Joint venture latest developer to halt development since proposed ban on single-staircase in high-rises

Work on Conran & Partners’ 1,380-home estate regeneration in Romford has been paused because of ongoing uncertainty over the proposed second staircase rule in tower blocks.

Wates Residential and Havering Council have announced a halt to work on the £450m Waterloo and Queen Street, under which 270 homes are being demolished and replaced with 10 blocks ranging from three to 16 storeys in height.

In a statement issued this week, the Wates and Havering joint venture developing the scheme said it has “taken the difficult decision” to pause due uncertainty over building safety standards.

A spokesperson said: “The government has yet to reach a decision about new building safety legislation regarding taller buildings.

“The current design for the Waterloo and Queen Street site is safe and meets current building safety laws.

“However, regulations are likely to change to require two staircases in buildings over 30 metres, so we have taken the decision to pause the development at this early point in the construction process until we have a better understanding of what the new regulations will mean.”

The wider project team includes BDP as landscape architect.

Wates and Havering stressed they remain committed to the development, which is part of the east London borough’s £1bn ’12 estates’ regeneration programme to deliver 3,500 new homes.

Conran & Partners was not involved in the scheme after its planning stage.

The decision by Wates and Havering is just the latest example of disruption to development plans since the government in December published a consultation paper proposing mandatory second staircases in residential blocks over 30m in height – around nine storeys.

This was followed by London mayor Sadiq Khan in February saying that planning applications in the capital would need to have a second staircase to be signed off by City Hall.

> Also read: What the second staircase rule will mean for high-rise architecture

In March London housing association Peabody warned of ‘dramatic delays’ to its development programme, saying it can’t commit to designs across 20 towers without further clarity over new rules.

Developer Landsec has submitted fresh designs for its 1,800-revelopment of the O2 shopping centre in Camden to include a second staircase, while Westminster Council has ordered a redesign of its 1,100-home Church Street regeneration scheme in Marylebone.

Berkeley Homes has said it will shift its focus to low-rises if the 30m rule comes into effect.

The government’s consultation on the proposed second staircase rule closed on 17 March and the industry is waiting to see what ministers will decide.

The government itself has warned that the rule would affect viability, due to the reduced saleable or rentable area in buildings because of space taken up by the additional stair core. Its consultation paper said this is “likely to reduce the amount of affordable housing that can be provided by developers.”

The government has said staircases can reduce conflicts between firefighters entering a building and residents trying to escape, reduce the risk of smoke filling an escape stairwell and provide residents with an alternative means of escape should one stairwell fill up with smoke.

Several industry bodies, including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Chartered Institute of Housing, have backed an 18m threshold.