Last night Enfield Council granted planning permission for another four new tower blocks at its Meridian Water development. The latest tower blocks will range from 10 to 16 storeys, and each of them will only have a single staircase.
This comes only a few weeks after it approved two other tower blocks at its flagship development, one of which will be 30 storeys with a single staircase. We reported this on our blog.
Despite calls from industry experts to ban such buildings, last night Enfield Council went ahead and approved a further four tower blocks with single staircases. The tower blocks will operate a ‘stay-put’ strategy in the event of a fire, because it will be difficult and potentially dangerous for residents and firefighters to evacuate the building via a single staircase.
There are a number of potential problems with stay-put strategies, for example they rely on containing the fire and smoke to one place, and whilst most fires are contained, many are not.
Furthermore, residents are increasingly unwilling to stay-put, especially since the Grenfell Tower fire. Older residents and disabled residents are the most disadvantaged as they may not be able to evacuate the building.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has been campaigning for a change to building regulations which would require tall buildings to have at least two separate staircases.
“If I’m in a high-rise and there’s a fire,Jane Duncan, Chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety
I’m going to ignore any ‘stay put’ advice
The London mayor and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) have also called for a review of single staircases in tall buildings, with the NFCC renewing this call only last Friday.
“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.Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
However, after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, residents’ willingness to stay in their flats may have changed.”
It is notable that most countries across the world, including Scotland, require two means of escape from tall buildings.
The four residential towers at Meridian Water will be home to over 600 people and the towers will sit above commercial workspace, offices, ancillary spaces (e.g. refuse storage), and a car park, all of which can increase the risk of fire.
The government wrote to Local Authorities in August 2022 and warned that tower blocks featuring single stairs are unlikely to meet building regulations and may be based on a misunderstanding or “selective reading” of approved documents.
The latest tower blocks approved for Meridian Water will not comply with the approved fire safety regulations for tall buildings with single staircases. This is because the distance from many of the flats to the single escape stair will be well over 7.5 metres, which is the maximum permitted by the current building regulations for fire safety.
At last night’s meeting, the Council’s Building Control Manager confirmed that the new tower blocks will not meet all of the approved Building Regulations for Fire Safety as written.
However, the Council’s Building Control Manager said that the building would still be considered “lawful” as it complied with other regulations (BS 9991) which allow the distance between flats and the escape stair to be doubled (i.e. up to 15 metres), when the building is provided with sprinklers, and that “it has been common practice to extend that travel distance further by the incorporation of mechanical smoke extraction systems”.
(Note: according to our measurements the distance between some flats and the escape stair is far further than 15 metres).
We are left with a situation where the law allows us to consider single stair buildings. I do believe that that will be changing, but the regulations have to be applied as they sit today.Enfield Council Building Control Manager 18/10/2022
Where does this leave us? We know industry experts and politicians have significant concerns about single staircase tower blocks and ‘stay-put’ evacuation strategies, and that such new buildings would not be permissible in most other countries. Furthermore, there is a belief that the regulations in England will be changed to reflect these concerns. We also know that at least one of the building regulations (means of escape in the event of a fire) for the approved buildings can only be met indirectly i.e. by referring to BS 9991 and “common practice”. We are concerned that this is a vague way to approach the fire safety for over 600 residents and may qualify as what the government refers to as “selective reading” of the regulations. Despite this, the buildings were approved by Enfield Council’s planning committee by a vote of 7 to 4.
We want homes to be built at Meridian Water, especially affordable family homes – Enfield desperately needs them. We want these homes to be safe, and we also want the people that live in them to feel safe. All the tower blocks at Meridian Water should have at least two staircases, even if this means reducing the number of homes.
The following councillors voted to approve the plans for the new tower blocks: Nawshad Ali (Labour), Gunes Akbulut (Labour), Kate Anolue (Labour), Sinan Boztas (Labour), Elif Erbil (Labour), Mohammad Islam (Labour), Bektas Ozer (Labour)