A Tory councillor overseeing the Grenfell Tower refurbishment waded into a debate about switching to cheaper, combustible cladding only to say he didn’t like a “champagne” colour.
Rock Hugo Basil Feilding-Mellen is the former deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council in west London.
In 2014 he was involved in the deliberations that saw the cladding switched from zinc to flammable aluminium composite material. This was to save around £500,000 to keep the refurbishment within a tight budget.
Feilding-Mellen told the Grenfell injury this week that he was forced into the debate because of residents’ complaints about the delayed start of the refurbishment. Yet emails show he was rejecting proposals for the “champagne” choice of cladding—instead preferring “brushed aluminium” or “battleship grey”.
Counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC asked, “Why didn’t you ask any questions about other properties of the cladding apart from colour?”
Feilding-Mellen replied, “Because the issue at hand which was causing delay was a disagreement over the colour of the cladding.”
Feilding-Mellen previously told police he was not aware of the switch until after the fire. But an email showed he was told by a manager from the building's management—the TMO—in July 2014 about hopes “to achieve savings”.
“Did anybody express any concerns about fire safety, in respect of the choice of cladding?” asked Millett.
“It was never raised to me that there was any question of fire safety in this discussion,” replied Feilding-Mellen.
“It was never raised to me that there was any question of fire safety in this discussion."Rock Feilding-Mellen
This week a small number of bereaved and survivors were permitted into the inquiry for the first time since the pandemic hit.
Outside, protesters dubbed Feilding-Mellen “Rock the Fellon-Mellen” and were angry about the lack of qualifications he had. They said he was only a top councillor because it was his “birth right” to climb the Tory career ladder.
Loud and furious chants of, “Blood on your hands,” and, “Jail time” for Feilding-Mellen and former council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown rang out.
“This fight will not end until there is justice,” one protester said. “Justice is jail time.”
The inquiry heard how Feilding-Mellen “queried increasing the budget provision for improving Grenfell Tower”.
He told the inquiry, “I think it would have been remiss of me not to ask why it was going to cabinet asking for an increase of over 50 percent. It’s public money.”
Yet when Feilding-Mellen heard of plans to refurbish Grenfell in 2012, he questioned whether this would “hinder or obstruct any future potential regeneration” of Lancaster West estate.
He had proposed knocking down the tower to build mixed tenure housing. And he described the building as a “blight” on the visual appeal of the area.
But he claimed this week he was attempting to help the council “play its part in trying to increase the amount of affordable housing”.
Another email was also shown from a councillor who noted that there was not enough money to refurbish Grenfell Tower. Feilding-Mellen suggested the council should “look fundamentally at the speed of rent increases”.
Other emails from July 2017 contained London Fire Brigade documents. One passage said that councillors should not “make assumptions” that fire safety is being managed.
Feilding-Mellen claimed this week to have thought “the relevant expertise” would be involved in the project.
“On what you told us this morning, Mr Feilding-Mellen, you were making exactly the assumption that this document advised you should not make,” said Millett.
“That appears to be the case,” said Feilding-Mellen.
He was asked what he would change about his actions leading up to the fire. Feilding-Mellen said, “Based on the information I had and given what I considered my roles to be, I really don’t know what I could have done differently.”
Outside, protester Moyra said, “We won’t remain silent. Loved ones died needlessly for profit. It’s been nearly four years and there’s been little progress for justice or change.”
And protester Pat drew attention to the fact that RBKC’s legal fees come from council tax—paid for by residents.
Another protester, Sarah, said, “We cannot trust this system. David Cameron oversaw a bonfire of regulations.
“Boris Johnson was the mayor of London who closed ten fire stations. Tory cuts kill. They’ve killed and will kill again.”
The inquiry continues.