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Building Safety: Second Staircases

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

This Government are committed to ensuring that people can be confident that our buildings are safe. The Building Safety Act set up a new, robust regime, with a new Building Safety Regulator at its heart. In recent years, we have also changed statutory guidance on fire safety, with new measures including:

a ban on combustible materials for residential buildings, hotels, hospitals and student accommodation above 18m, and additional guidance for residential buildings between 11m-18m;

a lower threshold for the provision of sprinklers in new blocks of flats from 30m to 11 m;

a requirement for wayfinding signage for firefighters in residential buildings above 11m;

requirements for residential buildings over 18m to have an Evacuation Alert System, and for new residential buildings over 11m to include a Secure Information Box (SIB).

We must never be complacent in our approach to safety. In July, I confirmed that I intend to introduce new guidance requiring second staircases in new residential buildings in England above 18m. This not only reflects the views of experts including the National Fire Chiefs Council and Royal Institute of British Architects, but also brings us into line with countries—including Hong Kong and the UAE—in having a reasonable threshold for requiring second staircases.

I can now announce the intended transitional arrangements that will accompany this change to Approved Document B. From the date when we publish and confirm those changes to Approved Document B formally, developers will have 30 months during which new building regulations applications can conform to either the guidance as it exists today, or to the updated guidance requiring second staircases. When those 30 months have elapsed, all applications will need to conform to the new guidance.

Any approved applications that do not follow the new guidance will have 18 months for construction to get underway in earnest. If it does not, they will have to submit a new building regulations application, following the new guidance. Sufficient progress for this purpose will match the definition set out in the Building (Higher-Risk Buildings Procedures) (England) Regulations 2023, and will therefore be when the pouring of concrete for either the permanent placement of trench, pad or raft foundations or for the permanent placement of piling has started.

With these transitional arrangements, we will ensure that projects that already have planning permission with a single staircase, the safety of which will have been considered as part of that application, can continue without further delay if they choose. It means that, for some years yet, we will continue to see 18m plus buildings with single staircases coming to the market. I want to be absolutely clear that existing and upcoming single-staircase buildings are not inherently unsafe. They will not later need to have a second staircase added when built in accordance with relevant standards, well-maintained and properly managed. I expect lenders, managing agents, insurers, and others to behave accordingly, and not to impose onerous additional requirements, hurdles or criteria on single-staircase buildings in lending, pricing, management or any other respect.

Those who live in new buildings over 18m can be reassured that those buildings are already subject to the additional scrutiny of the new, enhanced building safety regime. Their fire safety arrangements are scrutinised in detail at the new building control gateways and planning gateway one.

I realise that developers and the wider market are waiting for the design details that will go into Approved Document B. The Building Safety Regulator is working to agree these rapidly, and I will make a further announcement soon. In the meantime, I am confident that this announcement of the intended transitional arrangements will give the market confidence to continue building the high-quality homes that this country needs.