Grenfell cladding firm absent from crunch remediation talks

Representatives from US firm Arconic Architectural Products, which manufactured the cladding used on Grenfell Tower, did not attend industry discussions with government officials on the future of remediation held earlier this year, Construction News can reveal.

In the run up to an industry agreement announced in April, the supplier was among 26 companies and organisations invited to meet then housing secretary Michael Gove about his plans to raise cash to remediate dangerous buildings.

Arconic was the only invited firm that did not attend, according to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) in a Freedom of Information (FOI) response sent to CN.

In January, Gove called on developers and product manufacturers to remediate all the buildings they had worked on in the UK that are still fitted with dangerous or flammable materials. Firms were asked to pay to remediate any dangerous buildings of more than 11 metres in height, and give back any cash they had claimed from the Building Safety Fund to fund remediation works. They were asked to commit to the plan and meet Gove by the end of March.

Other material suppliers for the Grenfell refurbishment did meet with Gove, the FOI response reveals. They included Kingspan and Celotex, the two companies that provided the insulation installed underneath the cladding. Celotex was represented by its parent company, French manufacturer Saint-Gobain. (See box below for full list of attendees).

The discussions led to the development of a pledge to remediate fire defects in buildings of more than 11 metres in height, which 49 developers subsequently signed up to. Gove said that would provide around £2bn towards remediation.

A spokesperson for Arconic said it had participated in the process “through an industry association”.

“We remain committed to supporting the authorities throughout the relevant investigations and public inquiry and express our deepest sympathy to anyone affected by the Grenfell Tower fire,” they added.

Arconic is not a member of the Construction Products Association (CPA), which was the only trade body that met with Gove over the issue. However, CN understands that the CPA acted as an intermediary between the government and the whole industry, regardless of CPA membership, during the period.

The Grenfell Inquiry’s phase one interim report found that the combustibility of Arconic’s aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with a polyethylene (PE) core was one of the main reasons why the fire spread quickly up the tower, where 72 people were killed. Last week, the inquiry’s final sessions drew to a close.

Arconic came under intense scrutiny during the inquiry, including in November 2020, when four employees of the France-based arm of company declined to give evidence to the inquiry, citing a French law that restricts the sharing of commercial or technical information in foreign courts.

However, counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett said: “Neither Arconic nor any of those witnesses has  provided any evidence that there is a real risk of prosecution under the French Blocking Statute if they did attend to give oral evidence to the inquiry.”

In January 2020, the lawyer representing construction firm Rydon at the inquiry revealed internal emails from Arconic that discussed safety concerns over their materials years before the Grenfell Tower fire.

A spokesperson for DLUHC said the department would do “whatever it takes” to hold construction product manufacturers to account through the Building Safety Act 2022.

“Our new recovery strategy unit will pursue individuals and firms that have failed to do the right thing, including powers to take action through the courts,” they added.

Organisations that met with Michael Gove over remediation – the full list:

Alpolic, Ballymore Group, Barratt, Bellway, Berkeley, Bloor Homes, Cala Homes, Churchill Retirement, Construction Products Association, Countryside, Crest Nicholson, Fairview, Galliard Homes, Grainger, Keepmoat Homes, Kingspan, McCarthy Stone, Miller Homes, Persimmon Homes, Recticel, Redrow, Saint-Gobain (parent company of Celotex), Taylor Wimpey, Vistry, Xtratherm

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