Our Commercial Property department, looks at the current steps being taken by the Government towards improving building safety following the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. This review follows on from Aranja’s previous article ‘A Clearer Future for Fire Safety?’ written on 12 November 2018.
The Hackitt Review, which followed Grenfell Tower fire, looked at building regulations and fire safety current at that time – the focus being on high-rise residential buildings. The outcome of the review included recommendations for action by the Government, Building Control bodies, developers and the construction industry generally. The issues which caused most controversy in the review were in relation to whether or not desktop fire safety assessments should be restricted or banned entirely and whether or not there should be a total ban on the use of flammable material for cladding on high-rise buildings.
The Government launched a consultation on the proposed reforms coming out of the Hackitt Review under the “Building a Safer Future” initiative in June 2019. This consultation ended in July. The Government has stated that it is now analysing responses received and will respond by the end of this year. It was further mentioned that legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity, when parliamentary time allows.
Where do sprinklers play a part in this?
In September 2019 the government published a summary of responses to its call for evidence to technical changes to Approved Document B, a document which provides building regulations fire safety guidance. One of the proposed changes arising was for wide support in changing the way in which sprinklers will play a part.
Currently the law states that sprinklers are mandatory in new buildings 30 metres high (approximately 10 floors) and above. General opinion was that this was too high to achieve the desired level of safeguard and that the height required for sprinklers should be reduced – possibly to 18 metres (approximately 6 floors) or other relevant thresholds.
Why can Sprinklers make a difference?
Sprinklers have multiple benefits such as providing personal protection to individuals, limiting fire spread and protecting means of escape layouts and structural fire safety. There were, however, concerns expressed by fire service respondents and others about the growing problems in the supply of sufficient water for firefighting. Could one safety feature that would appear beneficial on the face of things actually be a non-starter from the point of view of practical use?
What does the future hold?
The Government has launched a consultation on reducing the trigger height at which sprinkler systems are required in new-build block of flats. They are seeking to commit to requiring sprinkler systems as standard in a wider range of new flats. Several responses also called for sprinkler systems to be required in a wider range of buildings such as student accommodations, care homes and certain car parks. This consultation ends on 28th November 2019. This may be something to bear in mind if looking to build or buy a block of flats in the immediate future.
There is also the issue with the time it is taking to change the current system – the Grenfell Tower fire occurred in June 2017. There is no doubt that there are other matters occupying the Government at the current time, but perhaps taking time to consider and consult is better than a knee jerk reaction.
It remains to be seen how drastically the Government will alter the technical regime and whether its efforts to engage investors to improve safety will prove effective. We also wait to see how any changes will impact on existing buildings and how the cost of improving safety in those buildings will be borne.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog, please feel free to contact our Commercial Property team.