Fire safety in high rise buildings – the next steps?

30 October 2019

In December 2018, we reported on the ban on combustible materials in the external wall of buildings that is now in effect (as from 21 December 2018).

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published its Analysis of responses to the Call for Evidence in relation to the "Technical Review of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations".



Today, on the day that the first phase report of Inquiry Chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is published, and the London Fire Brigade is heavily criticised for "serious shortcomings and systematic failures" in its response on the night of the tragedy, we review the findings in the Analysis of responses to the Call for Evidence.The ongoing consultation is crucial in light of the fact that the Phase 1 Inquiry Report found that the Grenfell Tower did not comply with the building regulations.

Background

After the initial consultations, "a clarified version" of Approved Document B (ADB) which sets out building regulations fire safety guidance was published in July 2019. In order to progress a full technical review of the fire safety aspects of the building regulations, the MHCLG issued a Call for Evidence which closed in March 2019.

Summary of findings

  • Notably, there was a large degree of commonality in the responses.
  • There was a general consensus that change (to the requirements) is desirable and necessary, but it was acknowledged that final outcomes will take time as careful research is needed. It is possible however that some changes can be implemented in the meantime.
  • Some respondents mentioned the need for flexibility whilst others favoured a more prescriptive approach in the requirements.
  • The ADB needs to be more "readily understandable and easy to use".
  • There should be a regular review programme.
  • A large majority of respondents supported the inclusion of property protection (fire precaution and protection measures over and above statutory requirements).
  • Concern was expressed that other legislation is not sufficiently robust in respect of reliably securing water supplies for both firefighting and sprinklers.
  • There was a support for retaining Purpose Groups[1] (PGs), but a clear view that current PGs need to be refined in terms of their areas of focus, with some support for risk profiling to support the work of the PGs.
  • There was a "strong call" for the Guidance to be sectionalised in support of respective PGs.

Focus areas

The focus areas included the following.

  • Specialised housing and care homes
  • Compartmentation
  • Space separation
  • Trigger heights and thresholds
  • Means of escape from blocks of flats
  • Means of escape for disabled people
  • Age Distribution
  • Smoke and toxicity
  • Sprinklers and other fire suppression systems
  • Access and facilities for fire services
  • Basements
  • Construction technologies and design
  • Construction Details
  • Requirement B4 - other issues

Next steps

There is more work to be done - a further consultation has now been launched relating to changes to fire safety regulations for new-build blocks of flats - the Government has indicated a proposed commitment to requiring sprinkler systems as standard in a wider range of new flats. This consultation will close on 28 November 2019.

The Government has stated that it will work with industry and the Building Regulations Advisory Committee to determine a detailed plan going forward. In light of today's report - there is clearly a huge amount of work to do.

We will keep you updated on developments.

If you have any queries, please contact Sue Ryan or Tom George.

[1] A system of classifying buildings according to their general use and the risks presented - as set out in Approved Document B and forming the basis of graduated guidance according to the building's group.


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