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If only '£5,000 more had been spent, Grenfell Tower's tragic deaths could have been prevented' Open in fullscreen

Robert Cusack

If only '£5,000 more had been spent, Grenfell Tower's tragic deaths could have been prevented'

The exact number of deaths is not yet clear [AFP]

Date of publication: 16 June, 2017

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The cladding used on the outside of the building is illegal in the United States and Germany and may have caused the fire to spread quicker.

Dozens of people may have died in the Grenfell Tower fire disaster over the difference of £5,000 worth of building materials.

The contractor who fitted aluminium panels, or cladding, to the outside of the tower block chose the cheaper of two options, rejecting the more fire-resistant choice.

The panels, called Reynobond, come in three types – one with a plastic core and two more which are fire-resistant.

The fire-resistant panels were only £2 more expensive per square metre than the plastic, flammable panels.

MP Tom Brake said: "It is simply beyond belief to think that if just £5,000 more had been spent, these tragic deaths could have been prevented."

The panels are illegal in the United States and Germany for properties higher than 12 metres for fire safety reasons.

Several eyewitnesses described the tower block "going up like a match," with many saying that it was the outside of the building that accelerated the blaze.

The fire-resistant panels were only £2 more expensive per square metre than the plastic, flammable panels

"The blaze started on the fourth floor and then ten minutes later it hit the sixth floor," Youness Maghribi, an eyewitness, told The New Arab.

London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton said: "As you will appreciate, this is a completely unprecedented fire.

"In my 29 years in the London Fire Brigade, I have never seen a fire of this nature, and I have seen many high-rise fires."

Harley Facades Ltd, won a £2.6 million pound sub-contract to fit the cladding from the main contractor, Rydon in 2015.

Harley went out of business in 2015, owing £1 million to creditors.

The company secretaries, Raymond and Belinda Bailey, both live in a million pound mansion in East Sussex and told the Daily Mail there 'was nothing to say' about the incident.

Failures

"There's probably multiple failings that have occurred in this particular case," Ben Bradford, managing director of the risk consultancy BB7, told The Guardian.

"The work, in terms of fire stopping, often falls to a sub-contractor. They don't always realise the critical nature of the components they're installing in the overall system."

Other architectural experts said that failures may have happened because of the complicated number of companies involved.

"There was a time when local authorities had their own architecture departments, some of them quite famous," said Thomas Lane, editor of Building Design.

"Nowadays it's all done externally. You've got disparate people, design teams, surveyors, project managers, a whole army of people."

Read more: Harrowing video posted by Egyptian woman trapped inside Grenfell Tower goes viral

Other experts have pointed to a 2013 coroner's report which recommended that sprinklers be fitted throughout tower blocks in order to prevent fires of this kind.

The British automatic fire sprinkler association said the installation of a sprinkler system would have cost £200,000.

The Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council said that the sprinklers were not fitted however as residents felt it would have been "disruptive".

"There was not a collective view that all the flats should be fitted with sprinklers because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive," said Nick Paget-Brown.

"Many residents felt that we needed to get on with the installation of new hot water systems, new boilers and that trying to retrofit more would delay the building and that sprinklers aren't the answer."

Warnings

This is not the first time that outside fixings have caused a fire to overpower an entire tower block.

We believe that the KCTMO [the landlord] are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the everyday management of large scale social housing estates

A 63-storey tower in Dubai went up in flames on New Year's Eve 2015, with safety officials blaming the use of similar plastic and aluminium panels fixed to the outside of the building.

Another 24-storey tower block in Shanghai burnt entirely in 2010, killing 58 residents, with experts again blaming the external cladding.

Locals gave angry statements on the morning after the fire, over their repeated warnings of a possible disaster before the fire took hold.

In 2015, the Grenfell Action Group said: "We believe that the KCTMO [the landlord] are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the everyday management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster."

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