On 23 December 2022, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities ("DLUHC") announced a new consultation seeking views on proposed amendments to Building Regulations Approved Document B ("ADB"). The proposed amendments to ADB are potentially very significant for the construction industry and the key proposed amendments are set out below.
Second staircase in residential buildings over 30m in height
Currently ADB does not set a threshold above which more than one staircase is advised in high-rise residential buildings. This has resulted in concerns that some high-rise residential buildings do not have the necessary resilience, or appropriate safety levels, in emergencies and the National Fire Chiefs Council has proposed that a second staircase should be mandated in all high-rise residential buildings over 18 meters in height.
The consultation acknowledges that a second staircase in high-rise residential buildings could reduce conflict between emergency responders and those trying to escape, and provide an alternative exit route should one become filled with smoke. However, the consultation proposes a threshold of 30 metres as the maximum height for using a single staircase in new residential buildings – with any buildings above this threshold requiring a second staircase. The threshold of 30 metres is proposed (rather than the 18 meters requested by the National Fire Chiefs Council) on the basis that this is an established trigger for enhanced fire resistance provisions in buildings guidance more generally.
In respect of this proposal, the Government propose a “very short” transition period to ensure that existing schemes can complete and avoid the possibility of others bypassing the new requirement.
Requirement for sprinklers in all new care homes
Currently there is no overarching requirement in ADB for sprinklers in care homes. However, care homes with sprinklers benefit from certain allowances in ADB, such as relaxed fire door requirements and increased bed allowances in certain circumstances.
Responses to the Government’s 2018 and 2019 calls for evidence on the technical review of ADB highlighted the benefits of sprinklers in care homes, notably to residents and staff wellbeing in addition to the protection of property and avoidance of damage.
Following the Government’s review, it has concluded that the requirement of sprinklers “will deliver life, health and property benefits and provide visible reassurance that the new care home is safe for occupants, owners and other interested parties such as relatives and care providers”. Accordingly, the Government propose a mandatory requirement for all new care homes, irrespective of height, to have sprinklers installed. However, this proposal would not extend to existing care homes due to concerns over the practicality of retrofitting sprinkler systems within existing buildings.
The Government propose a transitional period of 6 months before this requirement is implemented to allow the construction industry time to adapt.
Removing references to the national classifications (BS 476)
The majority of guidance in ADB is currently structured by reference to performance classifications set out in either British Standards, such as BS 476, or British versions of European standards.
Following an assessment of the impact on the industry, the Government found that most construction products sold in the UK are tested to the relevant European (or other international) standards. The Government call for evidence also identified a number of concerns over the use of national classification standards (as highlighted in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry).
As such, in addition to the previous removal of reference to national classifications from the main body of ADB, the Government propose to remove all reference to BS 476 with ADB. To limit the impact on the construction industry, this proposal is proposed to be implement with a 12-month transition period.
Call for evidence in relation to materials and products
The provisions in historic versions of ADB relating to the combustibility of insulation materials, and other products, used in external wall systems received sustained criticism during the Grenfell Tower inquiry for their lack of clarity. Following, Government is seeking views on how to improve the clarity of the guidance in paragraphs 10.6 and 10.7 of ADB, as well as views from the construction industry on what materials and products should be covered within these provisions.
Burges Salmon Comment
This consultation evidences a continued drive by the Government’s to try and improve building safety, building on other developments such as the enactment of the Building Safety Act 2022 and the implementation of supporting secondary legislation, with the DLUHC commenting that these proposals will ensure the Building Regulations “are as clear and effective as possible”.
However, the proposed amendments to ADB are likely to have significant implications for the construction industry, both in terms of restrictions on the overall design of a scheme and/or the use of certain materials and products, and these restrictions could adversely impact on the financial viability of certain projects. We therefore recommend that all parties who may be affected by the proposals engage with the consultation, and provide their views, before it closes on 17 March 2023.
A link to the consultation can be found here.
This article was written by Tom Weld, Kayla Urbanski and Isabel Rawlings.