The first contractor chosen to refurbish Grenfell Tower was dropped to save cash, it was revealed today.
Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council became unhappy when preferred bidder Leadbitter told them the required works would cost £11.27 million because it was £1.6million more than they wanted to spend.
A housing report from 2013 shows that unless the price dropped the contract would be put out to tender again to ensure better ‘value for money’.
Rydon would later win the work by saying it could replace windows, install a new heating system for flats and add the cladding, which experts believe accelerated the fire, for £8.7million.
The deal done after re-tendering the Grenfell Tower saved the council £2.5million.
Kensington and Chelsea Council became unhappy when preferred bidder Leadbitter quoted £11.27million for the work – because it was £1.6million more than they wanted to spend
The fire is believed to have been caused by a faulty fridge in one of the flats and the panelling is being blamed for accelerating the blaze – a public inquiry will consider if costs were cut
How offices have stricter fire safety on sprinklers than homes
High rise buildings and big commercial buildings are required under law to have sprinklers fitted – but most domestic houses don’t have them.
Older high-rise buildings also don’t have to have sprinklers, which is why none were fitted in Grenfell Tower.
In England new residential blocks over 100ft (30m) high must have sprinklers, as well any uncompartmented area of a shop or self storage building over 21,500 sq ft (2,000 sq m).
In Scotland, from May 2005 all new residential care homes, sheltered housing and high rise domestic accommodation above 60ft (18m) high have had to be fitted with sprinklers.
A similar rule was brought in in Wales in April 2014, while since January 2016 all new and converted single family dwellings now have to be protected with approved automatic fire suppression systems.
There are believed to be 4,000 tower blocks that do not have sprinkler systems around the UK.
This is despite a coroner’s report in 2013 into the Lakanal House fire ruling that that all high-rise buildings should be retro-fitted with sprinklers.
Only housing blocks put up since 2007 – taller than 100ft – are required to have sprinklers.
Derbyshire firefighters have been campaigning since 2011 for sprinklers to be fitted in all new homes, claiming it could prevent the deaths of many people – including the Philpott children who died in Derby a year later in 2012.
A public inquiry into Wednesday’s fire that is feared to have claimed more than 100 lives will consider whether the reduced price led to any impact on safety.
Rydon and Harley Facades Ltd, who installed the cladding, say the work ‘met all required building regulations’ and was signed off by the council’s building control.
The cladding used in Grenfell Tower is banned in the US over fire safety fears, it was reported last night.
It is understood that hundreds of Reynobond aluminium coated panels were fitted to the outside of the London high-rise last year.
Made by a company of the same name, Reynobond panels come in three types – one with a flammable plastic core and two with fire-resistant centres. It is thought that contractors chose the cheaper version with the plastic core for the refurbishment work on Grenfell Tower.
A salesman for US-based Reynobond told The Times that this particular version, which has a polythene centre and is referred to as ‘PE’, was banned in American buildings taller than 40ft over fire safety reasons.
‘It’s because of the fire and smoke spread,’ he said. ‘The FR (variant) is fire-resistant. The PE is just plastic.’
The PE version is used for small commercial buildings and petrol stations, he explained, rather than for tower blocks or critical buildings such as hospitals.
The panel with the plastic core sells for £22 per square metre – just £2 cheaper than the fire-resistant version.
Rydon and Harley Facades Ltd, who installed the cladding at Grenfell Tower, left before and right afterwards, say the work ‘met all required building regulations’ and was signed off by the council’s building control
More than 600 residents desperately tried to escape the flames as the fire broke out in the middle of the night, with many woken by the screams of others and the smell of burning plastic
There are fears that that no one who lived on the top three residential floors may have survived the unprecedented fire
Councils turned to cladding to meet standards set by Blair government scheme
Cladding became popular as councils sought to meet insulation standards laid out under the Blair Government’s £22billion Decent Homes Programme, which ran from 2000 to 2010.
The programme’s rules dictated that homes should have efficient heating and effective insulation, modern facilities and be in a good state of repair.
For high-rise council blocks, local authorities were faced with either knocking them down, meaning they would have to find or build homes elsewhere, or refurbishing them.
The latter option was much cheaper, despite the millions of pounds then pumped into the scheme.
In London alone, it is believed more than £820million in public funds were paid to contractors to make alterations.
Local authorities turned to cladding the outside of old council house stock, including tower blocks, in a bid to improve the buildings’ appearance and the improve so-called ‘thermal efficiency’ ratings.
A press release by a cladding firm from the time stated: ‘Over-cladding existing homes to improve their energy efficiency as well as aesthetics is proving the solution of choice for local authorities in their bid to meet Decent Homes standards.’
The statement gave examples in Bristol and Lanarkshire where cladding had been used to meet the terms of the programme.
A architect was quoted at the time saying: ‘The main priorities were to eliminate water ingress, improve the thermal efficiency of the blocks, and enhance the physical appearance of the external envelope.’
Rough calculations suggest panels covered 2,000 square metres of Grenfell Tower – meaning contractors could have used the fire-resistant version for less than £5,000 extra.
The PE panels conform to UK standards but are rated as ‘flammable’ in Germany, putting them in the same category as ‘unprotected wood with a thickness of no more than 12mm’.
As the Grenfell Tower toll was expected to rise to triple figures, officials were accused of presiding over a litany of appalling blunders.
Experts questioned whether dubious insulation which turned the building into a ‘Roman candle’ was installed simply to meet environmental targets.
The official death toll now stands at 30, although it is feared that number will rise significantly once workers have gone through the whole building.
Sky News reported that sources had told them 70 people are missing and feared dead.
Senior medical staff said 30 patients remain in hospital, many with injuries from breathing hot fumes. Half of them are fighting for their lives in a critical condition.
Investigators said their ‘top priority’ is to recover and identify every one of the victims, and warned the painstaking process could take ‘weeks or months’.
But they are also under pressure to pinpoint why a minor domestic fire raged out of control within minutes, transforming the block into a scene of horror.
The blaze is believed to have started in a faulty fridge in the fourth floor flat of minicab driver Behailu Kebede, who was originally from Ethiopia.
But the huge slabs of cladding used on the exterior of the building to conserve heat and reduce greenhouse gases have been blamed for the fire’s shockingly rapid spread throughout the building.
It has been suggested the material was not required to meet the same stringent fire standards as those used inside the tower, and enabled flames to tear through it.
Furious residents also accused the authorities of condemning scores to die by ordering them to ‘stay put’ in their death trap flats.
And officials raced to identify how many more tower blocks are at risk after being refurbished at huge cost to taxpayers in the same materials.
Such was the ferocity of the blaze that police are already warning they may never be able to identify some of the victims.
Pictured: The new plastic cladding hangs charred and melted underneath the windows of the Grenfell tower in west London
Scotland Yard has so far confirmed 17 people died in Tuesday night’s blaze, including six victims who are suspected to have fallen or jumped from the tower.
The bodies of the remaining 11 victims to be discovered remain inside the smouldering shell as it is too dangerous for rescue crews to go inside.
Recovery teams with specialist dogs were beaten back when the fire reignited yesterday, and a drone was used to survey the wreckage.