Building Design’s regs columnist Andrew Mellor unpicks the first stage of the building safety process which comes into effect in August

Andrew Mellor_PRP_crop

The first stage of the planned building safety process has been formally announced by MHCLG. This will make changes to the planning system to introduce gateway 1 or, as MHCLG is now referring to it, planning gateway 1. The planned changes will ensure that fire safety, where it relates to land use planning, are considered at planning application stage for relevant high-rise buildings. The proposed changes are still undergoing parliamentary scrutiny but, subject to this, the changes will take effect from 1 August 2021.

Planning gateway 1 will be introduced through secondary legislation, amendments to the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015. The amendments will require that a standardised fire statement is submitted for each detailed planning application relating to a relevant high-rise building, and will also make the HSE (later to become the Building Safety Regulator) a statutory consultee at the planning application stage, such that it can provide specialist fire safety advice to local planning authorities.

The announcement also defines a relevant building as a “multi-occupied residential building of 18 metres or more in height, or seven or more storeys (whichever is reached first)” where there are two or more dwellings or educational accommodation. The latter includes boarding schools and student accommodation. Previously the definition had included “over six storeys”, so the inclusion of seven or more storeys seems much more sensible and clearer. We can therefore assume for the moment that this definition will also apply to all parts of the forthcoming Building Safety Act including gateways 2 and 3, although this gateway 1 announcement states that the definition is subject to change.

Although we have more certainty, it still seems nothing is wholly certain when it comes to the planned legislation.

The requirement to submit a fire statement for relevant buildings does not apply to: an outline application; material change of use where the building will no longer be a relevant building; or a permitted development application.

MHCLG intends that the latter will require a fire safety prior approval. The fire statement must be submitted with the planning application where: it is proposed that one or more relevant buildings form part of the application; an existing relevant building is being redeveloped; and if development is proposed within the curtilage of a relevant building.

I assume the latter is an existing or known proposed relevant building. The statement must relate to the whole development site and not just the relevant building(s), such that the impact on surrounding buildings and access to and around the site is fully considered.

Information to be completed in the fire statement will include a schedule of uses in the building, the fire safety design standards used, external wall and balcony materials’ performance, fire rescue service access to the site and firefighting facilities, water supply, suppression systems and an evacuation strategy including accessible housing provision numbers to inform the potential occupation characteristics and evacuation plans.

The statement should, in my opinion, be relatively easy and quick to complete for applications which have fully considered fire safety and compliance with the majority of Building Regulations Part B at an early stage of design.

In today’s post-Grenfell climate, that surely is all of them.