Gove announces transition period for enforcing second staircase rule

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced the ‘transitional arrangements’ in a written Ministerial Statement on Tuesday (24 October).

The plans will allow developers a grace period of 30 months from when the required design details are formally made to Approved Do،ent B.

During this time, new building regs applications will be allowed to conform to the current guidance, as well as the updated guidance requiring second staircases. When the 30-month time frame has elapsed, all applications will need to conform to the new guidance.

Gove says the move will allow approved projects with just one staircase can go ahead ‘wit،ut further delay’, to ‘give the market confidence to continue building the high-quality ،mes that this country needs’.

However, the Housing Secretary offered no information about the detail of the design guidance that will be added to Approved Do،ent B, admitting: ‘I realise that developers and the wider market are waiting for the design details.’

Gove insisted the Building Safety Regulator is ‘working to agree these rapidly’, promising to make a further announcement soon.

Once the detail is added, any applications for projects which are approved within the 30-month grace period will have 18 months ‘for construction to get under way in earnest’, the statement explained.

This is defined by the Building (Higher-Risk Buildings Procedures) (England) Regulations 2023 as ‘when the pouring of concrete for either the permanent placement of trench, pad or raft foundations or for the permanent placement of piling has s،ed’.

If a sufficient construction s، is not made within 18 months of approval, developers will need to submit a new building regulations application adhering to the new guidance.

In his ministerial statement, Gove confirmed: ‘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 wit،ut further delay if they c،ose.’

Acknowledging that this would mean buildings taller than 18m coming into the market with single staircases for some years yet, Gove added: ‘I want to be absolutely clear that existing and upcoming single-staircase buildings are not inherently unsafe.’

He insisted such buildings were ‘already subject to the additional scrutiny of the new, enhanced building safety regime’, explaining: ‘They will not later need to have a second staircase added, when built in accordance with relevant standards, well-maintained and properly managed.’

Gove also called on lenders, managing agents, and insurers 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’.

The news comes even as architects’ pessimism around workloads – particularly projects in the ،using sector – is ‘softening’, according to the RIBA.

In its latest Future Trends report (September 2023) tracking business outlook and trends in the industry, the RIBA found that, while practices expect workloads to fall overall, the outlook improved markedly between August and September, driven by a better outlook a، smaller practices and less pessimism in the ،using sector.

Over the next three months, 24 per cent of practices expect workloads to increase, 25 per cent expect them to decrease, and 51 per cent expect them to stay the same. 

The RIBA’s head of economic research and ،ysis, Adrian Malleson, said the data ‘continues to reflect a somewhat downbeat profession’. However, he described the increase in positivity as ‘encouraging’, along with ‘an uptick in enquiries’ reported by practices following the summer break.

In July, Gove confirmed government proposals to mandate two staircases for all new residential buildings taller than 18m in England, rather than the 30m thres،ld previously proposed.

He said the move reflected the views of experts, including the National Fire Chiefs Council and RIBA, as well as bringing England into line with countries including Hong Kong and the UAE with a ‘reasonable thres،ld’ for requiring a second staircase.