Government Mandates Second Staircase in New Residential Buildings Over 18 Metres Following Public Consultation

In the final months of last year, the British government initiated a 12-week public discussion focusing on a proposal to introduce a requirement for an additional staircase in new residential structures in England taller than 30 metres.

Subsequent to this consultation period, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, made an announcement in July 2023. He stated the government’s decision to mandate the inclusion of a second staircase in new residential buildings. However, this requirement was adjusted to apply to buildings over 18 metres in height (about seven floors) instead of the initially proposed 30 metres.

A New Direction

In October 2023, Gove delivered an update to Parliament regarding building safety, which included the plan for a second staircase in all new residential buildings exceeding 18 metres.

This announcement was crucial for the construction industry, as it provided clear guidance on the upcoming changes. Gove further outlined a transition phase of 30 months for developers to adapt to the new regulations under Approved Document B, which now demands a secondary staircase for buildings taller than 18 metres.

The start of this 30-month grace period will be marked by the official publication and confirmation of the amendments to Approved Document B. The exact timeline for this publication is pending. Nonetheless, the duration of this transition phase is expected to extend beyond the anticipations of many industry stakeholders.

During this interim period, developers will need to evaluate their current design phase and decide whether to proceed with plans for a single staircase or to incorporate a second staircase in line with the new guidelines.

Gove’s latest communication indicates that developers have the option to continue with single-staircase designs and obtain approval before the transition begins, or they can choose to comply with the new regulations.

Once the transition phase commences, projects already approved under the existing rules will have an 18-month window to begin construction “in earnest.” The term “in earnest” has been further clarified by Gove, indicating that significant progress, such as the start of concrete pouring for foundational elements, must be underway.

This policy allows for the continuation of approved single-staircase projects without delay, should developers opt for this route.

After the transition period concludes, all new building approval applications for structures over 18 meters will necessitate plans for a second staircase.

Why the Change?

Compliance with this recent change will benefit the safety of those either residing in or working in these larger buildings, as well as emergency responders, should their services be necessary. The addition of a second staircase will allow for added resilience in extreme situations and will also help ensure that emergency responders entering a building and those trying to escape aren’t forced to share a single route.

Future Implications

The government anticipates that financial institutions, property managers, insurers, and others will adjust their practices accordingly and avoid imposing additional demands on buildings with a single staircase in terms of lending, pricing, and management, among other aspects. They also emphasised that buildings with only one staircase do not inherently pose a safety risk, highlighting that buildings considered to be at higher risk are now subject to increased scrutiny through enhanced building control measures, such as those introduced by the Building Safety Act 2022 and related regulations effective October 1, 2023.

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