9 June 2021
Residential and rural update – June 2021 – 2 of 4 Insights
Fire safety continues to be at the forefront of the new legislation affecting the residential property world at the moment, and the past few weeks have been no different. Here, we look at two very recent developments.
After its long passage through parliament, the Fire Safety Act 2021 has received Royal Assent and is now in force.
The main thrust of the Act is to provide clarification of the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) in England and Wales. The Act closes a perceived gap in the existing legislation and makes clear that where you have multi-occupied residential buildings the FSO extends to the structure and external walls (including balconies and windows) and individual flat entrance doors that open into the common parts. This means that "Responsible Persons" (usually the building's managing agent or landlord) will need to ensure that fire risk assessments now include fire safety risks for these parts of a building.
This is expected to introduce additional costs for leaseholders as fire risk assessments for residential blocks will necessarily be more extensive than before, and many existing fire risk assessments will need to be updated. The Act makes no mention of who is to bear the cost of any remediation works that might be needed to make buildings compliant with the new requirements but the assumption must be that it will be the individual leaseholders who will pick up the bill through the service charge.
Responsible Persons should start reviewing and updating their fire risk assessments to ensure that they cover the external parts of the building and the structure, to comply with the requirements of the Act.
The UK government announced in the Queen's speech its intention to introduce fire safety requirements into the planning system, under the Building Safety Bill. The plans include the introduction of a requirement to consider building safety at three new "gateways" (the planning stage, before works commence on site and pre-occupation). Developers of high-rise residential buildings will have to show how fire safety has been considered across the entirety of their developments. The key provisions of the draft legislation for "gateway 1" which will be brought into effect from as early as 1 August 2021 include:
The form of fire statement to be submitted with a planning application is prescribed; the statement will need to list fire safety considerations that are specific to the entire development (rather than just the building in question). The statement will cover matters relating to site layout, water supplies for firefighting purposes and access for fire and emergency vehicles. It's recommended that the statement is prepared by a fire engineer or other "suitably qualified person."
The three gateways to be established under the Building Safety Bill are as follows:
The changes will apply to all applications to develop new or existing buildings which contain two or more dwellings, and which are at least 18 metres or seven storeys in height (whichever is reached first). The changes also apply to applications for change of use of a building which will bring its own challenges, particularly where the conversion is of a period building.
Given the very short lead in time to the introduction of the requirements of gateway 1, developers will be under pressure to get the necessary statements ready for any post 1 August planning applications.
To discuss the issues raised in this article in more detail, please reach out to a member of our Residential & Rural team.
by Annabel Pyke