Government consultation on fire safety should not be ‘job done’

Sector calls for a ‘stronger focus’ on ensuring all existing buildings are safe – not just new-builds.

BV_Managing fire risk

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has today (2nd December) submitted its response to the government’s consultation paper Sprinklers and other fire safety measures in high-rise blocks of flats.

The paper, which includes proposals to reduce the trigger height for sprinkler provision in new high-rise blocks of flats, seeks views on proposals to improve wayfinding signage within blocks of flats.

As reported by 24housing, findings from the first phase of Grenfell public inquiry raise the stakes for Phase 2 in citing “compelling evidence” of the tower being too dangerous to live in – with many of the recommendations in the report closely linked to government consultation proposals.

In its consultation, the government is proposing to:

  • Reduce the trigger height at which sprinkler systems are required in new high-rise blocks of flats, from 30 metres to 18 metres
  • Improve wayfinding signage within blocks of flats
  • Install evacuation alert systems for use by the fire and rescue services

The consultation, however, does not extend to existing buildings – with concerns raised around how the introduction of new-build safety systems shouldn’t be seen as ‘job done’.

Responding to the consultation paper, chair of the NFCC Roy Wilsher said that many factors – including new evidence, the findings of the Independent Review, recent fires, and government policy announcements – have made it necessary to lower the threshold.

He said: “Sprinklers should be mandatory in all new residential buildings from 11m [or 4 floors] and above, at a minimum.

“NFCC has previously championed the requirement for sprinklers from in high-rise block of flats above 18m, connected to a full review of linked measures in ADB.

“Currently there is a gap for protection of buildings between 11m and 18m. With the threshold for sprinklers now being considered separately from many closely related safety measures, we believe the threshold should be lowered to 11m.”

He added that the NFCC has previously called for government-funded research into evacuation – with a stronger focus on ensuring all buildings are built to be safe.

“In that regard, legislation should be strengthened to ensure that, over time, fire-safety standards in buildings are brought up to current standards where it is reasonable to do so and the building sector avoids simply applying a ‘like for like’ replacement leading to declining fire safety in buildings,” he said.

NFCC sprinkler lead Gavin Tomlinson added: “The recent fire at the Bolton Student Accommodation on 15th November 2019 highlights only too well that fires do not discriminate, and that an 18m threshold is arbitrary.

“The NFCC will continue to lobby for more widespread use of sprinklers in many building types, and especially where they are home to vulnerable residents.

“The revising down of height thresholds is an important step in the right direction.”

The response in full can be found here.

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