New safety requirements for residential blocks

10 June 2020

The government has announced three key changes to building safety requirements that will affect new residential buildings. These are part of its full technical review of Approved Document B – the building regulations in England covering fire safety matters within and around buildings – and were published in its response to the December 2018 call for evidence. Information on the technical review can be found here.

We submitted a response to the call for evidence on behalf of the sector in February 2019, in which we supported the proposed changes, but highlighted that the review must consider how these additional measures could be funded so as not to impact on the availability of new affordable homes.

The government has also published its response to the consultation on sprinklers and other fire safety measures in new high-rise blocks of flats, which fed into these changes. We also submitted a response to this consultation, in which we called for a risk-based approach for buildings that fall outside the scope of the requirements, arguing that factors besides a building’s height should be taken into account when assessing risk level. We urged the government to engage with the sprinkler industry as well prior to finalising the transition period for the changes, to help mitigate any cost and demand spikes.

The changes to Approved Document B, which will come into effect later this year, are that:

  • Blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level should be fitted with a sprinkler system throughout the building. This represents a change from the previous threshold of 30m.
  • Wayfinding signage for the fire and rescue service should be provided in blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level. The amendments provide clarification on the type and placement of signage, which aims to provide greater consistency for building owners.

The amendments also provide clarification on the definition of a boundary between two buildings, with a view to resisting fire spread from one building to another.

The amendments to Approved Document B outlined above are summarised in ‘May 2020 amendments to Approved Document B, volume 1 and volume 2’, available here. The changes highlighted in the amendments document will take effect on 26 November 2020 in England. The 2019 edition of Approved Document B, which can be found here, will continue to apply where a building notice or an individual notice has been given to – or plans deposited with – a local authority before 26 November 2020, and the building work that it applies to must either have started by that day, or start before 21 January 2021.  

In addition to the changes summarised in this update, the government has stated that it is working with the National Fire Chiefs Council on a series of tests of new technology in the field of evacuation alert systems. This was covered in the sprinklers and fire safety measures consultation mentioned above, and we will share more information on this when it is available.