The English government has (finally) announced on 5th September 2019 that it is launching a consultation on improving fire safety in high-rise residential buildings.
The consultation is specifically in relation to reducing the height of buildings for which sprinklers are required from the current 30 metres (approx. 10 floors) to 18 metres (approx. 6 floors). This is another step in the right direction – something that BAFSA and the fire sprinkler industry have been lobbying for, and as the government announcement states “an important step forward in the government’s commitment to ensuring residents are safe in their homes” – but still leaves England years behind the legislation in Wales and Scotland.
In addition, a new “Protection Board” is being created with the Home Office and National Fire Chiefs Council to provide further reassurance to residents of high-risk residential blocks that any risks are identified and acted upon. The Board (operating until a new building safety regulator is established) will have up to £10m annually to provide expert, tailored building checks, as necessary, on all high-risk residential buildings in England by 2021. The aim is to ensure that building owners act on the latest safety advice, and that interim measures are in place in all buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. There is a £200m fund available to accelerate the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM from privately-owned buildings, applications for which will be accepted from 12th September.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “Residents’ safety is our utmost priority and we are making vital improvements to ensure buildings are safe. I have listened to concerns on sprinklers from residents and building owners and our proposals are an important step forward in shaping the future building safety standards. The new Protection Board will make sure building owners don’t flout the rules, as well as ensuring fire safety risks in other buildings are being addressed.”
On the £200 million of funding for private building owners to remove unsafe cladding the Secretary of State said: “Government funds are available for private building owners to remove and replace unsafe ACM cladding, and let me be clear, inaction will have consequences and I will name and shame those who do not act during the course of the autumn. There is no excuse for further delay – and for building owners to fail to take action now would be frankly disgraceful.”
The 12-week consultation forms part of the first proposed changes to building regulations in England covering fire safety within and around buildings. It also seeks views on introducing an emergency evacuation alert system for use by fire and rescue services, alongside other fire safety measures.
Building Safety Minister Lord Younger said: “I’m determined to ensure buildings across the country are safe for residents and the opening of our private sector fund and commitment to new building safety legislation is an important step in driving that forward. This government is acting and I’m calling on all building owners and developers to step up and make any changes needed to ensure their buildings are safe.”
The latest announcement follows that of December 2018 when the government issued a call for evidence on the technical review of Approved Document B of the building regulations.
A copy of the consultation document can be found here.