Second staircases to undergo two-and-a-half-year transition, housing secretary declares


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Developers are set to receive a transitional period lasting two-and-a-half years.

This grace period will be before they need to implement a second staircase in buildings rising to 18 metres or taller.

The housing secretary, Michael Gove, made this announcement recently.

The transitional arrangements for this policy were elaborated upon in a statement on Tuesday.

Beginning of the transition period

The transition period will commence once the government officially announces the modifications to Approved Document B.

This document encompasses the government’s guidelines related to fire safety.

House builders will then benefit from a 30-month window. In this timeframe, they can opt to comply with either the existing guidance or the updated one.

Second staircases: Initial proposition and modifications:

Previously in July, it was confirmed by Mr Gove that a second staircase will be mandated for all new buildings attaining a height of 18 metres or more.

This is a reduction from the initially proposed 30 metres during the policy’s early consultation phase.

Mr Gove supported this alteration by stating: “This followed confirmation from expert bodies that they support this threshold.”

Furthermore, he mentioned that temporary measures are in the pipeline. These are intended “with the aim of securing the viability of projects which are already underway.”

Feedback from different organisations

The Royal Institute of British Architects took the lead in forming a coalition.

This alliance also encompassed entities like the Chartered Institute of Building and the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Their united plea to Mr Gove was to set the threshold even lower. The primary goal behind this was “to make the built environment as safe as it can be.”

However, in August, a group consisting of 29 fire safety professionals voiced a contrary opinion.

They urged the government to abandon the 18 metres criterion.

Their rationale was that “there is no evidence” this policy aligns with “data, science and expert advice.”

Moreover, they warned it might induce “false confidence in safety.”

Comparison with global standards

An investigative study by McGill University in Montreal showcased intriguing results.

Their analysis of 30 international building codes highlighted a glaring omission.

Only the UK and South Korea lacked a mandate for a second staircase.

For comparison, nations like the USA, Ireland, and Canada have imposed such requirements for buildings as short as four storeys.

After the transition period

Once the two-and-half-year transition concludes, a clear directive was provided by Mr Gove.

He stated: “All applications will need to conform to the new guidance.”

Those approved applications not adhering to this fresh guidance have a strict 18-month deadline.

This is to begin their construction “in earnest.” If they falter, a reapplication will be necessary in line with the new directives.

Clarifying the criterion for “sufficient progress,” Mr Gove outlined specific construction milestones.

He assured developers that the transitional stipulations will favour projects that already possess planning permission for a single staircase.

These projects, he remarked, can proceed “without further delay if they choose.”

Reassurances for the future

In a bid to clear the air of any misgivings, Mr Gove emphatically stated: “Existing and upcoming single-staircase buildings are not inherently unsafe.”

He added that they wouldn’t need a subsequent addition of another staircase, provided they adhere to relevant norms and are well maintained.

He anticipated cooperation from lenders, managing agents, and insurers.

He expects them “not to impose onerous additional requirements, hurdles or criteria on single-staircase buildings in lending, pricing, management or any other respect.”

For residents inhabiting new buildings towering over 18 metres, he assured that these edifices are already under the vigilant eyes of an “enhanced building safety regime.”

Upcoming clarifications

Mr Gove divulged that the Building Safety Regulator is presently collaborating on the design specifics for Approved Document B.

He anticipates making a forthcoming announcement on this matter.

IFSJ Comment

The decision to instate a transitional period for the introduction of second staircases in buildings is a monumental step in advancing building fire safety, particularly in light of past tragedies.

This move, drawing parallels with international building codes and standards, underlines the UK government’s intent to bolster the safety of its residents.

However, it’s imperative for the involved stakeholders, from developers to safety experts, to ensure that the implementation is efficient and cognisant of both safety and feasibility.

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