Like a nightdress by a fire

The Independent says appearance was part of the reason for the new cladding on Grenfell Tower.

The cladding that might have led to the horrifying blaze at Grenfell Tower was added partly to improve its appearance.

During a refurbishment aimed at regeneration last year, cladding was added to the sides of the building to update its look. The cladding then seems to have helped the fire spread around the building, allowing it to destroy almost the entirety of the structure and kill people inside.

And that cladding – a low-cost way of improving the front of the building – was chosen in part so that the tower would look better when seen from the conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington, according to planning documents, as well as to insulate it.

“Due to its height the tower is visible from the adjacent Avondale Conservation Area to the south and the Ladbroke Conservation Area to the east,” a planning document for the regeneration work reads. “The changes to the existing tower will improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area.”

The document, published in 2014 and providing a full report on the works, makes repeated reference to the “appearance of the area”. That is the justification for the material used on the outside of the building, which has since been claimed to have contributed to the horror.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve its appearance in general; on the contrary. But if the cladding is why the building was apparently a box of matches…

A statement from Rydon after the work was finished noted that “rain screen cladding, replacement windows and curtain wall façades have been fitted giving the building a fresher, modern look”.

That statement included a quote from Nick Paget-Brown, the leader of the council, who remarked on how happy he was to see “first-hand how the cladding has lifted the external appearance of the tower”.

That public statement after the completion made no reference to insulation, only discussing the change in the external appearance of the building.

The refurbishment work that added the cladding cost £8.6m and finished in May last year. Both before and since that time, residents have repeatedly complained about the safety of the block, but were assured that there was no problem.

Councillor Judith Blakeman said questions would now be asked in the wake of those assurances.

“If the cladding was partly responsible for the fire we need to know what the specification for the cladding was and why it suddenly just went up (in flames) in about five minutes, because it should have been fire resistant, surely,” she said.

Ms Blakeman lives across the road and said she heard about the fire at 5am on the radio.

“I just rushed outside,” she said. “Neighbours had been watching it all night, they said the cladding went up like a nightdress by a fire – it just went whoosh.”

Residential buildings shouldn’t just go whoosh like that.

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