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During fire safety renovations, materials from a company linked to the Grenfell Tower tragedy were installed on two nearby council tower blocks, a decision that infuriated the west London neighbourhood. The Adair and Hazelwood towers, a few hundred metres from Grenfell, had insulation made by Kingspan, the company that supplied some of the combustible foam on the tower that caught fire on June 14, 2017, killing 72 people.
After fire risk assessments in 2018 revealed "potential concerns with the cladding system" and round-the-clock fire wardens were deployed, residents of the council-owned towers have been suffering through a £7 million recladding project to install non-combustible panels.
In 2021, the council announced a ban on the use of the company's products in borough projects in response to community outrage over the discovery of Kingspan materials being installed in a primary school in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).
“It’s a disgrace,” said Sue Duggins, the chair of the Goldborne residents’ association, which represents people in the two towers. “We shouldn’t be hearing the word Kingspan in this community. Nobody in this area wants to live in a home wrapped in Kingspan. Practically everyone here knows someone at Grenfell.”
According to testimony presented at the public inquiry into the Grenfell disaster, Kingspan allegedly sold combustible foam insulation that ignited in a "raging inferno" based on dated tests on an older product with a different chemical make-up. Victims' attorneys testified at the inquiry in 2020 that Kingspan, Arconic, and Celotex, the manufacturers of the cladding panels and 95% of the insulation used, were "little more than crooks and killers."
Kingspan has stressed that it only produced 5% of the insulation used on the tower and that its material was "misused" in an "unsafe and non-compliant system" without its knowledge. Kingspan has denied any wrongdoing.
It has said it has since conducted 15 fire tests of its K15-brand insulation in cladding systems that showed it was safe for use in those systems.
The investigation has not yet reached a conclusion, but it has already been stated that the Arconic ACM cladding was the primary factor in the spread of the fire.
There is no evidence that Kingspan knew the location of the newest product or sold it directly to the Adair Tower project.
Council employees discovered last week that the company's insulation had been installed on 16 balconies at the tower blocks and immediately ordered the contractor, Lawtech, to remove and replace it. According to the council, the product wasn't combustible.
“Lawtech’s use of Kingspan is an absolute breach of our instructions and trust,” said Kim Taylor-Smith, the lead council member for Grenfell housing, housing, and social investment. “I am deeply disappointed and have asked for a full explanation of how this has happened. I expect Lawtech to make an apology to our residents.
“We made a public commitment in 2021 that the council would no longer contract with Kingspan, nor would we allow our contractors to subcontract with them or allow its use by any subcontractors on any projects in the borough. We stand by this commitment.”
The ban was a local political decision and does not apply elsewhere. The council said it would carry out spot checks “to reassure our residents”, and the cost of the material’s removal would be paid for by the contractor, not the council or residents.
Grenfell United, which represents bereaved families and survivors, said: “We are disgusted that once again contractors such as Lawtech have shown complete disregard and allowed Kingspan’s product back into the homes of social housing tenants in Kensington and Chelsea. The lack of oversight that allowed this to happen is extremely concerning.”
Duggins said the discovery of the material further undermined trust between the council and residents. “I think RBKC is rotten to the core and has to go,” she said. “They need to be put into special measures.”
Lawtech said it was an “isolated error” and “posed no risk whatsoever to any resident,” but accepted it breached the RBKC ban. “Lawtech has a very strict company policy of only installing non-flammable products on any of our projects,” it said.
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04 October 2023
05 September 2023