Who will be most affected by change in fire legislation?

In part one of a three-part candid interview, Warringtonfire’s technical manager, Peter Barker, and regulatory analyst, Ross Newman, offer expert commentary on recent changes to building and fire regulations and guidance.

So much has happened within the building and construction sector over the past decade that has resulted in the need for new legislation. New energy requirements for buildings led to changes to Approved Document L for conservation of fuel and power and this continues to drive the political agenda as well as how we construct buildings.

Brexit has resulted in the UK adopting much from the European system with the intention of updating it to meet evolving national requirements. But probably the biggest regulatory change has followed on from the tragic Grenfell Tower fire and the resulting construction industry review by Dame Judith Hackitt. The UK Government’s role is to now respond to that report and drive changes to the Approved Documents specifically around fire safety and structural safety.

Here, we ask Peter Barker and Ross Newman for their understanding of just some of the upcoming changes relating to the England’s fire regulations.

Q: Who will be most affected by change in fire legislation?

Ross: Some of the major changes are being driven by Approved Document L as a result of increasing the requirement for insulation within buildings. In a relatively new amendment, published in 2021, the requirement for external wall performance, or what is known as a ‘U-value’, has increased. That will result in the need for more insulation or thicker walls to achieve this higher target. 

We’ve also had a number of changes to Approved Document B and Regulation 7, which cover materials and workmanship. These amendments have effectively created changes in how timber may be used in construction. Specifically, at height and in relation to what’s now known as a ‘relevant building’ under Regulation 7 clause 4 and residential buildings under Purpose Groups 1 and 2.

The most recent changes to Approved Document B came into play from 1 December 2022 and relate to the use of combustible materials at defined heights of 11m and 18m (also known as trigger heights). These changes will impact the use of timber cladding for high-rise residential projects and may also affect buildings constructed using structural timber frame. 

Lastly, anything to do with attachments, such as balconies, will likely become areas where timber will no longer be used above specific heights. 

Building regulations and associated statutory guidance are currently under technical review and further changes are coming, but we don’t know exactly what those are yet. 

Peter: It is worth pointing out that under the Building Safety Act there will be a gateway process introduced, which will be overseen by a newly defined role called the Building Safety Regulator (held under HSE). The Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for signing off the planning, construction and completion stages for those buildings that fall within scope. Gateway 1, which is the planning stage of the Gateway regime, came into force on 1 August 2021 through the introduction of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure and Section 62A Applications) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021 and requires fire safety matters to be incorporated into the planning stage for higher-risk buildings. Gateway 1 is intended to help ensure that applicants and decision-makers consider planning issues relevant to fire safety at the earliest possible stage in the development process. Gateway 2 will introduce a hard stop on construction, unless the Regulator has approved the application and at Gateway 3, there will be hard stop on occupation until the Regulator has carried out final inspections and issued a Completion Certificate. It is likely therefore that designers and contractors that are building high-rise/high-risk buildings will find it increasingly difficult to follow the current design and build approach.

Q: So, what are the key legislative changes designers, architects and developers should pay heed to?

Ross: I would say a key thing to look out for is that the construction industry should now be using the European classification system for reaction to fire performance following the amendments to Approved Document B. 

Previously, there were alternative options, and either the national classification system or the European classification under BS EN 13501-1 could be used for demonstrating reaction to fire performance. Now, in nearly all cases, Approved Document B points to the European system of classification, whether that is for external cladding materials, internal finishes, raw CLT, or other materials. Evidence needs to be based on the European classification system and will normally require a minimum classification level of B-s3,d2. However, the classification requirements for certain products, such as those used on external walls, are more stringent where used on buildings in excess of the trigger heights stated in Approved Document B. It is worth noting that timber products, even when treated with specific treatments for reaction to fire performance, are unlikely to achieve a greater than ‘B’ classification. 

Peter: I think its worth adding that on the 23rd December 2022 the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) opened a public consultation in England seeking feedback from relevant groups on proposals to remove national classifications from Approved Document B (ADB). Although no decisions have yet been made, DLUHC’s proposals inevitably may be seen as an indication of the future direction of travel with regard to the replacement of the BS standard suite by the European test standards and classification system.

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