Council official 'more interested in colour of Grenfell cladding'

Senior council official was ‘more interested in what colour the Grenfell tower cladding would be than whether it was safe’, inquiry into fire that killed 72 people hears

  • Rock Feilding-Mellen said it did not occur to him to ask questions about safety 
  • He was the deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at the local council
  • Instead, he expressed thoughts about colour options, which included neon lime green or battleship grey
  • The fire at the Grenfell Tower block in west London in June 2017 claimed 72 lives 

A senior council official was more concerned about the colour of the proposed cladding for Grenfell Tower than its safety, an inquiry heard.

Rock Feilding-Mellen, a former deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), said it did not occur to him to ask questions about the safety of the cladding proposed for the high-rise building.

Instead, he expressed his thoughts about the colour – which included whether it should be champagne, neon lime green, a more pastel shade of green/turquoise and a deeper or darker British racing green, or battleship grey.

Mr Feilding-Mellen had become involved in planning committee talks as the panel considered whether to approve a switch from zinc to combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding in summer 2014.

The devastating fire at the Grenfell Tower block in west London in June 2017 claimed 72 lives. Highly-flammable cladding has been blamed for helping the fire spread. 

Mr Feilding-Mellen told an inquiry into the tragedy that he had given his ‘personal subjective opinion’ about possible colours for the cladding in an effort get the stalled scheme to revamp Grenfell Tower moving.

Rock Feilding-Mellen, a former deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), said it did not occur to him to ask questions about the safety of the cladding proposed for Grenfell tower

The devastating fire at the Grenfell Tower block in west London in June 2017 claimed 72 lives. Highly-flammable cladding has been blamed for helping the fire spread

He said it did not occur to him to raise questions about the fire safety of the panels while he was discussing what colour they should be. 

This was because the talks at the time centred around a planning-related matter dealing with ‘the appearance and aesthetic question’, he said.

Mr Feilding-Mellen remembered opening an email from Laura Johnson, director of housing, in July 2014 containing safety guides and ‘skimming’ the attachments.

He did not remember forwarding them on to any other councillors.

Asked whether receiving these guides had led him to consider the safety of the Grenfell Tower cladding, Mr Feilding-Mellen told the inquiry: ‘It did not. I cannot remember why that would have been.’

The council was the owner and landlord of Grenfell Tower, while the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) was the body appointed by the local authority to run its housing stock.

Survivors of the Grenfell disaster and their supporters protest outside the inquiry on the day that former deputy council leader Mr Feilding-Mellen gives evidence

Mr Feilding-Mellen said he felt he had ‘sufficient reassurance’ from the TMO and housing officers that fire risk assessments and necessary follow-up actions were being managed properly.

Asked whether he had read the coroner’s recommendations following the fatal Lakanal House fire in 2009 at ‘any stage’ before July 2014, Mr Feilding-Mellen told the inquiry: ‘Not that I remember.’

Six people died in the blaze at the housing block in Camberwell, south London, on July 3 that year.

Mr Feilding-Mellen accepted that he did not check through documents to see if there was anything he should do as a councillor regarding fire safety of a TMO building that was being refurbished.

‘I failed to do that and, knowing what has happened, I regret having failed to do that,’ he said.

Mr Feilding-Mellen had become involved in planning committee talks as the panel considered whether to approve a switch from zinc to combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding in summer 2014. Pictured: Survivors and supporters demonstrating outside the inquiry today

Mr Feilding-Mellen said he thought there were ‘many layers of people’ in place with the necessary expertise to check on the health and safety and fire safety aspects of a refurbishment project like Grenfell Tower.

He was also asked if he, as deputy leader, or anybody in RBKC thought there should have been an effort to double-check the TMO was doing everything it ought to ensure there was an emergency evacuation plan.

Mr Feilding-Mellen said: ‘I didn’t. I wish I had.’

He told the inquiry he would ‘probably be haunted’ by the question of whether he should have done anything differently for ‘the rest of my life’.

‘Based on the information that I had, and given what I considered my roles to be, I really don’t know what I could have done differently but I wish from the very bottom of my heart that things had been done differently so as to have prevented that fire, and that includes anything that this inquiry decides that the council, the cabinet or I should have done differently,’ he added.

Mr Feilding-Mellen said the sorrow and pain he had endured was nothing compared to the bereaved and what must be their ‘unbearable grief’.

With his voice starting to break, Mr Feilding-Mellen said: ‘To those people, I want to say how really sorry I am.’

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