Government details fire safety-related changes to planning system

The government has released details of new requirements in the planning system to bolster fire safety in high-rise residential buildings, in response to the Grenfell Tower Fire.

The changes come in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) plans to introduce ‘planning gateway one’, which it said would deliver on one of Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations following her independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety.

The new requirements aim to ensure fire safety matters as they relate to land use planning are incorporated at the planning stage for schemes that involve high-rise residential buildings.

The changes, which come into effect from 1 August 2021 will:

  • involve the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) becoming a statutory consultee before permission is granted for development which involves or is likely to involve a high-rise residential building;
  • require relevant applications for planning permission to include a fire statement to ensure applicants have considered fire safety issues as they relate to land use planning matters such as layout and access;
  • help inform effective decision-making by local planning authorities or the secretary of state so that those decisions reflect and respond to the needs of the local community.

The new requirements will be introduced by making amendments to the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015.

Planning gateway one is the first of three gateways through which developments and buildings must pass.

Gateway two will bolster the current building control deposit of plans with the Building Safety Regulator as the only option of building control body for in-scope buildings. Construction will not be allowed to begin until the Regulator has approved the building control application.

Gateway three will provide a ‘hard stop’ at which the Building Safety Regulator undertakes final inspections and issues a completion certificate.

All three gateways apply to multi-occupied residential buildings of 18m or more in height, or seven or more storeys (whichever is reached first).

As announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday (11 May), the Building Safety Bill is also expected to be introduced this year, which will establish a new building safety regime in England.

Welcoming the news, CIOB past president Paul Nash, who co-authored the CIOB Guide to Quality Management in Construction earlier this year, said: “The gateways are just part of the proposals for a new building safety regime that were set out in the draft Building Safety Bill published in July 2020. But as we saw with the introduction of a new national Construction Products Regulator earlier this year, the government is prepared to make changes to the building safety regime ahead of the Bill to ensure that the residents of high-risk buildings are safe, and feel safe in their homes.

“As with the Construction Products Regulator, this latest announcement, and the clarity that it provides for our industry, is to be welcomed.”

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