New regulations requiring second staircases will not be enforced until at least 2026, the housing secretary has announced.
Developers will be granted a 30-month transition period within which building regulations applications may follow existing fire-safety rules, housing secretary Michael Gove said in a statement on Tuesday (24 October).
The 30-month period will start after amendments to Approved Document B – which sets out statutory guidance on meeting fire-safety building regulations – are published. Gove announced in July that new residential buildings above 18 metres would require two staircases.
Gove said single-stair housing schemes above 18 metres that are currently being delivered are safe, emphasising that they will not need remediation work and that he expects lenders and insurers to engage with them.
“With these transitional arrangements, we ensure that projects that already have planning permission with a single staircase, the safety of which will have been considered as part of that application, can continue without further delay if they choose,” he said.
“This means that, for some years yet, we will continue to see 18 metre-plus buildings with single staircases coming to the market. I want to be absolutely clear that existing and upcoming single-staircase buildings are not inherently unsafe.
“They will not later need to have a second staircase added, when built in accordance with relevant standards, well-maintained and properly managed.
“I expect lenders, managing agents, insurers, and others to behave accordingly, and not to impose onerous additional requirements, hurdles or criteria on single-staircase buildings in lending, pricing, management or any other respect.”
Gove’s comments suggest that developers do not need to redesign their current high-rise schemes to include a second staircase. The statement contrasts with comments made by Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the Industry Safety Steering Group, who said in March that the ongoing construction of single-stair high-rises was a “betrayal” of future residents.
Approved applications with a single staircase have 18 months to start construction “in earnest”, otherwise they will have to submit another building regulations application under the new guidance.
Gove clarified that the threshold for meeting this requirement would be when concrete is poured for either the permanent placement of trench, pad or raft foundations or the permanent placement of piling.
A Home Builders Federation spokesperson said: “We welcome today’s announcement of the transitional arrangements for secondary staircases and government’s reinforcement of the safety of existing standards. New buildings are already built to extremely high safety standards and the industry is committed to working with government to maintain this progress.”
Contractors had stopped work on a number of schemes, such as a £1.5bn Wates scheme in London, after the government began consulting on second-staircase requirements late last year. Other approved projects proposed significant design amendments to include another staircase, including two in East London.
Gove did not offer any further details on the design of new mandated staircases, although he indicated that the Building Safety Regulator was working to agree the requirements.
The Housing Forum wrote an open letter to Gove in August, calling for more clarification on design requirements of second staircases, including their core purpose and technical requirements.
Anna Clarke, director of policy and public affairs, wrote: “The sector is struggling with the lack of a clear roadmap that sets out how these proposals fit within other building-safety changes, giving certainty and confidence in investing for the future.”