Grenfell Tower: Cladding ‘changed to cheaper version’

Memorial wall for Grenfell Tower

Cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, documents obtained by the BBC suggest.

Documents show the aluminium cladding was less fire-resistant than zinc, thereby saving nearly £300,000.

The cladding – fitted as part of the refurbishment of the west London tower – is thought to have contributed to the fire that killed at least 80 people.

There is no suggestion a deliberate decision was made to cut fire safety.

Failed safety tests

In 2014, contractors working for Kensington and Chelsea Council were asked to replace zinc cladding with a more economical aluminium version.

Police investigating the disaster have said the tower’s cladding has subsequently failed safety tests.

One of the documents obtained by the BBC is a list of requested savings sent to contractors in July 2014, including £293,368 that would be saved by fitting “aluminium cladding in lieu of zinc cladding”.

The switch allowed for a change of colour, but the BBC has been told another key reason was to save money.

Earlier planning documents suggest the original plan was for zinc cladding with a fire-retardant core.

Residents had also been told their new cladding would be made of zinc. Both types of cladding have the same fire official rating.

Reduce building costs

The savings were part of an ongoing effort by the council and the local tenant management organisation to drive down the cost of the £10m refurbishment.

A source close to one of the many companies involved in the project said the change was typical of constant pressure by councils to reduce the costs of building refurbishments.

Council minutes from 2013 show dissatisfaction with the initially-preferred contractor for not keeping the scheme within budget.

Further bids were invited, and this led to the appointment of a different contractor in 2014 which was then asked to make savings including on the cladding.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has promised to co-operate fully with all investigations into the fire.

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