Fire Safety a Key Aim of the New London Plan
Ever since the Grenfell Tower tragedy the Government has introduced a number of measures to improve fire safety, particularly in high-rise buildings.
In December 2018, the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 came into force which banned the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings above 18 metres. But it wasn’t just the cladding at fault, subsequent Grenfell studies identified the lack of a ‘wet riser’, a broken fireman’s lift, window glass set in plastic, lack of sprinklers and faulty apartment front doors, to name a few!
On the 10th Feb 2021 the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, unveiled a 5-point plan in response to the unsafe cladding disaster to reassure homeowners and to boost confidence to the housing market. In this plan, Jenrick revealed that the Government will pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in high-rise buildings 18 metres (6 storeys) and over in England. These measures will free caged homeowners allowing them to buy and sell their properties again. Leaseholders in lower-rise buildings (between 11 and 18 metres), where the risk is lower, will be offered a different scheme which will cost no more than £50 a month per household towards the removal of unsafe cladding. This scheme will protect leaseholders and provide reassurance to mortgage lenders. In 2022, the Government will also impose a new ‘Gateway 2’ developer levy in for tower block proposals and a new tax will be introduced for the UK residential property development sector to raise funds to finance the cladding remediation costs.
Whilst the planning system was not held responsible, the new London Plan published earlier this month includes policies that both seek to deliver higher density residential development, but also introduce requirements for fire safety standards for all major applications. These include the requirement for proposals that provide lifts to ensure the lifts are suitably sized for fire evacuation (Policy D5) and for all development to achieve the highest standards of fire safety (Policy D12).
Policy D12 of the new London Plan now requires all major developments to submit a Fire Statement as part of the planning application submission. The statement should detail how the development proposal will function in terms of:
- the building’s construction: methods, products and materials used, including manufacturers’ details
- the means of escape for all building users: suitably designed stair cores, escape for building users who are disabled or require level access, and associated evacuation strategy approach
- features which reduce the risk to life: fire alarm systems, passive and active fire safety measures and associated management and maintenance plans
- access for fire service personnel and equipment: how this will be achieved in an evacuation situation, water supplies, provision and positioning of equipment, firefighting lifts, stairs and lobbies, any fire suppression and smoke ventilation systems proposed, and the ongoing maintenance and monitoring of these
- how provision will be made within the curtilage of the site to enable fire appliances to gain access to the building
- ensuring that any potential future modifications to the building will take into account and not compromise the base build fire safety/protection measures
Whilst many will see this as another technical report, which is potentially burdening, applicants will have to take this into account when preparing an application and address the policy requirements through the scheme design, otherwise the application will not be validated.
In our experience, this is a sensitive and important issue politically across London and outside London and needs to be carefully considered at an early stage.