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Wednesday 14 June 2017

Grenfell Tower - THEY WERE WARNED

[Update at end of post]

Londoners awoke this morning to find that the Grenfell Tower, a 24-story block located near the Westway and Latimer Road Underground, had suffered a major fire during the night. As many as 40 fire appliances and 200 firefighters attended the blaze, which broke out just before 0100 hours. At least six people are known to have died, with the grim knowledge that “the death toll is likely to rise”.
Grenfell Tower - still ablaze this morning

And while residents, many still in shock, are comforted by their fellow locals, charities and places of worship representing many faiths, the speed at which today’s news media operates means that the questions have begun to be asked. Why did the fire spread so rapidly in a building that had been recently refurbished? And if, as has been suggested, the Grenfell Tower was compartmentalised, why was staying put not a good thing?

That refurbishment is already coming under scrutiny, and for good reason. The external cladding applied to the building we know all too well: it was specified as “Rayondbond”, but this is a mis-spelling. The cladding is called Raynobond (the use of the term “Raynolux”, another trade mark of the same company, gives the game away).

Raynobond, as the blurb confirms, “is an aluminium panel consisting of two coil-coated aluminium sheets that are fusion bonded to both sides of a polyethylene core”. The approval from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to go ahead with refurbishing the Grenfell Tower with this cladding was dated 30th September 2014.

However, and here we encounter a game-changing however, the following November, a building called the Lacrosse Tower, in Melbourne’s Docklands, caught fire. In April 2015, ABC reported thatSubstandard cladding has been blamed for the rapid spread of a fire that caused more than $2 million worth of damage to a high-rise apartment building in Melbourne's Docklands in November”. And what kind of cladding would that have been?

ABC again: “The cheap cladding used on the Lacrosse building, called Alucobest, has aluminium on the outside and polyethylene, or plastic fibre, inside and has been found to be highly flammable … In a CSIRO test of combustibility commissioned by Melbourne's Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Alucobest caught fire in less than a minute … The cladding that should have been used is called Alucobond. It has the same aluminium outside but has a mineral fibre core inside, which is fire resistant”.

The Lacrosse Tower cladding was similar to that applied to the Grenfell Tower. The ABC report ominously observed “Since the Lacrosse fire, it has emerged potentially thousands of buildings in Australia could be covered with the same sort of material”. What rather a lot of UK local authorities might now be wondering, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, is just how many similar refurbishments they may have signed off.

Local action groups had forcefully expressed their concerns about the Grenfell Tower refurbishment. Now, it seems, those concerns were right. The Lacrosse Tower fire was there for all to see, yet buildings like the Grenfell Tower continued to be refurbished, and left with the cladding that was reported to have “gone up like a matchstick”.

And that’s before the effects of fire service cutbacks on building safety inspections. So perhaps those taking the decisions would like to pony up some answers.

[UPDATE 15 June 0840 hours: the BBC is now echoing Zelo Street, and has reported "The cladding installed on Grenfell Tower was also used on other buildings that have been hit by fires around the world, the BBC has learned ... The exterior cladding, added in 2015, had a polyethylene - or plastic - core instead of an even more fireproof alternative, BBC Newsnight understands ... High-rise buildings in France, the UAE and Australia that had similar cladding have all been hit by fires that spread".

In the case of the polyethylene in the cladding, and the buildings in Australia, that would mean following this blog, then. But then the Beeb confirmed my central point.

"Newsnight policy editor Chris Cook said the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was sold under the brand Reynobond ... He said manufacturers offer two different versions of the cladding - one with a plastic core and one with a mineral core ... He said he understood cladding with a plastic core was used in the west London tower".

So there you have it. The BBC confirms the Zelo Street findings. So you read it here first]


Anonymous said...

Fundraising by The Architects' Journal for those affected by this tragedy via @willhurst1


Pendragon said...

Polyethylene (polythene) is a major constituent of the (solid) fuel used in Trident missiles. The fuel's specific impulse (thrust per kilogram) is increased by the addition of aluminium, usually in powder form.

Anonymous said...

The building is still smouldering and blackened on the outside, which indicates the cladding may have played a significant part.

However, that doesn't entirely explain the internal fires and how quickly they spread. Internal compartments look to have been compromised in some fashion. It may also be due to failed/absent fire stops in vertical ducts and the use of inflammable products (wiring/piping etc) running inside them.

From TV pictures it looks as though the fire started in the corner of one of the lower floor levels and quickly shot through most of the rest of the building. The opposite corners seem to be relatively free of damage, at least externally.


1. During original construction and recent renovation works, who was responsible for inspection and signing off the completed works?
2. Who inspected and issued the building's fire certificate?
3. What were the ongoing safety and evacuation procedures and how often were they practised?
4. What role did the property management company play in this and who were the responsible staff?

There are many more.

Yet another tragedy in London.

SimonB said...


Unknown said...

LBC are reporting that it turns out the Government had in their possession a report into Fire Regulations and Safety in tower blocks - ready for Parliamentary Review and Debate.

However - because Theresa May called a totally unnecessary election to further her own ends and this idiotic "strong and stable" mantra - they could not get the review underway because of Election Purdah rules and the dissolving of the Commons.

But it gets more horrific:

Theresa Mays new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, was the minister responsible for a review into fire safety in tower blocks which was delayed with fatal consequences.

Barwell was Housing Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government from June 2016 until he lost his Croydon Central seat last Thursday.

In October 2014, he told Parliament that the Government had committed ourselves to reviewing building regulations relating to fire safety following a fire that killed six people at the Lakanal House tower block in 2009.

