Socialist Worker

Bosses knew about worries over combustible cladding

Issue No. 2559

People are demanding to know why bosses knowingly used unsafe material

People are demanding to know why bosses knowingly used unsafe material (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The prime suspect for why the Grenfell fire spread so quickly is the cladding used on the building after a refurbishment.

Building firm Rydon was responsible for a £10 million refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in 2014.

It subcontracted out the cladding work to Harley Curtain Wall Limited.

The sort of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels it installed were developed as a form of cheap cladding for buildings. ACM is also potentially flammable.

A Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council planning document from 2014 shows that refurbishment plans originally detailed zinc panel cladding for most of the Grenfell building.

But another council document shows that Harley Curtain Wall was then given the go-ahead to use cheaper Reynobond/Reynolux PE ACM panels.

Cost

They rejected the more fire-resistant of Reynobond’s panels. These cost £24 a square metre.

The more flammable ones cost £22. Making the building less flammable would have cost just £5,000 more than the ones that were used.

Chancellor Philip Hasmmond said on Sunday that the cheaper panels were illegal on a building as high as Grenfell. But there had been no arrests as Socialist Worker went to press.

Harley Curtain Wall fixed the cladding on top of insulation with a 50mm “cavity” gap between them. Last week this could have acted as a chimney for the flames to spread.

In 1991 a fire in Knowsley Heights in Liverpool spread up the cladding and seriously damaged the building.

In an attempt to prevent this happening again horizontal “cavity barriers” were installed at each floor level to stop fire spreading up the cladding—but not at Grenfell.

A 2012 council planning document, with detailed diagrams of the planned new panelling, did not include reference to any barriers.

Between the time of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment and the fire, Harley Curtain Wall Ltd went bust, reportedly owing creditors £1 million. But its former bosses Ray and Belinda Bailey are still making a profit.

Facades

The firm was bought by Harley Facades Ltd, Bailey’s other firm, for £24,900. According to its latest accounts, Harley Facades Ltd has £151,000 in the bank and made £299,000 profit.

Concerns about cladding were known about before the Grenfell fire.

They were highlighted by a parliamentary report into the Garnock Court tower block fire in Irvine, Scotland, in 1999.

It said that the evidence didn’t suggest that “the majority of the external cladding systems” in Britain posed a “serious threat” in the event of fire.

But the report also contained a stark warning—“We do not believe that it should take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the risks.”


Warning from Australia

As similar blaze that that in Grenfell Tower gripped a block of flats in the Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne, Australia, in 2014.

A report by the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Board (MFB) shows what stopped the fire becoming like Grenfell Tower.

The Australian block used similar aluminium composite panels, with a polyethylene inside. Following tests by the MFB the panels were deemed “combustible”.

The MFB report describes how the fire spread to the top floor “within 10 to fiftenn minutes”. But unlike Grenfell Tower the building had sprinklers that went “beyond their deisgn capabilities,” allowing firefighters to use the internal hydrant and sprinklers.

The report warns, “The water supply on other buildings cannot eb reasonably expected to enable the sprinkler system to perform in this manner.

In England sprinklers are required only in in new towers higher than 30 meters.


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