BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Fire safety legislation

Important updates on Approved Document B and fire safety legislation (England)

Author: Martin Conlon

07 August 2020

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have published Approved Document B (ADB) revisions and announced the remediation fund application process.  

On 26 May, Secretary of State Robert Jenrick published a further update on measures stemming from the government’s building safety programme aimed at ensuring that residents are safe, and very importantly, feel safe in their homes. This latest package of policy updates and reports includes:

  • the prospectus for the building safety fund for the remediation of non-aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding systems
  • an update to Approved Document B.

The announcement by the Secretary of State covers two areas of the building safety programme. 

First, the prospectus for the building safety fund for the remediation of non-ACM cladding systems. In the March budget, the government announced that it would provide an additional £1bn in 2020-21 to support the remediation of unsafe, non-ACM cladding systems on residential buildings in both the private and social housing sectors that are 18m and over. This adds to the £600m already underway for ACM-clad buildings.

Building owners, freeholders, or other responsible entities are encouraged to register their buildings. The registration process opened in the first week of June, ahead of MHCLG publishing full guidance and the application process being made available by 31 July for buildings that meet the technical criteria.

Second, the response to MHCLG’s consultation on sprinklers and other fire safety measures in new high-rise blocks of flats. MHCLG have published an update to the guidance to the building regulations (ADB), which includes provisions for sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in new blocks of flats over 11m tall.  

These amendments will take effect on 26 November with the full transitional arrangements detailed in a circular letter also published. RICS has led the calls for the height trigger to be reduced to 11m, which will also apply to existing buildings subject to change of use and refurbishment. This brings England into step with Scotland (but not Wales) and other countries like New Zealand who were well ahead of the UK fire safety.

This is accompanied by the government's response to the consultation as well as the full impact assessment for the amendments to the guidance. The government has restated that it remains committed to bringing forward legislation to reform the system of fire and building safety, as well as give residents a stronger voice, and in July, MHCLG published the Draft Safety Bill.

"Building owners, freeholders, or other responsible entities are encouraged to register their buildings"
New expectations

The opening of a register of buildings in June will lead to a glut of funding applications that will create a demand for construction work as well as looking at creative ways of replacing any offending cladding. As this work will be classed as building work it will require approval under the Building Regulations. This means that there will be a challenge for building control to look at the proposals.

For example any new cladding will not only be required to meet the fire spread requirements of regulation B4 (1), consideration will also have to be given to cavity barriers given that the weight of any new cladding may be different to the previous material, requiring attention to the fixings as well.

The requirement to install sprinkler systems in flats with a top floor that is more than 11m above ground level applies to new build as well as material changes of use and refurbishment of existing blocks.

This means that there will be a number of both technical and logistic challenges ahead as retrofitting may prove problematic. However, once again innovative ways of meeting the requirement are likely to come to light.

The new requirement of wayfinding for the fire service is a welcome addition. The Building Regulations in the past have concentrated, quite rightly, on getting occupants out safely. The fire service then move into the building during the fire and the environment has changed significantly with smoke obliterating any light, and exit signage becoming confused.

I found this out many years ago when I took a group of building control students to the West Yorkshire fire service training centre in Birkenshaw and we had to find our way out of the smoke chamber. The whole process was very disorientating and confusing, illustrating the need to reduce this hazard for firefighters.

We can expect to see more developments in this area as the government’s fire safety bill progresses through all the stages in parliament before it becomes legislation and the powers come into force.  Change is inevitable – let us hope it makes life safer and better for all.

martin.conlon2@btinternet.com

Related competencies include: Fire safety

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