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Specified cladding on Grenfell switched to 'cheaper' version

  • 4 Comments

The zinc cladding specified on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was switched to cheaper aluminium panels during the procurement process, according to media reports

Documents seen by the BBC and The Times appear to show that the fireproof cladding called for in Studio E Architects’ original 2012 planning application was effectively downgraded to save around £300,000.

Emails uncovered by the newspaper reveal that housing officials had called for ‘good costs’ to appease council bosses, and that the cladding was changed in 2014 to a less expensive, less fire-resistant aluminium composite.

Some experts have blamed this cladding for the rapid spread of the fire at the 24-storey west London block, thought to have killed around 80 people. Similar cladding on 137 blocks across 41 local authority areas in England, inspected following the Grenfell tragedy, have all failed fire safety tests. 

During the procurement process for the refit and overcladding of the 1974 high-rise, Kensington and Chelsea Council sought to drive down the costs on the project. This had intially been estimated at £11.27 million by contractor Leadbitter in summer 2013.

The council claimed this was too high – ‘£1.6 million above the current, proposed budget’ according to the documents seen by The Times.

The authority later launched an open-market tender process in August 2013 to find ‘a single contractor partner’ to deliver the job, putting a budget of between £8-£10 million on the scheme.

In January 2014, the council granted permission for the designs on the condition that ‘detailed drawings or samples’ of the cladding were approved. Zinc panels are specified in the application.

However, following contractor Rydon’s appointment in June 2014, an updated planning application was submitted with revised drawings showing that aluminium cladding would be used.

A ‘post-tender amendments’ cost analysis, drawn up a month later by project management company Artelia, shows potential savings of £693,161. The biggest single reduction is £293,000 achieved by using aluminium cladding ‘in lieu of zinc’.

The switch, along with other changes including the removal of proposed window louvres, resulted in the budget being cut from £9.2 million to £8.5 million.

During the the two-year build, the project was inspected 16 times by the council. However, it appears, no concerns were raised about either the cladding or the insulation boards behind it.

In July last year, the local authority’s building control manager signed the completion certificate, declaring that the work ’complied with the relevant provisions’ of the building regulations.

Studio E has been contacted for comment.

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • Studio E's comment will hopefully clarify who employed them and how much say they had in the decisions on 'cost engineering' the specs.

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  • @Robert Wakeham, the answer to how much say Studio had is probably as much as most of us in such situations... that is very little... especially when someone has gone to the trouble of a planning amendment specifically to downgrade the cladding (quality if not performance).

    Hopefully the enquiry will address the process euphemistically titled 'value engineering'.

    Most Architect's have had to acquiesce in this out of financial necessity for too long. When someone asks us to make a mousetrap, instead of challenging that, we've been in positions where we've bowed to the tyranny of making the best mousetrap we can on public projects.

    I think the RIBA school hold its own inquiry to feed into the public one and look at issues like this. It will allow architects to re-assert our traditional role of oversight, control and accountability. We'd be in a strong position to argue against the culture of false economies, and contract structures that disperse responsibility under the guise of containing risk.

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  • P Latham

    sorry Robert Wakeham, thats just not good enough. all architects have a duty of care to the public. any architect should have kept an eye on the planning conditions and had a duty to record in writing concerns over fire safety as, the public rightly expects a high standard of expertise from the profession.

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  • P Latham, I'm sure most architects are well aware of their duty of care. We are well regulated and often the first target of criticism. But you are being unrealistic if you imagine we still have the sort of control or visibility of projects that we once had. It's still too early to assess how much the architects were able to influence the final construction specification. We shall see. But the public should also expect a far higher level of duty of care from those who put savings above safety.

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