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The Mayor of London has called for an overhaul of the UK’s building control system, blaming decades of deregulation for allowing companies involved in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment to prioritise “profits” over “public safety”.
In closing statements to the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Wednesday, Sadiq Khan said the “system is broken”.
The mayor urged the inquiry, led by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to seize the opportunity to change the culture of the construction industry which led to “ultimately the death of 72 Londoners”.
Speaking on Mr Khan’s behalf, Anne Studd QC said: “The mayor, like many others, listening to the evidence over many months has been appalled by the corporate core participants’ ability and willingness to shun responsibility and place the responsibility on others for what should have been the central consideration in everything they did – safety.
“The evidence has depressingly demonstrated the safety of the tower, and the Londoners living in it, was not a priority during the procurements or the refurbishment process.
“Safety considerations were non-existent and profit paramount,” she added.
Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was described as having “sold the interests and safety of the bereaved survivors and residents to the lowest bidder”.
Contractors were said to have “demonstrated a lack of knowledge, care, coordination and competence, which was at times astounding”.
The mayor also hit out at all those involved in the project for failing to fully admit their role in the 2017 disaster.
“Grenville Tower is a truly terrible example of what is wrong with the regulatory system,” Ms Studd said.
“Amongst other failures, the system allowed non-compliant flammable cladding to be used and signed off on very many other residential buildings up and down the country.
“Contractors and subcontractors were able to use the ambiguity in the regulations and guidance to play the system and to pass the responsibility over to a different subcontractor in the chain on the assumption that it was someone else’s problem.
“Throughout these two modules, we heard from some of the key players involved in the disastrous refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Behind them are many more people, the owners, directors and senior managers of the relevant organisations who are responsible collectively for the culture in which they operated.
“This culture led to unacceptable priorities and ultimately the death of 72 Londoners.
“As in so many tragic disasters across varied sectors, commercial self-interest trumped public safety. This will continue happening until recommendations are made and measures implemented to ensure safety first.”
The mayor has asked the inquiry to ensure that in future the results of testing carried out by companies on their own products are made available to the regulatory bodies, other professionals, and even the public on request.
He also said that building control should be made fully independent, and be sufficiently resourced with employees adequately trained to carry out the job.
Rydon, who were in charge of the multimillion-pound refurbishment of the west London tower, said that deregulation has resulted in “systematic failures in the construction industry”.
However, the company – which has been embroiled in controversy over its involvement in cost-saving measures which led to the use of cheaper and highly combustible ACM cladding – rejected most of the claims made about its own culpability.
Instead, they said responsibility should lie with the manufacturers of the cladding, such as Celotex, who they said took advantage of inefficient regulations to peddle dangerous products, and with the specialists Rydon hired to oversee fire safety responsibilities, as well as regulatory bodies.
Marcus Taverner QC, speaking on behalf of Rydon, offered the company’s condolences and said: “It’s understandable that Rydon’s condolences and those of us who represent them may be disregarded as being hollow, even formulaic, by those who have suffered at the hands of work overseen by Rydon. But they are nonetheless genuinely heartfelt.”
Lawyers for some of the bereaved, survivors and residents rebuked all the companies who have given evidence to the inquiry for “indulging in a merry-go-round of buck passing”.
“The truth is that many individuals and many organisations have blundered and as a result the residents of the tower were led unwittingly into the valley of death,” they said.
“However, these parties did not set out with malice… to kill 72 people. What is even more shocking than their incompetence is that the refurbishment was in many respects not unusual in the way it was procured, designed, managed and constructed.
“The obsession with costs, the fragmentation of responsibility and the lack of clarity over key design decisions are typical of many projects in the UK construction industry.
“However, we can be clear about this, the corporations in module two acted dishonestly using a broken regulatory system in pursuit of profit over public safety.”
They also pointed out the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is yet to apologise for what happened on the “Government’s watch”.
“A complacent civil service, and a revolving door of ignorant ministers failed to appreciate the risks to life posed by dangerous cladding and failed to introduce any rigour to the regulatory process.”