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Government proposes dual staircases for new tower blocks over 30 metres tall

10 January 2023

BUILDINGS WILL be “made safer” under new Government proposals which include mandating second staircases for new tower blocks and sprinkler systems for new care homes. This move from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is described as “the latest step” in updating the statutory guidance underpinning the Building Regulations for new buildings to ensure the safety of those living and working within.

Specifically, the proposals include imposing rules on staircases such that new tower blocks over 30 metres in height would need to contain more than one staircase. This news follows hot on the heels of the National Fire Chiefs Council calling for such a change.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is also looking at mandating sprinkler systems in all new care homes, regardless of the height of the building, in order to improve the safety of vulnerable residents and also assist firefighters with evacuation procedures.

Lee Rowley (Minister for Local Government and Building Safety) commented: “Undoubtedly, there are lessons still to be learned from the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is fully committed to working with the sector and residents to explore what more needs to be done to make new homes across the country safe. This consultation process is the next step in the Department’s work to improve the Building Regulations and make sure they are as clear and effective as possible.”

Additional measures

Other measures being considered as part of the consultation include removing references to the national classifications (BS 476) from Approved Document B. In essence, this means the dual system currently in place would end and construction product manufacturers would then be required to test their products to the British Standard version of the European Standards.

The Government will also be undertaking a call for evidence on revisions to Approved Document B covering materials and products used in external walls. In practice, the call for evidence will seek views from industry on what materials should be covered and how best to improve the clarity of the guidance provided in these paragraphs.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has undertaken the task of updating and improving fire safety guidance to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. It has already made several significant changes to the Building Regulations and its guidance.

Progress post-Grenfell

Since 2017, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has:

*implemented a ban on potentially combustible materials for residential buildings, hospitals and student accommodation above 18 metres in height and provided new guidance for residential buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres

*banned the use of Metal Composite Materials of the type used on Grenfell Tower on all buildings

*undertaken a large programme of work to clarify the guidance

*lowered the threshold for the provision of sprinkler systems  in new blocks of flats from 30 metres-plus to 11 metres-plus

*made provisions for wayfinding signage for firefighters in new blocks of flats of more than 11 metres in height

*made provisions for evacuation alert systems in new residential buildings over 18 metres in height

*The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will consult on its plans over the next 12 weeks

Follow-up work

In parallel, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in Parliament has announced that it will be undertaking follow-up work on building safety in the New Year.

The Committee has invited Lee Rowley to attend an evidence session in early 2023 (date to be confirmed). It is likely to examine perceived gaps in the Building Safety Act 2022 and ongoing issues relating to building safety and remediation, including the liability of professional freeholders, the voluntary developer pledge and the fund for buildings of 11 metres-18 metres in height.

The Committee is also likely to explore questions around funding for non-cladding related building safety works.

Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, said: “Building safety and the remediation of historic defects has been a major area of scrutiny for the Committee since the Grenfell Tower fire. There are still concerns over gaps in the Government’s Building Safety Act and questions over the funding of building safety works, which the Committee will want to revisit at our evidence session in the early part of the New Year.”