Grenfell councillor queried colour of cladding but not safety

By Tom Symonds
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

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Grenfell TowerImage source, Getty Images

A local councillor who oversaw the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has admitted questioning the colour of the cladding - but not whether it was safe.

Rock Feilding-Mellen told a public inquiry that he believed safety was being handled by experts.

He said he only "skimmed" an email giving him safety advice, but he did send emails saying he didn't like the proposed "champagne" cladding colour.

The deadly fire in June 2017 has been partly blamed on dangerous cladding.

Seventy-two people died in the disaster.

The second phase of the inquiry is looking into the cause of the disaster, including how Grenfell Tower came to be in a condition which allowed the fire to spread.

Mr Feilding-Mellen, a former Conservative councillor and deputy leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, oversaw housing policy and regeneration and became closely involved in design decisions during the refurbishment of the west London tower in 2014.

He told the Grenfell Tower public inquiry that he was attempting to resolve a hold-up in the refurbishment project, following concerns raised by planners about the colour of the cladding.

A string of emails shown to the inquiry set out discussions between Mr Feilding-Mellen and the management organisation running the refurbishment project.

In one, he wrote: "I am less convinced by the champagne colour. It's hard to tell in a drawing... but none of us chose that option as best when onsite."

"The lime green should be less neon and a bit more pastel shade of green/turquoise or a deeper/darker racing green... And I'd personally prefer the battleship grey."

The same day he stressed that "the most important thing is to get cracking".

'Regret' not following guidance

However, he admitted failing to follow the advice of the London Fire Brigade by asking detailed questions about fire safety when visiting Grenfell Tower.

He said he had "only skimmed" information from the fire service containing a "councillor guide on fire safety for use during estate visits".

This advice suggested councillors should ask about fire escape routes and the effect of modernisation work on safety.

"I failed to do that," Mr Feilding-Mellen told the inquiry.

"And based on what has happened I regret having failed to do that. I, at the time, was conscious there were many layers of people with what I thought was the relevant expertise and indeed the role to check that health and safety generally and the fire safety of a refurbishment project like this."

Richard Millett QC, the inquiry's chief lawyer, said the former councillor had made an assumption the fire brigade documents specifically warned councillors not to make.

"That appears to be the case," Mr Feilding-Mellen said.

Mr Millett asked him whether he became too closely involved with subjective opinions about the colour.

"I've said in my statement that I got involved and expressed my personal subjective view about the colours," Mr Feilding-Mellen responded.

"I've also tried to make clear that the reason that I was having this conversation was to try to help resolve the blockage in the planning system."

Correction 20th May 2021: This article originally reported that Rock Feilding-Mellen told the inquiry that he hadn't opened an e-mail giving safety advice and this has been amended to make clear that he said he had skimmed it.