Second-staircase threshold lowered to 18m

August 4, 2023

Second-staircase threshold lowered to 18m

From our colleagues at Barbour EHS.

Housing secretary Michael Gove has announced the government will require two staircases in all new residential high-rises taller than 18m, rather than the 30m threshold previously proposed.

Just before Christmas, the government released a consultation that included a suggestion to increase fire safety for residents of high-rise buildings by requiring two staircases in all new residential structures higher than 30 metres. Although the results of this consultation have not yet been made public, Mr Gove stated in a speech delivered last week (July 24) that the government has decided to choose the lower 18m threshold after receiving “confirmation from expert bodies that they support this threshold.”

When combined with the other fire safety measures and reforms, he said: “This is a considered and gradual evolution of safety standards” that “ensures the safety of people in all tall buildings, both new and existing.”

With the new height limit, England will be on par with many other nations around the globe and Scotland, where single-stair towers over 18 metres are already prohibited. The National Fire Chiefs Council and a number of industry organisations had called for a lower trigger point.

Developers have complained about the consultation process and the uncertainty surrounding the height threshold’s final setting, and many architects have already been forced to redesign their buildings.

Bell Phillips’ 1,120-home project near Edgware Road is one of the recent changes, and the housing association Peabody has halted many of its large projects.

London projects have been particularly impacted by Mayor Sadiq Khan’s February decision that all new buildings above 30 metres must include a second means of escape.

According to recent figures by industry tracker Glenigan, over 23,000 new residential units currently approved or in planning are likely to have caught up with the rule change.

In recent months, a group of organisations called on the government to lower the threshold to 18 metres. These included the RIBA, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN), Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London and Claddagh (Leaseholder Disability Action Group).

July 2023

Our Comment

The adoption of this improved fire safety standard has generally been welcomed and the clarification will allow development projects currently at the design stage to now progress.


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