Second staircases needed in buildings of 18 metres and over, groups tell Gove

Architects, fire safety and disability rights organisations said the Government’s current proposal ‘fails to address our shared concerns’ on safety.

Houses and flats
Houses and flats

The height requirement for new buildings to have a compulsory second staircase should be lowered, a coalition of architects, fire safety and disability rights organisations have said.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and other groups have written to Housing Secretary Michael Gove to demand the Government takes “bolder action” to make homes as safe as possible and prevent “further avoidable tragedies”.

In December the Government launched a consultation proposing new rules to mandate second staircases in new residential buildings over 30 metres (approximately 10 storeys).

But the RIBA and other groups including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and Disability Rights UK said second staircases should be compulsory for new tower blocks which are 18 metres high (approximately six storeys).

They said the Government’s current proposal “fails to address our shared concerns” on safety.

The letter says: “While arguments exist for a range of thresholds, both higher and lower, an 18 metre threshold would bring the greatest harmonisation with the wider regulatory environment, and therefore the greatest simplicity and certainty for industry at this time.”

It added that the 18-metre threshold would align with definitions in the Building Safety Act, thresholds for certain provisions in the Fire Safety (England) Regulations and would help to synchronise standards across the UK by aligning to rules in Scotland.

The signatories to the letter also said that research since the Grenfell Tower blaze suggesting that more people are choosing to evacuate their building during a fire rather than following “stay put” advice demonstrates “the importance of occupants having access to a safe, smoke-free evacuation route in buildings over 18 metres, helping to remove the risk of a single point of failure”.

RIBA president Simon Allford said: “RIBA has long called for clarity on staircase design and standards that help ensure people are safe in their homes.

“The Government’s current proposal fails to address our shared concerns. We stand ready to support Government action on addressing all our concerns.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the Government is reviewing the responses to its consultation.

They said: “We’re bringing in the biggest improvements to building safety in 40 years – with tougher regulations that will give more rights and protections for residents and make homes safer.

“The new Building Safety Regulator will enforce a more stringent regulatory regime for high-rise residential buildings and other buildings in scope and oversee the safety and performance of all buildings.

“We recently consulted on proposals for a second staircase in residential buildings over 30 metres and are reviewing the responses, which we will analyse to help improve and strengthen the guidance.”

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