Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building

News

Grenfell: No ‘considered’ approach to sprinklers after Lakanal

22 October 2020
Peter Maddison

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) had no “considered approach” to retrofitting its housing stock, including Grenfell Tower, with sprinklers despite a recommendation by the coroner on the Lakanal House fire to do so, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

The Lakanal House fire, in a 14-storey tower block, took place eight years before the Grenfell Tower disaster, on 3 July 2009. Six people died.

Lead counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC asked Peter Maddison, a director of the TMO at the time of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, if he had been involved in discussions about what to do about the Lakanal Coroner’s recommendations.

Maddison said he remembered a conversation at a health and safety committee meeting, but couldn’t remember when it took place.

The TMO’s health and safety and facilities manager Janice Wray produced a briefing note on the Lakanal House fire in June 2013. There was a prosecution of Southwark Council in relation to the fire in 2007 and in a meeting on 16 March 2017 that prosecution was discussed. The minutes stated: “It was noted we [RBKC TMO] were compliant with the offences for which Southwark had been prosecuted.”

Millett asked Maddison if he knew at any time between June 2013 and 18 June 2017 that retrofitting sprinklers was one of the recommendations made by the coroner at Lakanal?

Maddison replied: “I was aware of that.”

Maddison added that he also remembered having a conversation with Wray following the Southampton fire inquest in relation to sprinklers, as well as taking advice from the London Fire Brigade.

Millett asked: “So did you give consideration to retrofitting sprinklers in your housing stock?”

Maddison replied: “I think there was a consideration given to it and we had a conversation with the fire brigade, who gave certain recommendations…in relation to sprinklers…it was a very complicated issue that hadn’t been given full consideration.”

Millett appeared to prompt Maddison on what he meant by full consideration.

Maddison said: “In a practical sense. In terms of…how that would be designed and how that could be delivered and how it could be afforded. The fire brigade…wasn’t saying specifically that we needed to install them at this stage, but it was a recommendation from the Inquiry that needed some consideration.”

Millett asked if money was a stumbling block in the decision not to retrofit sprinklers once the TMO had seen the recommendations from the coroner at Lakanal.

Maddison said: “I don’t think we ever got as far as getting a full cost of what it would be, and I think some of the other issues were the practical issues of how to do it, and so there wasn’t a full considered approach to our strategy in relation to sprinklers.”

He went on: “I think this was an issue of strategy. So, in a way, part of the work that I was doing when I first arrived at the TMO was to put in place an asset management strategy which set the parameters within which we would be investing in the stock, and with that, we were in dialogue with the council about the level of investment needed and what the priorities were. At that time, I think we were looking at ensuring that the passive elements of fire safety were in operation, and particularly on Grenfell, the AOV [automatic opening vents] there was beyond economic repair, and so the priority was really to make sure that what was there was put back in working order. There wasn’t consideration that I can remember when I was on the project in relation to fitting sprinklers.”

He added that the TMO “probably needed to do a lot of feasibility work in terms of understanding how it could be done and how much it would cost”.

Millett asked to what extent the fact that sprinklers were not legal required was a factor for the TMO in deciding what to do following the Lakanal coroner’s recommendations in June 2013.

Maddison said: “The priority at that time was really about making sure that what was currently there was compliant and the focus hadn’t really moved on to the opportunities of installing sprinkler systems at that time.”

Cladding

On the subject of cladding, Millett asked Maddison if he recalled there being any discussions about the external wall build-up of Lakanal House contributing to the fire there. Maddison replied that he did.

Millett asked: “Did you consider that the lessons from the Lakanal House fire might be relevant to the project you were overseeing?”

Maddison said: “I don’t remember a specific reference back to Lakanal House, but my focus was really on ensuring that the works that were carried out to Grenfell Tower complied with the regulation… I didn’t specifically reference that back to Lakanal House.”

Millett went on: “Did you ever connect the dots and think that the lessons and experiences from Lakanal House might be relevant learning points in relation to the safety of the cladding at Grenfell?

Maddison said: “Well, I was conscious that Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower were very different constructions, and so my reference points were really towards other similar buildings that had had similar treatment.”

The Inquiry continues.

Comments

The RBKTMO as Client say they focussed on Passive Fire Protection rather than also adopting an ‘Optional Sprinkler System.’If this is the case how on earth did this focus allow the adoption of the flawed fire compliant cladding system that led to multiple deaths.
Peter Anderson

Peter Anderson, 23 October 2020