On the path to establishing a new building safety regime in England, the new Building Safety Bill* is anticipated to bring about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.
In particular, it will transform the way we design, construct and manage our tall buildings. While some of these changes have been known for a while, there’s now clarity about exactly how and when these changes will be implemented.
Gateway points and golden thread
Ever since the Grenfell Tower disaster, our government has been committed to transforming the regulatory framework for fire safety.
To ensure there is a ‘golden thread’ of information throughout a building’s lifecycle, the government has defined three separate gateway points – against which the building owner must demonstrate compliance during the design and build of a new high rise.
These changes, introduced via secondary legislation, will help ensure that applicants and decision-makers address thinking on fire safety matters at the earliest possible stage in the development process. This will result in better schemes which fully-integrate thinking on fire safety and protect our future communities.
The first gateway point will be during the planning process and will require those submitting planning applications to consider fire safety issues such as site layout, water supplies for firefighting purposes and access for fire appliances. All relevant planning applications will be required to include a fire statement.
Building Safety Bill: Planning gateway one
Delivering one of Dame Judith Hackitt's recommendations, the first step which is being referred to as ‘planning gateway one’ will ensure fire safety matters, as they relate to land use planning, are incorporated at the planning stage for schemes involving a relevant high-rise residential building. The objective being that, before planning permission is granted, planning applicants should submit a fire statement and that local planning authorities should consult the fire and rescue authority to ensure early consideration of fire safety.
Planning gateway one comes into effect from 1 August 2021.
Gateway one: Relevant buildings
Planning gateway one requirements are applicable to residential buildings containing:
- two or more dwellings or educational accommodation, and;
- meet the height condition (18m above ground level or seven or more storeys whichever is reached first).
Here ‘dwellings’ includes flats and ‘educational accommodation’ means residential accommodation for the use of students at boarding school or in later stages of education.
Fire statements: Evidencing fire safety matters
From 1 August 2021, it’s mandatory to submit a fire statement as part of the planning gateway one application. The fire safety matters contained in a fire statement are relevant to the extent they are relevant to land use planning.
The level of detail and focus of information should not contain the breadth and depth of information on fire safety which will be submitted at building control application stage. Rather, fire statements will support the consideration of information on fire safety issues relevant to land use planning matters.
The fire statement itself is in a fixed format for fire engineers to provide brief and specific responses to relevant aspects of the proposed development. In response to calls across the industry, the prescriptive format of the fire statement is designed to achieve a level of consistency to the responses from fire engineers.
Competency: Suitably qualified engineers, always
Now here’s the really critical bit. The associated guidance recommends that fire statements are completed by a suitably-qualified engineer with relevant experience in fire safety, such as a chartered engineer registered with the Engineering Council by the Institution of Fire Engineers, or suitably qualified and competent professional with the demonstrable experience to address the complexity of the design being proposed in terms of fire safety. The fire statement should only be produced by competent professionals with demonstrable experience in the fire safety design of high-risk and residential buildings.
The way forward: Earlier involvement
Planning gateway one results in fire engineering input to be required at an earlier stage for high-risk residential developments and at a pre-planning stage for high-rise residential developments as defined in the new Building Safety Bill.
This will evidence thinking that fire safety matters, as they relate to planning, have been incorporated as part of the planning application.
* Subject to parliamentary scrutiny
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