Last night Enfield Council’s planning committee voted to grant planning permission for two new tower blocks at its Meridian Water development in Upper Edmonton. The blocks will be 24 and 30 storeys tall and will have single staircases, despite calls from industry experts to ban such buildings.
Since the Grenfell fire, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has campaigned for a change to building regulations, which would require tall buildings to have at least two separate staircases to provide residents with alternative escape routes in the event of a fire.
Several high-profile planning applications for tall buildings have been withdrawn because of concerns raised by the London Fire Brigade about single staircases.
Only South Korea & the UK do not require two means of escape from tall buildings, and earlier this week the Labour Housing Group tweeted that this was “a disgrace”.
At last night’s planning committee, Enfield’s planning officers informed members that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had removed its objection to the scheme. The consultation correspondence between Enfield Council and the HSE has not been published. Officers said they had consulted the London Fire Brigade about the scheme but had not yet received a response.
Officers also informed committee members that the new tower blocks would meet Building Regulations and fire standards, which currently allow single staircases in tall buildings. However, many experts believe the current regulations are inadequate for tall buildings.
The single staircase approach relies on the notion that in the event of fire, residents will ‘stay put’ in their flats and that they will be protected by the building’s engineering and fire safety solutions and firefighters. However, many fire and building experts think the ‘stay put’ approach is unsatisfactory because it is highly dependent on the buildings being properly built and maintained. Furthermore, the ‘stay put’ approach is out of date as it doesn’t reflect human behaviour or the need of residents to feel safe in their home.
“If I’m in a high-rise and there’s a fire, I’m going to ignore any ‘stay put’ advice.”Jane Duncan, Architect and Chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety
The London Mayor has also questioned the current approach to fire safety and the appropriateness of single staircases in tall buildings. In February 2022 he said:
“I am aware that in many instances residential buildings are designed to support a ‘stay put’ strategy and that one staircase may comply with the Building Regulations. However, after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, residents’ willingness to stay in their flats may have changed. I have repeatedly said that the fire safety requirements in national Building Regulations are not fit for purpose and the progress of reform is too slow.”Sadiq Khan Friday, 25th February 2022
In August 2022, a senior official at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) sent a letter to all planning authorities, including Enfield Council, which warned against residential towers with single staircases and said that some applications appeared to rely on “selectively reading” of Building Regulations to justify designing very tall buildings with just a single staircase.
DLUHC is currently reviewing Building Regulations and means of escape from blocks of flats.
The 30-storey tower block will be the tallest building in Enfield and more than twice the height of the Civic Centre in Enfield Town.
Meridian Water is a Council led scheme and the Council should be setting the highest standards in terms of fire safety. In our opinion, single staircase tower blocks should not be approved. There are clearly very significant concerns about such blocks amongst both industry experts and politicians from across the political spectrum, and serious doubts about whether the current Building Regulations are adequate. We believe that additional staircases should have been incorporated into the designs.
The following councillors voted to approve the plans for the new tower blocks: Nawshad Ali (Labour), Kate Anolue (Labour), Mahym Bedekova (Labour), Elif Erbil (Labour), Thomas Fawns (Labour) Ahmet Hasan (Labour).