On 24 July 2023, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced that the Government intends to lower the proposed threshold for mandatory second staircases in new residential buildings in England to 18 metres. This updates proposals made last year, which had set the threshold to those buildings above 30 metres in height, as outlined in our earlier article.
The shift in threshold follows calls from the National Fire Chiefs Council and other industry bodies to lower the threshold and provide greater consistency across the UK (for instance, Scotland introduced a threshold of 18+ metres in 2019). It is also intended to bring England in line with other countries across Europe, North America and Australasia.
We examine below the background to this announcement, and the key concerns for developers planning high-rise residential projects.
As discussed in our article earlier this year, on 23 December 2022, the Government published a consultation announcing its plans to mandate a second staircase in residential buildings in England that are more than 30 metres in height. This consultation closed on 17 March 2023, and the outcome is yet to be published.
The change to a lower height threshold announced in July by Michael Gove, if implemented in legislation, will align current policy with the higher-risk building (HRB) regime under the Building Safety Act 2022 (the BSA). However, we await the details of the proposals and whether / how it will make reference to the HRB regime.
Michael Gove's July announcement was repeated in the "Long-term plan for housing" published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on the same day. This confirms the intention to mandate second staircases in new residential buildings above 18 metres, "following confirmation from expert bodies that they support this threshold". It also notes that this change in requirements "responds to the call from the sector for coherence and certainty". We outlined the positions of some of these expert bodies – including the National Fire Chiefs Council's call for second staircases to be mandatory in buildings over 18 metres in height – in our earlier insight on the original proposals.
Implications and transitional arrangements
Gove's announcement was made as Parliament commenced its summer recess, and the related draft regulations are yet to be published and laid before Parliament, but are expected to follow in the autumn. In the meantime, there is no further clarity for developers currently planning to proceed with high rise residential projects or who may already be in the process – in light of the earlier consultation proposal – of redesigning schemes above 30 metres.
One of the key concerns to such developers will be the transitional arrangements – particularly in light of the statement in the consultation that the Government was planning on a "very short" transition period. The July announcement included a commitment that "DLUHC will work rapidly with industry and regulators over the summer to design transitional arrangements with the aim of securing the viability of projects which are already underway, avoiding delays where there are other more appropriate mitigations." So further details are expected in due course.
If you have any questions about the issues raised in this article, please get in touch with Sue Ryan, Gemma Whittaker or Manpreet Kandola.