Developers will be aware of the looming spectre of upcoming requirements to incorporate additional staircases into new high-rise residential buildings. What do these requirements look like in practice? When will developers need to start worrying about them? And, given the supply-starved nature of the UK housing market, could the new requirements constrain development even further?

What are the new requirements?

The updated requirements are set out in changes to Approved Document B under the Building Regulations 2010 published in March 2024. Regarding second staircases, the headline points are as follows:

  • flats in a building with a top storey of 18m or more in height should be served by more than one common staircase; and
  • interlocked staircases should not be considered as an alternative means of escape.

There are also various other provisions concerning fire safety including updated guidance for design for horizontal escape from flats, requirements for the provision of evacuation lifts, ventilation, and the design of various common areas to be used as a means of escape.

When do the changes kick in?

Amendments to Approved Document B were published on 29 March 2024, with the changes taking effect in England from 30 September 2026. However, the changes only apply to buildings where the application for building control approval with full plans has not been made to the relevant authority prior to this date. Projects for which the application has been made will have a further 18 months for works to start and ‘sufficiently progress’ before a new application will need to be made under the new requirements.

In practice, therefore, there may be projects falling within the old guidance until March 2028. In a statement from October 2023, the Secretary of State for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, stressed that new residential buildings with one staircase were not inherently unsafe, and that the lengthy transition period was intended to improve market confidence and not deter developers. This view is in sharp contrast to that of Dame Judith Hackitt, author of the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report, who has called the delay to the introduction of the two-staircase requirement a “betrayal” to residents.

Remaining questions

Although at first glance the new provisions regarding second staircases appear straightforward, there are still areas of uncertainty which may not be fully understood until they are stress-tested. For example, it is unclear what will be deemed ‘sufficiently progressed’ in order for projects to continue to fall under the existing regulations. Additionally, it remains to be seen if any workarounds or carve-outs may eventually be provided for conversions or expansions to existing buildings where adding an additional staircase may not be possible or would make such development commercially unviable.

Given the shortage of supply in the UK housing market coupled with ongoing uncertain political landscape at present, it may be that we have not seen the final turn of amendments to the Approved Documents on the subject of second staircases.

For more information on this subject, please contact our Construction team.

Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.

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