‘We wouldn’t have asked that question,’ contracts manager tells inquiry
The main contractor on the Grenfell recladding project did not check whether architect Studio E had the relevant knowledge for the project, its contracts manager has said.
Simon Lawrence also admitted he had not known at the time it was novated that the architect had never worked on a high-rise residential scheme before.
Lawrence (pictured), who was Rydon’s senior manager on the Grenfell refurbishment, was giving evidence to the inquiry into the events leading to the deaths of 72 people in June 2017. He is due to resume his evidence at 10am this morning, with the whole of this week slated for testimony from Rydon staff.
Inquiry barrister Richard Millett QC spent some time asking Lawrence about how Rydon procured its design team and drew up its schedule of services in 2014.
Lawrence explained that Studio E was chosen because it had already been working for the client, RBKC’s tenant management organisation, on Grenfell Tower and on an adjacent project, a £40m school and leisure centre known as KALC.
Lawrence said: “So you would expect a due diligence there; they were also working with, again, a much larger contractor on a much larger project next door. I think to ask for a specialism in residential high-rise overcladding, I don’t know, but I would imagine there were very few and far between architects that specialise in that.”
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Millett asked whether he or Rydon took any steps to investigate and satisfy themselves that Studio E understood the statutory requirements and industry guidance about cladding.
Lawrence responded: “We wouldn’t have asked that question. No, we wouldn’t have asked that question. But you would expect an architect to have an understanding of the products that they are specifying and designing.”
See box below for full exchange
Millett also asked whether they had satisfied themselves that Studio E was “competent and sufficiently resourced” for the job. Lawrence said there was a process but that another department would have responsible. There would also have been due diligence before they were added to Rydon’s preferred suppliers list, he said.
Millett also asked whether Lawrence or anybody else at Rydon had checked what resources Studio E was able to devote to the project.
Lawrence said: “When you say check, you know, we knew we had – I had been to visit them, we had, you know, we had done – I’m not sure we asked them if they’ve got 10 people and they’ve got 10 people free and they’re not working on any other projects, no, we wouldn’t have been as specific as that, but we would also have expected that if they can’t continue with the project because they haven’t got the resources, for them to be telling us of that. I think it’s – I think by the fact you’re contracting with someone, you’re taking it as read that they’ve got the resources to be able to carry out the works.”
Asked about Rydon’s due diligence into Studio E’s experience of high-rise residential overclads, Lawrence said: “I don’t think it would be unusual that you’ve got a – you know, we knew they were a reasonably large firm at the time before they changed. We knew they were working for tier 1, tier 2 principal contractors next door to Grenfell. You know, we knew that they were doing cladding on that process. So, from a – observing what they had – what they were doing at the time, it didn’t raise any concerns.”
Millett also questioned him about changes Studio E architect Bruce Sounes had suggested to Rydon’s standard form on 30 April 2014. He could not explain why this wasn’t signed until a year later after Lawrence had left Rydon in 2015.
The inquiry also heard that Sounes’ replacement as architectural lead on the project, Neil Crawford, had an informal discussion with Lawrence about design responsibility which left Crawford surprised that Studio E had less design work to do than would be normal under the RIBA plan of work. He said Studio E’s role after novation was limited to responding to specific queries.
Lawrence said he had no memory of this conversation.
The inquiry is expected to last for 18 months.
Extract from Simon Lawrence’s evidence
Richard Millett QC: Now, in your statement you say that Rydon didn’t have in-house design expertise, and it’s something that you confirmed to us this morning in your evidence. Can I ask you to look at the Rydon company statement… and ask you to look, please, at paragraph 390 on that page. It says there: “As set out above, RML [Rydon] would rely on Harley [Facades] and, following the novation of its appointment to RML, Studio E to advise on the appropriate design for the façade including for cavity barriers. Was that your understanding?
Simon Lawrence: Yes.
Q. Did you understand what was actually involved in the process of ensuring compliance with the Building Regulations when assessing the appropriate design for the façade?
A. I would understand that to be that it goes through the relevant parties that we’ve contracted to or employed, so ie Harleys produced their drawings, it goes to Studio E, Studio E will comment and then it will go to a final sign-off with Building Control.
