On 5 September 2019, the Government launched a consultation titled "Sprinklers and Other Fire Safety Measures in New High-Rise Blocks of Flats" proposing a reduction in the height threshold at which Approved Document B recommends the installation of a residential sprinkler system in blocks of flats (at that point in time 30 metres). The consultation, which ran for 12 weeks concluding on 28 November 2019, also sought views on changes to Approved Document B to include guidance on more consistent wayfinding signage in blocks of flats.
Following 184 responses to the consultation, on 26 May 2020 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published the outcomes and the resulting amendments to the guidance in Approved Document B (fire safety) volume 1. These are:
- Sprinkler systems in accordance with BS 9251 should be fitted throughout blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level. This followed 97% of respondents agreeing that the height threshold for sprinkler provision in new blocks of flats should be reduced; and
- Wayfinding signage for the fire and rescue service should be provided in blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level. This followed 97% of respondents agreeing that there should be a more consistent approach to wayfinding signage for fire and rescue services in Approved Document B.
The changes to Approved Document B as a result of this consultation, and other changes that will come from the full technical review, are a key part of the Government response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017. Whilst Approved Documents are statutory guidance that set out what might be accepted as demonstrating compliance with relevant fire safety requirements, there is no statutory obligation to adopt any solution proposed in an Approved Document. However, designers must demonstrate a similar level of safety to that provided in the Approved Documents. Ultimately, the design must comply with Regulation B4(1) and compliance with the Approved Documents will generally mean it is easier to demonstrate compliance with B4(1) than if the design is not in accordance with Approved Document B.
The change in guidance will come into force on 26 November 2020 and will apply to any buildings undertaking building works unless the building works have started on site (or an initial notice, building notice or full plans has been deposited by 26 November 2020).
It will be interesting to await the outcome of Phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry (which commenced on Monday 27 January 2020) to see whether further changes to the Approved Documents are implemented.
If you have any queries, please contact Sue Ryan or Tom George.
 Government Response: Sprinklers and Other Fire Safety Measures in New High-Rise Blocks of Flats