27 - 09 - 2023
Earlier in the year, a BPTW insight article highlighted the Government’s consultation on second staircases in new residential buildings over 30 metres and the likely mandate that residential buildings (and some other typologies) with a height of 30 metres and over will need at least two staircases.
Since then, the Government announced the threshold to be 18m in support of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) recommended position that all new high-rise residential buildings over 18m or seven storeys should have more than one staircase (1).
The mandate for two staircases for all new residential buildings over 18m came in July 2023 when Housing Secretary Michael Gove revealed the government’s decision to set the threshold at 18m rather than the 30m threshold previously proposed.
In December 2022, the Government published a consultation proposing the improvement of fire safety by mandating two staircases in all new residential buildings above 30m. DLUHC [the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities] said it was “concerned that some tall residential buildings are being designed with a single staircase without due consideration by the designers on the level of safety provided” (2).
DLUHC went on to say, “It is our view that the provisions of a second staircase can provide some benefits for very tall residential buildings such as added resilience for extreme events and reduced conflicts between emergency responders entering a building and those trying to escape, reducing the risk of the smoke ingress into an “escape” stairwell…..(with) the provision of a second staircase, residents will have an alternative means of escape in the event one route became filled with smoke” (2).
The announcement in July 2023 was part of the longer news story ‘’Long-term plan for housing’’ that included an introduction stating ‘’The Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have set out further plans for regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England, with transformational plans to supply beautiful, safe, decent homes in places with high-growth potential in partnership with local communities’’ (3).
The news story went on to explain, “DLUHC will work rapidly with industry and regulators over the summer to design transitional arrangements to secure the viability of projects which are already underway, avoiding delays where there are other more appropriate mitigations” (3).
Despite this and Secondary Legislation under the Building Safety Act taking effect from 1 October 2023, the government has not yet confirmed the detailed requirements. It remains unclear whether the need for two staircases creates additional measures. For instance, if double the number of lifts is required and how lift cores should be arranged to make it easier for residents to use one or more additional lifts.
As a result, industry bodies such as the Housing Forum have written to Michael Gove highlighting ‘’the unintended consequences that the new legislation is having on the housing and construction sectors’’ (4) and seeking clarity on the technical specifications resulting from the requirement for second staircases.
Meanwhile, uncertainty continues to affect the delivery of new homes with projects between 18 and 30m now stalled in addition the those already affected when the consultation was first announced. Even before the lower threshold was announced, we understand that one leading housing association warned of a dramatic impact on its development programme, estimating that some 4,000 homes would be affected. After the latest announcement, the Home Builders Federation stated that the decision to impose the stricter rule created “significant implications” on the cost and delivery of some schemes (5).
This update supersedes BPTW’s commentary on second staircases in new residential buildings over 30m published on 23 February 2023, available here.