In a surprise move, Michael Gove has announced that the two staircase requirement for new residential buildings will be implemented but at a threshold of 18 metres, not 30 metres. The amendments to Approved Document B are also expected to include a distance and fire resisting separation between entry points to independent staircases, with interlocking staircases being prohibited for this purpose. 

The NFCC has welcomed the change saying:

 “This decision marks another significant step in improving the safety of residents and firefighters in high-rise residential buildings across England.”

The NFCC also urges the Government to "take existing buildings into account and make it a requirement to install sprinklers and install or replace evacuation lifts during major refurbishments."

This follows the DLUHC’s 12 week consultation launched at the end of 2022, seeking views on a two staircase rule for residential buildings above 30 metres. A proposal which the Greater London Authority rapidly jumped on the back of, with a rule change imposed back in February, resulting in a host of projects being put on hold. The National Fire Chiefs Council, Royal Institute of British Architects and the Chartered Institute of Housing were among a number of organisations who advocated lowering the 30 metres threshold to 18 metres to improve safety both for residents and firefighters during an evacuation, a second staircase removing the risk of a single point of failure and buying critical time for firefighting activities alongside providing residents with multiple escape routes. The announcement will see a number of existing schemes that are under 30 metres being forced into redesign with recent figures suggesting over 20,000 new residential units will be caught by this rule change. 

The consultation indicates that the 10 year cost to business will be in the region of £2.5 billion in setting the threshold at 18 metres, up from £1.6 billion if they had gone with the 30 metres threshold. 

This will bring England more in line with Scotland, Hong Kong, some cities within the US, Iran and Kenya, with many parts of Europe including Germany, Italy, France, Sweden and Denmark, still applying a higher threshold. 

 This raises some key questions: 

  • Will we see more existing schemes being put on hold?
  • How will developer’s accommodate the second staircase? Will it be to the detriment of some affordable housing? 
  • Will some schemes become unavailable due to increased costs and a reduction in saleable floor space?
  • How quickly is this change likely to be imposed? The consultation document had indicated a very short transition period to close the door on new developments getting off the ground ahead of the new requirements coming into effect.
  • For schemes which are in the offing already and are not required to accommodate the two staircase rule, will potential investors or insurers have less appetite for such schemes? 

We are tracking developments on our Building and Fire Safety Hub. If you have any queries about building safety, please do not hesitate to contact Melanie Hardingham or your usual Charles Russell Speechlys contact.