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Grenfell Tower: Original proposed contractor was dropped to reduce cost of refurbishment project

The contract to carry out the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project was won by Rydon and completed in June 2016. But it would appear that when the scheme was originally conceived in 2012 Rydon weren't the intended contractor.

An update on the project carried out by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee in July 2013 shows that Leadbitter was initially the proposed contractor.

According to the document, Leadbitter quoted £11.27 million to carry out the work, which was £1.6 million above the council's budget.

A report from July 2013 gave an update on the improvement work proposed at Grenfell Tower.
Sections 5.2 and 5.3 showed Leadbitter's proposed £11.2m bid led to the contract being put back out to tender.

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation - which managed and maintained the council's housing stock - decided to put the contract back out to tender and Rydon ended up agreeing to take it on for £8.7 million.

£1.6m
The amount Leadbitter quoted above the council's budget.
£2.5m
The amount the council saved by employing Rydon compared to Leadbitter's bid.

The scope of work set out in the 2013 document and presented to Leadbitter seems strikingly similar to the work Rydon later undertook: replacement windows, a new heating system and external thermal cladding. Rydon did it for £2.5 million less.

The public inquiry into the deadly Grenfell Tower blaze will want to establish beyond any doubt that in the process of driving down costs (a demonstrably good thing) corners weren't cut.

  • Science Correspondent Alok Jha examines the building's potential design flaws

Of all the work carried out, the cladding will be of particular interest. We know that Rydon subcontracted this section of the project to Harley Facades Ltd. Harley has since stated that while it installed the cladding it didn't manufacture it.

On Thursday night Rydon repeated its assertion that all the refurbishment work carried out at Grenfell Tower met both building and fire regulation standards and was signed off by the council.

Grenfell Tower was built in 1974. The refurbishment project was, in theory, an opportunity to retrofit the building with a sprinkler system but it wasn't taken. I'm told the idea wasn't even discussed.

Sprinklers were not fitted as part of the refurbishment inside Grenfell Tower. Credit: PA

In 2013 the government wrote to every local authority to encourage them to retrofit sprinkler systems in older tower blocks. It did so at the request of a coroner who leads an inquest into a fire in Camberwell in which six people died.

Before passing judgement on whether the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management therefore acted irresponsibly, bear in mind that, according to the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, only 100 older tower blocks in Britain have been retrofitted with sprinklers since 2013. Around 4,000 have not.

The vast majority of councils would appear to have been put off by the cost.

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