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Grenfell: Client rejected design adviser role despite VE changes

8 October 2020

The client for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment opted not to spend £30,000 on design advice even though the project was likely to undergo significant value engineering work, the inquiry into the 2017 fire has heard.

Philip Booth, at the time a senior project manager with consultant Artelia, which was working for the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants’ Management Organisation (TMO), said he had spoken with the Grenfell landlord about providing a client design adviser (CDA) role on the scheme.

In January 2014, Booth emailed colleague Simon Cash, cost consultant on the Grenfell project, to say the TMO project manager Claire Williams had asked Artelia “to put forward a proposal for the CDA role”.

“She was recognising that she may need some support and wanted us to – and she was considering others, and she wanted Artelia to put forward a proposal to fulfil that role,” he added.

Asked by inquiry counsel Kate Grange if he encouraged the TMO to appoint a CDA, Booth replied: “I certainly made her aware of our proposal and felt that it was something that, if she didn’t take up, then she needed to understand what she was taking on as a responsibility.”

Grange added: “On a project like this, that underwent quite a significant value engineering exercise, was that perhaps another reason why a client design adviser would be a good idea?

“Yes, I think that’s fair to say,” Booth said.

In the event, the TMO decided not to appoint the CDA. “They were very much about, ‘Do we need this role?’” Booth said. “You know, it’s 30 grand or whatever it was.”

Value engineering

Grange then moved on to the appointment of main contractor Rydon, in March 2014, and the value engineering design decisions that followed, including in relation to the cladding.

She asked Booth: “Was there any process, as far as you were concerned, to assess the impact of changing the design as a result of the value engineering that was done?”

“All of the professional team were engaged in the value engineering exercises, as well as Rydon, when there were 11 on board,” he explained. “So I think all of the – it was a very collaborative piece of work to review what could be value engineered and what couldn’t.”

“Was there an assessment done of the potential changes in terms of value engineering and any reduction in quality that would result?” Grange asked.

“The proposals might be identified by somebody and it’s put forward, and then what’s different in the proposal should be highlighted so that you can make an informed decision on the overall,” explained Booth. “And that process was worked through with the design team.

“But the onus of what are the changes in terms of quality is from whoever’s putting forward that proposal.”

Grange then asked if there was any specific assessment of the potential value engineering changes in terms of risk to safety.

Booth answered: “So, there was lots of discussion around changes, but it was always, you know, assumed and implied that design – everything put forward would need to be safe, that’s implicit, you know.”

Change control process

The inquiry counsel then asked Booth if there was “a change control process in place so that a qualified designer considered the impact of, for example, the change in the choice of cladding materials?”

He replied that he thought there was. “We were working collaboratively, all together in terms of what value engineering was taken forward,” Booth said.

“But the, you know, responsibility of design and safety, you know, it was always – you know, so for the cladding example, all of the debates about changes were all around aesthetics or fixing and planning. They were never around: is it going to be fire compliant or is it safe? Because that’s just a given, that designers have to design to the, you know, health and safety requirements of the time.”

Grange noted that in an email dated 24 October 2014, Simon Lawrence, the former Rydon contracts manager in charge of the Grenfell scheme, had proposed a tracker spreadsheet for project changes.

She added: “We can see he [Lawrence] has said there that Rydon don’t have a specific document to record change because it’s normally done via email records, RFIs, drawings. Would you have expected Rydon to have had a way of formally recording and managing design decisions?”

Booth replied: “I think what – RFIs is usually the methodology that contractors use, which stands for request for information, but it can become quite a clunky and administratively, you know, burdensome process.

“And I get what he was talking about there on refurbishments, because sometimes, you know, there are uncertainties, you find something and you need a maybe sort of faster answer than on a new-build. So I supported his proposal of a simple change tracker to help with keeping an audit trail of what was needed, when.”

The Inquiry continues.

Comments

I can’t quite believe what I have been reading here. If the reportage is correct, then there appear to have been some fundamentals missing from the management of this project. Certainly the true function of “value engineering” does seem to have been misunderstood by key players.

In particular, I note the statement “But the onus of what are the changes in terms of quality is from whoever’s putting forward that proposal”, which is surely incorrect. Expecting any change proposal to be self-audited by the proposer, especially in terms of quality and safety, is high risk and something that should never be adopted. I have generally worked in environments where change proposals are challenged across the team, and thoroughly scrutinized by the relevant discipline experts.

Another puzzling comment is “RFIs … can become quite a clunky and administratively, you know, burdensome process” and “So I supported his proposal of a simple change tracker to help with keeping an audit trail”. RFI’s may be considered burdensome, but the comprehensive management of them is a part what the whole project delivery team gets paid for. And again, to consider that a “simple change tracker” would “help” does not align with the fundamental requirement for the robust and effective management of RFI’s, together the associated responses and all other change documentation.

John Hudson, 8 October 2020

It would be interesting to know whether there was a value management process properly set up at the outset of the project.

John Nixon, 8 October 2020

I am puzzled as to why the project manager has so far apparently not mentioned the role of the CDMC. So far, the involvement of the CDM Co-ordinator and the CDM Reg’s 2007 procedures/roles on the project have not come to light, unless I am mistaken. Design Risk Management is a crucial part of the role of all “Designers” on a project – a role, which, according to the reg’s, is the responsibility of any person who prepares or modifies a design on a project.

Andy Mann, 10 October 2020

Am I missing something. Who was the designated Client, ? who was the designated Principal Designer ? who was the designated Principal Contractor ?under CDM.
Without going into details it appears that The CONSTRUCTION DESIGN AND MANAGEMENT Regulations have not been complied with or if they have they have been completely ineffective.
Peter Anderson

Peter Anderson, 11 October 2020

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