But the Fire Risk Management Journal reported in March that no progress had been made with the review in the months following his promise.

When the Journal raised the delay with Barwells department, this is the response they received:

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government declined to give a date for the building regulations review, adding that it will place in due course.
It has also emerged that Barwells predecessor, Brandon Lewis, ignored calls from a coroner to fit all high rise blocks with sprinklers, saying it was not the responsibility of government.

In light of todays tragedy at Grenfell Tower, Barwell, Lewis and the Government have some difficult questions to answer

Fishman Dave said...

I drove past this at 3.30am and was physically shocked. I still am.

My thoughts are with the survivors and the families of the deceased/missing.

There'll be plenty of time to look for blame in the future

Anonymous said...

Whilst the link provided in your piece shows the approval of 'Reynobond' panels, you do not know whether or not their 'A2' fire-resistant variant was used in this application.


Speculation at this point is unhelpful, IMO.

Anonymous said...

I'd be uncomfortable with overt attempts to politicise this while the building's shell is still smoking.
I was therefore pleased that the statements by Mayor Khan and Opposition leader Corbyn struck a sympathetic note.

I hope an enquiry will follow, and any lessons not only learned, but acted upon.

Meanwhile, I hope to read less of the "elf and safety" baiting from tabloid columnists, and hear less contempt for building safety standards form landlord members of parliament.

Dave H said...

Can someone check BBA certification for Raynobond?

Is there a fire safety certificate for use or is this less onerous for external use?

Lessons of revisiting Summerland (IoM) with regard to selection of external cladding, and Ronan Point per management of gas use in high rise buildings.

Anonymous said...

In response to Dave H above:


Anonymous said...

Pendragon wrote .
'Polyethylene (polythene) is a major constituent of the (solid) fuel used in Trident missiles.'

You're thinking of polyethylene glycol which is used as an oxidiser in some solid rockets. Very different stuff.

Polythene is however flammable, how polythene foam was ever passed for use on buildings is a complete mystery to me.

Anonymous said...

Inflammability of the external cladding still doesn't explain how the fire spread so quickly internally.

Also, there should be a decisive inquiry into the grounds for specifying Reynobond in the first place. Which of the two versions is the most expensive? Was cost the only criterion?

The term "value engineering" is much bandied in the construction industry. In practice it all too often means seeking the cheapest product. Little if any value is placed on the safe use of the cheapest alternative. Also, all too often architects and engineers are now simply a drawing office for contractor/developers instead of an independent arbiter of regulations - far too many of them are scared of losing a client to stand their ground when it comes to "controversial" issues.

One of the roots of this horror is the manufactured hysteria about "red tape" that "restricts initiative" for "entrepreneurs". The same kind of hysteria mounted, for instance, against objectors and protestors who oppose fracking and other planning disasters. The same kind of hysteria that saw the abolition of spatial Parker Morris Standards in housing which led to the current fashion for shoe boxes as human habitat.

In such a deliberately corrupted atmosphere convenient compromise is inevitable, as it was in the Hillsborough disaster. It now runs right through every level of society. The only "saving grace" is that the victim families at Grenfell Tower probably won't have to struggle for justice for twenty-seven years, though I wouldn't make book on it.

Gradually it's beginning to dawn on people in a supposedly democratic society that laws are in place for a reason: True democracy is about protecting ALL our citizens. When laws are compromised you get, inevitably, a Grenfell Tower or a Hillsborough or a train disaster or a press hacking malevolence. And because of the compromise there is then a mass of pointing fingers that deflect responsibility everywhere but at the main culprit - which is those who dilute or abolish laws. Mere sophistry abounds, masquerading as "knowledge" or "expertise".

That is the kind of society we have. Tragically, Grenfell Tower is a mere symptom of it.

Anonymous said...

"Also, all too often architects and engineers are now simply a drawing office for contractor/developers instead of an independent arbiter of regulations - far too many of them are scared of losing a client to stand their ground when it comes to "controversial" issues."

I'll second that. I work in rail where we're "fortunate" having gone through Kings Cross far more aware as Client Project Teams of the issues.

However it's easy to see how a Council or TMO may fall for or place too much trust in Contractor self sign.

I've seen Designers under contactor pressure do same as you allude.

I'm only the Clients PM nit a fire engineer but I know enough to ask the right questions and get difficult.

If the political pressure starts that I'm holding up the job I know I can find a seasoned fire engineer to back me up (few and far between hence why perform the first defensive line).

I've noticed with councils I) lack of independent engineers working for councils (budget!) and so many times a QS is Client PM.

No disrespect to QS but they seem to know cost of everything and value of nothing. When you come to PM responsibility for H&S I'm not convinced.

Anonymous said...

These days the only function of a quantity surveyor is to say, "No. It costs too much".

Using them as a project manager is a recipe for shoddy work and an occasional disaster like Grenfell Tower.

Unknown said...

I wonder whether BBA Certs will get the blame for the Grenfell Tower disaster, because they approved cladding panels without testing them for fire in the situation they would be used. I have long argued that they show undu bias in return for fat sums of money. My specialism is waterproof concrete and there are BBA certificates for products that do nothing. But certification is a money tree when specifiers have to use products certified in Britain.
BBA don't appreciate their responsibility. Someone there should go to jail. I hope that the H&S Exec investigates their part in this tragedy thoroughly.
Phil Sacre

Anonymous said...

what happened on the grenfell tower construction site , the u.k health and safety executive on site regulations and site checks done , very very strict about what building material can be used on the construction site . most have to comply with the british standard Institution, some must have know there where sub standard materials