The government has announced that all new high-rise residential buildings in England exceeding 18m will need two staircases. This new requirement in response to the Grenfell Tower fire follows a government consultation earlier this year in which it asked the industry whether second staircases should be mandated on buildings higher than 30m. Chandni Kakkad examines the proposals.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove announced on 24 July 2023 that the government has opted for the lower 18m height, rather than 30m, following “confirmation from expert bodies that they support this threshold”.
“This is a considered and gradual evolution of safety standards which, when taken with our other fire safety measures and reforms, ensures the safety of people in all tall buildings – both new and existing,” he said.
Benefits of the 18m threshold
A second staircase in tall high-risk residential buildings allows safer entrance and exit from the building in the event of a fire and avoids the interruption of emergency workers.
The new height threshold will be welcome by The National Fire Chiefs Council and industry bodies such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), all of whom asked Michael Gove to lower the threshold from the proposed 30m to 18m.
The new guidance brings England in line with many other countries, including Scotland, where all buildings of 18m in height (or seven storeys) have required two staircases since 2019.
The uncertainty about the final height threshold has caused issues for developers and architects who put projects on hold as guidance and clarity were awaited regarding the second staircase rules. It is estimated that this uncertainty has resulted in developers pausing plans for more than 100,000 new homes.
Concerns surrounding lowering the threshold to 18m
There are industry concerns that Michael Gove’s decision to lower the proposed height threshold to 18m for second staircases in new residential buildings will stall future development projects and could lead to redundancies in the sector.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced in February that all new developments in London of more than 30m would require a second staircase. Developers in London were forced to redesign schemes above 30m and will now face the same issue for blocks above 18m, causing further disruption to the London housing sector.
It is welcome news for those in the property development industry to have been provided with more clarity by the government following months of uncertainty over the height threshold for two staircases. As RIBA president Simon Allford stated: “This is a significant moment. Over six years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is hugely positive and reassuring to see the government listening to the united call of experts on fire safety, bringing greater coherence and certainty for industry.”
It remains important for those in the sector to monitor legislative developments, given the expected implementation later this year of the new building safety regime under the Building Safety Act 2022 (which you read more about here). We will update you on the new changes introduced under this Act as residential developers and others in the sector will need to adapt, manage and effectively respond to the changes introduced to the housing industry in the next few months.
If you would like to discuss a matter relating to residential property and development, please contact Chandni Kakkad at [email protected].
Disclaimer: The above is merely general guidance and should not be relied on as formal advice. We suggest you take professional legal advice before taking any action in relation to the issues discussed above.