John Rowan & Partners boss says ‘too many experts’ would have been required to check compliance with all Building Regulations

The boss of the consultant hired to provide clerk of works services for Grenfell Tower’s ill-fated refurbishment has said it was “crystal clear” the project client was getting a more limited site-inspection service, the probe into 2017’s fire has heard.

Gurpal Virdee, who is managing partner at property and construction consultancy John Rowan & Partners, said he believed that Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation was fully aware that it was not buying an end-to-end service from the firm.

Gurpal Virdee of John Rowan & Partners

Gurpal Virdee of John Rowan & Partners

Virdee, who was head of building and surveying at JRP at the time of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, said he had been involved with the firm’s bid after KCTMO launched an invitation to tender for two clerk of works roles on the project.

JRP ended up supplying a specialist mechanical and electrical systems clerk of works – Tony Batty – and a general building clerk of works, Jonathan White, to the TMO. They worked on the project for around 80 days in total, by agreement with the client, sometimes only for one day a week.

White’s evidence to the hearing on Thursday and Virdee’s evidence today was that the TMO had procured clerks of works to act as site inspectors, rather than procuring a “traditional” end-to-end clerk of works service for the entire duration of the project.

Virdee was today quizzed about the firm’s role and its responsibilities and pointed to the letter of appointment received by JRP from KCTMO that referred to “site monitoring and supervision services” for the Grenfell refurbishment project.

He said it was “crystal clear” to him that the TMO was procuring qualified clerks of works to act as site inspectors to provide the site monitoring and supervision services.

“I would read that as a clerk of works providing site-monitoring and supervision services,” he said.

“This is a debate that rages on with clients – clerk of works/site inspectors – and has been going on since I’ve been involved in this line of work. It comes up probably every couple of weeks as to whether you should say site inspector or clerk of works.

“When I read the brief, I’m clear in my mind that they’ve asked for a clerk of works to provide site monitoring and supervision services.”

Virdee said that JRP – whose bid proposed billing KCTMO £479 a day for each clerk of works it provided – said the roles would be limited because Grenfell refurbishment main contractor Rydon had been awarded a design and build contract and was responsible for the quality of its finished work.

He said the roles of JRP’s inspectors in relation to compliance was to walk around the site on their weekly visits and report on what they saw.

“I would expect us to walk around, get a general feel for what the client has asked us to do, and prepare a report,” he said.

Virdee said the firm would have needed “too many experts” to confirm everything that formed part of the project complied with all aspects of Building Regulations.

“The best we can do is ask the question ‘have you guys checked that it’s compliant and have building control approved it,’” he said.

Inquiry barrister Rose Grogan asked Virdee what value JRP was adding if all it was doing was checking that all compliance questions had been answered.

He said KCTMO had asked the firm to inspect the site and report on “five or six different aspects of the project” and identify any issues found.

“The reports, to be fair, do pick up issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

“Part of it, also, was to engage with the residents in terms of dealing with their issues, and there were issues.

“It’s a disruptive programme of works and the client had asked for Jon [White] to either attend meetings with residents who may have had issues with works going on and they were there to help the process. So the value is there.”

Virdee said JRP had brought in Batty to act as a specialist M&E clerk of works because the consultancy did not have in-house capacity. But he said he felt White had met KCTMO’s requirements for a clerk of works with knowledge of external cladding work.

He said that if KCTMO had asked for an expert façade engineer to check the external cladding, it would have “raised a red flag” in his mind, because he would have been unsure whether JRP had such a person in-house.

The inquiry continues.