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Mayor of London calls for “urgent action” on impending fire safety rules

18 September 2023

MAYOR OF London Sadiq Khan has demanded “urgent action” from Housing Secretary Michael Gove as new figures show that the Government is “holding up the delivery of new homes in London” by leaving housebuilders “in the dark” about impending new fire safety requirements.

Ministers first proposed rules requiring a second staircase in new tall buildings in December last year in response to the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017. In a speech delivered back in July, Gove committed to this major change for new tower blocks over 18 metres tall and promised a transition period that would ensure “there is no disruption to housing supply”.

However, new data issued by City Hall reveals that there are now 34,000 homes on major developments being held up due to a “lack of clarity” from the Government on these new fire safety requirements. This figure only includes the biggest developments (ie those that require Mayoral planning sign-off), in turn meaning that thousands more homes will also be affected on other smaller developments across the capital.

With construction costs rising rapidly and developers already warning they could be forced to down tools, this delay from the Government could – according to the Mayor – cause some schemes to be abandoned altogether.

The Mayor has used his London Plan and funding programmes to go further than the national Building Regulations with a push towards greater building safety, for example requiring sprinklers, and a complete ban on combustible cladding on all new homes.

Local authorities and housing developers currently have no guidance on what the promised ‘transition period’ will cover. Further, they haven’t been informed what technical requirements they will need to meet to satisfy the new rules (for example, whether the two staircases will need to be entirely separate or whether they can be contained within the same building core).

Challenging time

This “lack of clarity” from the Government comes at what is an already challenging time for housebuilding across the country. The Mayor wrote to Gove last month warning that housing experts are forecasting a major drop in housebuilding driven by high interest rates and building cost inflation, which could see housebuilding across England fall to its lowest level since World War II.

It could also put the capital’s housebuilding boom, which has been growing ever since Khan became Mayor in 2016, at risk. In recent years, City Hall has completed more homes of all types than at any juncture since the 1930s, built more council homes than at any time since the 1970s and exceeded its target of building 116,000 new genuinely affordable homes in the capital by the end of the last financial year.

Khan explained: “While I strongly support the highest fire safety standards for new buildings, the chaotic way in which these new rules are being put in place by the Government is now holding up the delivery of thousands of homes across the capital. We’ve made huge progress in London since 2016, building more new council homes that at any time since the 1970s, but we still have a long way to go to fix the housing crisis. We simply cannot afford this confusion caused by the Government to slow down crucial housing delivery in our city.”

Khan continued: “Ministers must cut through this bureaucratic dither and delay to urgently bring clarity on these new fire safety rules. This should be done alongside the other steps we know are needed to help fix our housing crisis, including investing the £4.9 billion perannum the capital needs to meet the demand for new, high-quality and genuinely affordable homes.”

Combating the crisis

Stephanie Pollitt, programme director for housing at BusinessLDN, added: “Building more residential developments at pace is vital to combat London’s housing crisis. The Government must provide urgent clarity on Building Regulations, including the requirements for second staircases, in order to enable developers to build the homes that Londoners need. Providing this certainty is critical to help the industry deliver high-quality and well-designed homes that meet the highest safety standards.”

A copy of the Mayor of London’s letter to Michael Gove is available on request at economicdesk@london.gov.uk