Former Kensington and Chelsea Council deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen said he intervened in a row over “what looked nice” as the west London tower block was being refurbished between 2012 and 2016.
A planning officer at the council preferred champagne-coloured cladding panels for the block, while the architect was pushing for a brushed aluminium finish, the Grenfell Tower inquiry heard.
The cladding system applied in the refurbishment has been identified as a major cause of the rapid spread of fire on June 14, 2017, when the tower was engulfed by a blaze that claimed the lives of 72 residents.
Cllr Feilding-Mellen, who was the cabinet member for housing from 2013 to 2017, was shown samples of the cladding options for Grenfell at a meeting with housing officials and architects in July 2014.
In email exchanges that followed, the politician backed the architect’s choice and said the champagne color was his least favourite, telling the inquiry he had been “willing to proffer my view”.
Asked why his personal preference was relevant, Cllr Feilding-Mellen replied: “Because we had been having a discussion about colours.”
Counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC asked: “Why didn’t you ask any questions about other properties of the cladding apart from colour?”
Cllr Feilding-Mellen replied: “Because the issue at hand that was causing delay was a disagreement over the colour of the cladding.”
When it was suggested he was “bringing not only your influence but also your personal tastes to bear in the discussion”, he replied: “It does look like I was expressing my personal taste and I was, but if you look at later emails it is clear that I don’t try to impose my personal tastes and I say the most important thing is to make progress.”
He admitted getting “slightly shirty” with the junior planning officer he believed was blocking the Grenfell refurbishment.
Mr Millett asked: “Is it fair to say this is a battle between two subjective views about what looked nice?”
Cllr Feilding-Mellen agreed, adding: “I suppose there’s a slight point of principle which is whether this individual junior planning officer should be able to hold up such an important project because of her subjective aesthetic judgement.”
In his witness statement to the inquiry, Cllr Feilding-Mellen said he could not remember a reference in a 2014 email he received to the use of aluminium cladding instead of zinc.
He said he relied on professionals within the council and arms-length housing organisation to have “technical understanding” of the refurbishment project, and he was never aware of fire safety concerns.
“In expressing my views regarding the colour of the cladding I did not have any knowledge of, or opinion regarding the type of material which was proposed, or eventually used”, he added.
Cllr Feilding-Mellen continues his evidence on Tuesday.