Backlog of fire safety actions ‘unresolved for months by Grenfell landlords’

·3-min read

A backlog of high-risk fire safety actions on buildings run by Grenfell Tower’s landlords went unresolved for up to a year beyond when they should have been tackled, an inquiry heard.

The public inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire heard how the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) struggled to complete fire risk assessment (FRA) actions identified by its fire assessor within the recommended timeframe.

Consultancy firm Salvus was contracted by the TMO in September 2009 to carry out FRAs on housing stock deemed high risk that the TMO ran for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

On Tuesday, the inquiry heard that this programme concluded on May 2010, but minutes from a TMO health and safety committee meeting in January 2012 said a “significant number” of FRA-related actions remained “outstanding”.

Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said such items were meant to be resolved within three months, or a plan of action agreed within six months, but the TMO was “still having a problem in completing FRA actions from that programme over a year and a half later”.

Cross-examining Janice Wray, the TMO’s former health and safety and facilities manager, he asked her if she could explain why any items at all remained outstanding as of May 2010.

“No I can’t,” she replied.

She agreed with Mr Millett when he asked her if by “even taking the latest date, you were 12 months behind in completing some of the FRA actions?”

Then he asked: “Were you concerned by that?”

Ms Wray replied: “Absolutely.”

The inquiry heard that in her role at the time, Ms Wray would log FRAs as they came in, with relevant colleagues informed if they had allocated actions and she would chase them on progress.

In her statement to the inquiry, Ms Wray noted it could be “challenging” to get FRA actions resolved and was given a “variety of explanations” as to why they could not be completed.

On Tuesday, Ms Wray said she meant the experience was “frustrating”, adding: “I was chasing people and meeting the team leaders… and escalating further up the organisation.

“Sometimes it felt that things were still not moving as quickly as they should,” she said, adding: “It’s frustration in that it’s out of my control, yet I really need to try and achieve it.”

She said delays could be linked to the “performance of contractors”, adding: “Sometimes it was that contractors were getting towards the end of their contract and were sort of a bit disinterested and (it was) quite challenging to get them to do what they required to do by the contract.”

Ms Wray said there seemed to be “an endless series of reasons” for the backlog, to which Mr Millett replied: “They sound like excuses rather than reasons.”

“I can only tell you what I was told,” she replied.

Mr Millett asked if there was a problem that people “weren’t taking it seriously”, but Ms Wray said she did not think this was the case.

The inquiry also saw minutes from a meeting of the TMO’s assets, regeneration, repairs and health and safety group, which showed that a “significant number” of FRA actions remained outstanding, which was “a cause for concern”.

Mr Millett asked if it was fair to say that for the entirety of 2012, a significant number of FRA actions remained outstanding.

“It looks that way,” Ms Wray said.