After almost 100 days of sitting, phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has wrapped up.
Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick now retires to write his report that will focus on the events of 14 June 2017, providing what is hoped will be a clear account of how the fire started, how it spread and how the response unfolded that night.
Exactly when we will get this report is unknown, which is unsurprising considering the scale of the inquiry.
There are almost 600 core participants – a mix of individuals, government, institutions and commercial bodies. Phase one saw more than 1,000 witness statements submitted.
Lessons from all this for the construction industry are limited at this stage. Claim and counter-claim over the compliance of window details, insulation and cladding fly back and forth.
Whether the materials used were dangerous and contributed to the fire’s spread, on their own or in unison, and whether there were faults in their installation: these are the aspects that will be investigated fully in phase two, when the decisions about the building in the months and years before the fire are analysed.
One point that all parties agree on is that a building like Grenfell Tower should not burn so catastrophically following what started as a small fire in one flat.
As fire commander Richard Welch said to survivors and relatives of those who died in the fire: “We did not let you down. The building let us all down.”
Phase two will reveal the ins and outs of construction and, as Sir Martin put it, “focus our attention on the critical circumstances and decisions which enabled such a devastating event to occur”.
Clients, designers, consultants, contractors, subcontractors and building control will all have the spotlight turned on them.
Everyone working in the industry wants to hear answers as soon as possible to make sure such a tragedy is never repeated.
However, Sir Martin made clear today that we face a considerable wait for this.
More than 200,000 documents are expected to be disclosed to core participants as part of phase two – 10 times the number analysed in phase one.
Some of those documents are already being sent out and the dissemination is expected to last until August.
Because the inquiry aims to complete a significant amount of analysis and consideration before phase two hearings begin, we won’t see QCs putting forward their cases until early 2020 at the earliest.
Projects cannot be delayed while we wait for this though, so changes have had to be implemented now.
We hear that cladding specifications and fire suppression designs are receiving more intense scrutiny than ever before, with some in the industry alleging that systems are being overdesigned and overspecified, pushing up costs with no additional safety benefit.
In the face of ongoing uncertainty about what exactly led to the Grenfell Tower fire, the only option for those working on projects today is to prepare and design for the worst, and build to the best possible standards.