Case study: Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower

What: Grenfell Tower was a 24 storey block of flats in North Kensington, west London, designed and built in the 1970s for state housing occupants.

The tower was completed in 1974 to provide housing in areas destroyed during the blitz in World War Two and following slum clearing in the 1960s.

Grenfell was built amid a boom in mass housing and high rise apartment blocks. In a rush to build a large number of high rise blocks, safety standards progressively degraded.

According to the Architect’s Journal, declining standards saw builders use untried construction methods to build blocks around a single crane, with poor planning and weatherproofing.

Where: North Kensington, also known as Ladbroke Grove, in west London, a historically poor neighbourhood bordering one of the wealthiest areas in the city.

Cost: Grenfell is estimated to have cost £500,000 to build, the equivalent of about £6 million in today’s money.

A renovation was undertaken in 2016 cost an additional £8.7 million. New cladding, designed to make the tower more attractive, was added for a further £2.6 million.

Project owner:  Tower owner: Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council.

Renovation: Rydon Ltd, picked up renovation work with a bid of £2.5 million less than its rival, Leadbitter.

What went wrong on the project: In June 2017, a faulty fridge freezer caused a fire to break out in one of Grenfell Tower’s upper floor flats.

Due to highly flammable cladding added in the Rydon renovation, the fire spread outside, up the sides of the building, and throughout the high rise within hours.

Scores of residents were trapped in the building. Fire and rescue services were unable to contain the blaze which spread across the 129 flats.

The fire caused 72 deaths, and is one of the worst post-war disasters to hit the United Kingdom. The tragedy was the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War.

The UK government launched an inquiry into the disaster. The inquiry found cheap external cladding was to blame for the fire’s rapid spread.

The contractor behind Grenfell’s renovation, Rydon, was blamed for using cheap materials, including the highly flammable cladding.

Rydon was blamed for completing its project at a cut price while jeopardising the safety of residents. A previously engaged contractor, Leadbitter, was kicked off the renovation project after requesting more expensive materials, it has been alleged.

Cost-conscious local governments, builders and developers were said to have ignored fire safety concerns from residents.

The fire has led to calls for the UK government to overhaul safety processes for high rise living blocks and prioritise safety over cost.

Published 2019

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