Grenfell was building control officer’s first high-rise recladding
The local authority building control officer responsible for inspecting the Grenfell Tower refurbishment had no previous experience of an overcladding project on an occupied high-rise residential building, it emerged yesterday.
John Hoban, who retired from his role at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) in March 2017, was speaking at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry during an often emotional session where he described the pressures of the job while the block’s refurbishment was taking place.
The local authority surveyor, who started work with Kensington & Chelsea’s building control department in 1986, said he had worked previously on high-rise flat refurbishments in tower blocks and on hotel rooms, but not a project like Grenfell.
Hoban, an associate member of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers, said he was tracking “120 to 130 projects” at the time the recladding work was carried out between 2014 and 2016. A restructuring in 2013 had reduced the number of building control officers in his department from 12 to five.
This “was mainly to do with cuts, austerity cuts,” Hoban added, who quit his position as senior building control surveyor shortly afterwards.
“I resigned because I had enough,” he said. “I wasn’t able to do the job that… how I was trained to do, and it was affecting my health, and I just decided that I didn’t want to work there anymore.”
Hoban, who said he was also acting as carer for his mother at the time, added: “As time progressed, I wasn’t able to do, as I mentioned, I wasn’t able to do the job the way I wanted to do it. I wasn’t visiting certain jobs – I was making sort of judgements on who to visit, on who to write to, sort of confirm things.
“So you’re making judgements on sort of the level of supervision, the standard of workmanship, whether you worked with particular people in the past and whether you considered that they were doing what they needed to do.”
At the time of the Grenfell refurbishment in May 2014, other projects underway in the borough included the £40m Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre, where two Grenfell firms were also involved: Studio E as architect and Exova as fire consultant.
Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked Hoban: “Was the RBKC building control department swamped?”
After a pause, Hoban replied: “I would say for me personally, I was having to come in at weekends in order to deal with the academy and the leisure centre because it was a new-build and there was quite a lot to look at. So it was challenging. I was doing my own area and, as I say, I was doing those two major projects, and the demands… the contractors were looking for… I spent a lot of time looking at those particular projects.”
Studio E relationship
Millett probed Hoban about his relationship with Studio E and the building control officer admitted he did not know the architect had never worked on an external overclad of a high-rise building.
“On Studio E, were you a little bit softer on them than you otherwise might have been because of your relationship?” Millett asked.
“No, no,” replied Hoban, “but, as I say, I’d worked with them for quite a considerable time on the academy, and I considered that architects would – it was reasonable to expect that they would know and understand Building Regulations.”
Millett also questioned Hoban about the switch to ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding on the Grenfell refurbishment project, which was inconsistent with earlier drawings.
“Given that you had seen that ACM was on the building, having been told in the drawings – and we saw the south elevation – in the September of 2014 that it was going to be zinc, did it not make you wonder what else Studio E or Rydon hadn’t told you about the external façade and its make-up?” the QC questioned.
“At the time it didn’ t register,” said Hoban.
“Should it have done?” asked Millett.
“In hindsight, yes,” admitted Hoban. “What I would say, I’d worked with a lot of the professionals on this project on the other schemes, and I had a confidence in them, you know, the architects and the various other professionals and Exova.”
Millett told Hoban that the Kensington TMO, Studio E, main contractor Rydon and façade contractor Harley all said that they “relied on building control to ensure that the refurbishment complied with the Building Regulations”. He then asked: “My question is: did you yourself appreciate, at the time of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment and your role in it, that those parties involved in the refurbishment project viewed building control in that way?”
“No”, answered Hoban.
The Inquiry continues.