Studio E’s novation and whether Rydon had previous experience of this contractual arrangement, Blake admitted it had been the first time the contractor had employed an architect in this way. He also told the inquiry he had not informed the client of this (see full extract below).

When asked why Rydon had not novated nor entered into a contractual agreement with fire expert Exova, Blake said if Studio E Architects had ’needed further advice from a specialist, then [it was] their remit to get that advice’ and that the architect should pay for it.

However, counsel went on to show emails in which Exova had given advice to the project’s electricians without any contact with or through the architects.

Counsel for the inquiry Richard Millett said: ’Is it right that Rydon and its subcontractors were content to rely on Exova to answer ad hoc questions without needing to trouble the architects and to keep them in the loop to know what was being said and asked?’

Blake replied: ’Yeah, I mean, ideally the architects would have been copied in to that, but I still don’t think that that’s an issue, because it’s M&E.’

Rydon’s refurbishment director was also quizzed about the replacement of Celotex RS5000 insulation with Kingspan Kooltherm K15 towards the end of the project.

The Kingspan insulation was eventually used on about 6.5 per cent of the rainscreen insulation boards installed on the Grenfell Tower. The switch was approved by Rydon colleague David Hughes, despite the inquiry hearing that nobody at the contractor had the technical expertise to know whether designs for Grenfell’s cladding, or materials selected for its insulation of cladding panels, complied with regulations for this project.

According to Kingspan, the insulation was used ‘as part of a combination for which it was not designed, and which Kingspan never recommended’.

Asked whether he took any steps to satisfy himself that Celotex and Kingspan were like-for-like materials in terms of fire resistance, Blake he admitted he hadn’t and ’should have done’. He also said neither he nor anyone at Rydon had talked to Kingspan about the suitability of the product, which had not been specified, for recladding Grenfell Tower. 

Millett said: ’So it would follow from that that you never sought any information or documentation as to the fire performance of this product on this building? 

Blake replied: ’No, I assumed without personally checking that it was a like-for-like product.’ He later added: ’What I should have done is present the choice to the architect. [Having] been given to us by the specialist contractor as an equivalent […] I should have run a process via the architect just to double-check.’ 

Blake also said that Rydon had informed neither the client nor building control of the switch, prompting Millett to ask: ’[So] how could you rely on building control certification that the building was compliant with Building Regulations if you hadn’t told them about the substitution of the insulation and they hadn’t considered it?’

The inquiry continues.

Extracts from Grenfell inquiry (29 July)

Counsel for the inquiry Richard Millett: ’Your experience is , you say, not to have a novated architect in the design and build scenario?’

Stephen Blake: ’That’s my experience, yeah.’

Millett: ’Well, in this case, of course, we know that Studio E were novated to Rydon. Was this the first time you had ever experienced that, on this project?’

Blake: ’That is correct , yeah.’ 

Millett: ’Does that tell us that you, and indeed other people at Rydon, had had no previous experience of how to manage an architect who had become a subconsultant by novation?’

Blake: ’I didn’ t see that that situation was any different to a non-novated architect. It’s employment of a schedule of services. The fact that it’s novated is - that’s the client has wished that architect to stay involved with the project, which made sense to me, in terms of previous knowledge, working with the planners, the building control, the adjacent project. And so although I ’m saying to you that’s unusual to be novated, then -  I saw that as a very logical process.’

Millett: ’Did you ever tell the TMO that the Grenfell Tower project was the first project you and the others on the team involved in it had had of a novation of an architect?’

Blake: ’No, I didn’t, no. Very often , the majority of design and build contracts, the architectural firm that has had the initial contact with the client to -  from the scheme inception to the planning consultation , you’ll be, you know, encouraged to use them as the architect for the construction phase.’

….

Counsel for the inquiry Richard Millett: ’[Was] it your experience that if the novated architect on a design and build felt that they needed specialist fire engineer input , they would go off and retain it themselves, as opposed to coming to you and asking you to retain the fire engineer?’

Blake: ’I would say exactly that.’

Millett: ’Who would pay the fire safety engineer, then, in that situation ?’

Blake: ’They would.’

Millett: ’What say would you have in who it was that they decided to go to and the scope of the appointment?

Blake: ’That’s for them to determine.’

Grenfell feb2020 charts whos blaming who

Grenfell feb2020 charts whos blaming who

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Rydon incl. Rydon Construction, Rydon Homes and Rydon Maintenance established in 1978. It seems highly unusual that a contractor lie Rydons hasn't worked previously with a novated architect, considering this pretty common practice has been around for as long as they have, so far as I'm aware. It would be interesting to hear, here, from any practices that have worked for them

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