Q. I see. Did you ever yourself consider what kind of expertise was required in order that Studio E would be able competently to advise on the appropriate design for the façade?
A. Well, Harleys would do the fabrication and technical part of that. When their drawings and information went to Studio E, I would expect them to be able to highlight any obvious failures or obvious issues within that, and anywhere that they weren’t sure about, to check with Building Control.
Q. Let me see if I can get at this another way. The company statement says that RML were relying on Studio E to advise on the appropriate design for the façade. What precise expertise did Rydon expect Studio E to have in order to enable them to give competent advice on that subject?
A. That they were a competent architectural practice.
Q. Is that it?
Q. What due diligence did you do into Studio E’s expertise in respect of the appropriate design for the façade for this building?
A. That I did personally?
Q. Let’s start with you personally.
A. I think I would have taken it on the assumption that they had been involved for the last two years working for the client, working the design up. Like I said earlier, we knew that they were contracted to a much larger contractor on a much larger project next door that also had façade and cladding works, albeit not high-rise.
Q. Next door being KALC [Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre]?
Q. KALC wasn’t a high-rise building, was it?
A. No, that’s right, that’s what I just said, no.
Q. And it wasn’t a residential high-rise building, was it?
A. It wasn’t, no, but it had cladding on it and a façade on it.
Q. Do we take it from the answer you’ve just given us, that you would have taken it on the assumption that they had been involved, that you didn’t actually investigate Studio E’s expertise to be able to advise on the appropriate design for the façade, but merely assumed by virtue of the novation and their prior involvement that they did have the expertise?
Q. Did you take any steps to verify the quality of Studio E’s pre-novation work?
A. By the fact that our trusted specialist supply chain had seen and were – and would comment on, or I would expect to comment on, if there was any obvious issues, and the fact that they were taking that design forwards.
Q. Who was your trusted specialist supply chain in the context of that last answer?
A. Harley Curtain Walling.
Q. From the point at which you became involved in the project, indeed Rydon became involved in the project, what examination or investigation had Harley done into Studio E’s pre-novation work on the design of the façade?
A. Well, they would have had all the details, they would have had all the tender documents, they would have had all the tender drawings. So did we specifically ask them that question? Probably not. Probably not as directly as that, no.
Q. Were you aware that Studio E had never previously been involved in projects involving a high-rise residential and overcladding project?
A. Not – no, I wouldn’t have been aware of that, no.
Q. You say you wouldn’t have been aware of it; why wouldn’t you have been aware of it?
A. Because … because we didn’t ask the question as directly as you’ve just put it.
Q. Was it not important to you, taking over the project and becoming the design and builder, and having taken over the architectural expertise, as it were, from Studio E, to satisfy yourselves that what Studio E had done so far was not only competent, but something which they had the relevant experience to do?
A. Well, it wasn’t a fully developed design, and I – sorry, apologies for repeating myself, but we had a specialist subcontractor that would be looking at that design and would be finalising that design.
Q. Did you ever ask Harley at the start of the project to investigate what Studio E had done, check its quality, and report to you on whether or not that quality of the work up to date was satisfactory?
A. Not in a question like that, no. No.
Q. Why is that?
A. It would probably be assumed.
Q. I see. Did you take any steps to satisfy yourself that Studio E had the right people, fully qualified with experience in overcladding a high-rise residential building?
Q. Why is that?
A. Because for the same reason as I have stated previously, they have been working on the project for the last several years; they have been appointed by the client, so you would expect a due diligence there; they were also working with, again, a much larger contractor on a much larger project next door. I think to ask for a specialism in residential high-rise overcladding, I don’t know, but I would imagine there were very few and far between architects that specialise in that.
Q. Would it follow from that, Mr Lawrence, and everything you have been saying before that, that you personally or Rydon generally never took any steps to investigate and satisfy yourselves that Studio E were fully conversant with the statutory requirements and related industry guidance about cladding?
A. We wouldn’t have asked that question. No, we wouldn’t have asked that question. But you would expect an architect to have an understanding of the products that they are specifying and designing.
Q. Was there ever a time when you came to understand exactly what experience in overcladding high-rise residential buildings Studio E did or didn’t have?
A. Not that I recall, no.