Grenfell Inquiry told cladding was put on doomed tower to “prevent it looking like a poor cousin” to new buildings nearby

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

It was hoped putting cladding on Grenfell Tower “would prevent it looking like a poor cousin” to a new academy school and leisure centre built close by, the inquiry into the 2017 fire has heard.

A document by Kensington and Chelsea council employee Jane Trethewey about the redevelopment of the 1970s-built tower block heard that Kensington and Chelsea’s Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), which had responsibility for the council’s housing, wanted to clad it for that reason.

Ultimately flammable cladding was put on the outside of the 24-storey tower with tragic consequences, when 72 people died in the fire at the north Kensington block in June 2017.

The council document reads: “TMO was keen to look at cladding Grenfell Tower and replacing the windows.

“This would have the advantage of addressing the investment needs of one of its worst property assets and prevent it looking like a poor cousin to the brand new facility being developed next door.”

It was hoped the work on the tower would complement the new Kensington Aldridge Academy and a new leisure centre nearby.

Mark Anderson, the TMO’s interim asset management and engineering manager at the time, said comments about the tower looking like a poor cousin came from architects Studio E or Kensington and Chelsea council, which owned it.

He said he did not think it was a concern of housing portfolio holder Cllr Timothy Coleridge.

Mr Anderson said: “I would not say it was a concern, it was a desire that whatever was done to Grenfell Tower reflected well on the broader community.”

He said there was no pressure “to drive down the budget”.

Mr Anderson said Grenfell resident Ed Daffarn said they had little say on the academy and leisure centre design and “he wanted to ensure the same didn’t happen with Grenfell Tower”.

The previous day – Monday – the Inquiry heard that TMO employee, Paul Dunkerton, had referred to Mr Daffarn, as “one of two main antagonists” on the Lancaster West Estate regarding Grenfell Tower.

Mr Daffarn, who escaped his flat on the 16th floor, frequently raised concerns about the project in the Grenfell Action Group blog. A post in 2016 warned about fire concerns.

Mr Dunkerton, who was involved in admin for the project for the TMO, told the Inquiry his “choice of words was not great. But that they were more vocal than other residents and leaseholders in the tower”.

Mr Daffarn is now a leading light in the bereaved and survivors group Grenfell United’s campaign to remove unsafe cladding from buildings throughout the UK.

The Inquiry heard on Monday that residents were given a questionnaire about the insulation cladding for the outside of the building.

Mr Dunkerton said different colour samples of cladding were available for residents “to feel and touch” at several meetings.

However just one resident turned up to one evening consultation meeting in July 2012. However a newsletter for residents in August stated: “There were no concerns from residents about cladding the building”.

Mr Dunkerton said this would also include views shared in other parts of the consultation.

Residents were asked if they wanted the cladding to be “colourful, robust, white aluminium, not reflective, or leave as is.”

The newsletter said there was “no clear opinion about the colour or type of cladding”.

However the inquiry heard that residents were not asked about the type of cladding.

Mr Dunkerton said: “There were different types of cladding they were invited to feel, touch and express their opinion on.”

The inquiry continues.

Pictured top: Grenfell Tower (Picture: PA)

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