Does the Current Building Legislation do Enough?
Since this article was written and published, the The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has released an advice note about balconies on residential buildings. You can read about the implications of this advice note here.
In light of the recent balcony fire in Barking, East London, maybe we should be asking: Does the current building legislation do enough to protect residents?
The recent change in building legislation – Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 – bans the use of combustible materials on residential buildings over 18m above ground level and this was a welcome change following the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017. Although this is definitely a step in the right direction, do the changes go far enough?
Last week, we saw yet another fire devastate a residential building in the UK. This time, the fire started on the balcony of an apartment block in Barking, East London. It has since come to light that both residents and fire experts had raised concerns about the fire risks that were present before the block of flats went up in flames, yet nothing was done to address these worries. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt during the blaze and, as the fire occurred on the side of the building that faces a road, London Fire Brigade was able to access and extinguish the flames without facing too many obstacles.
It is thought that the fire broke out as a result of a barbecue setting fire to the wood-based (ThermoWood) balcony that it was sat upon. The flames were able to spread easily as the apartment building is also clad in the Class D, wood-based material.
Something that is apparent, and somewhat alarming, is that, under the new building legislation, it would be perfectly legal for this exact development to be built again in the future – along with its Class D fire rated balconies and cladding. This is because the apartment block is under 18m (approximately 6 storeys) so, legally, the recent changes made to the building regulations are not relevant to this building.
As we have mentioned in a previous article, this ‘18m rule’ gives little reassurance to anybody who is disabled because one flight of stairs is just as unscalable as six flights of stairs to those who are wheelchair-bound or have mobility issues.
Another way in which the legislation falls short is how none of these amendments need to be implemented if a building is being converted from a non-residential development into a residential development. No residential building in the UK should be legally allowed to have combustible materials on the exterior walls, regardless of how many storeys it has, the year it was constructed or what its original purpose was.
If UK laws will not change to protect residents, then measures should be taken by developers and specifiers to ensure the safety of the people living in their buildings by only incorporating non-combustible materials on the external walls.