NFCC Building Safety Key Positions And Work
Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has engaged closely with Government and other key stakeholders on improvement to building safety regulations. Significant action is being taken forward to help deliver safer buildings for residents.
NFCC has consistently called for improvements to building regulations and has provided input to a number of key reviews and consultations across industry and Government which will form the basis of an improved building safety system.
Below is a summary of key positions and action to date. Our full consultation responses, position statements and guidance can also be viewed using the links below.
Whilst action is being taken, there is much more to do.
Building Safety Reform – what we are calling for
NFCC calls for new high rise residential buildings to have more than one fire escape staircase
In December 2022, NFCC released a Policy Position Statement urging Government to mandate that all new high rise residential buildings must have more than one protected staircase, and calling for a height threshold of 18m for single stairs. In March 2023, NFCC sign a joint industry letter with RIBA to call on Government to adopt an 18-metre maximum height threshold for new residential buildings with a single staircase. Read the letter here and news story here.
Whole-system reform and culture change
Reform must be holistic to achieve culture change. The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety found the current building regime as a ‘broken system’. NFCC supports the proposed Gateway and change control processes, with the ability for the regulator to enforce a hard stop.
Wider scope for building safety regime
The new regime must avoid a two-tiered standard of safety. New rules for a narrow set of buildings will only create incentives for people to build other types of buildings within the current broken system. More vulnerable groups and higher risk premises could be recognised within the Gateways process from the outset.
Clarity where legislation overlaps
Concerns must be resolved about multiple and overlapping pieces of legislation, particularly in mixed-use buildings.
An end to clients’ choosing their own building control body
The ability for clients to choose their own building control body must be removed for all building work, not just buildings in scope. Research across 190 economies has found that independence or third-party safeguards are crucial in order to create the right incentives to achieve safe outcomes.
Reform of non-worsening provisions
Non-worsening provisions which currently allow buildings to be refurbished many times without any improvement to fire safety standards must be addressed. NFCC has called for adjustments to section 4(3) of the Building Regulations, and an uplift to Article 38 of the Fire Safety Order.
Competency right through the supply and build chain
Competency must be addressed for all those involved in the supply and build chain and ongoing maintenance. Third party certification should become a requirement, particularly for construction product safety, and competency of installers.
Serious defect costs not to end with leaseholders
More pathways are needed to enable cost recovery from relevant duty holders where breaches of the regulations have occurred. NFCC supports the extension of the statutory time available for Building Act 1984 offences to be considered, from two years to ten years. We would welcome consideration of similar provisions in Scotland of up to 20 years, to ensure greater harmonisation of regulations across the UK.
Strengthened fire safety building regulations
Approved Document B needs significant strengthening, and we welcome the full technical review. Areas requiring strengthening include the use of sprinklers, firefighting access and facilities, and consideration of the needs of vulnerable persons, especially in specialised housing.
Greater use of AFSS
NFCC would like to see a greater inclusion of Sprinklers / Automatic Fire Suppression Systems (AFSS) in the built environment in the UK.
Construction products regulation
The product testing regime must be strengthened to ensure suitable standards of manufacture, testing, and quality assurance. We have supported proposals for a new construction products regulator, which would act as additional assurance to improve the confidence of the sector.
What action have we taken so far
NFCC has centrally co-ordinated checks of identified Aluminium Composite Metal buildings across England, supporting the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government with extensive efforts to identify buildings, and co-ordinate FRS visits where the risk was unknown.
Expert Panel advice and support
NFCC provides support and expert advice where needed to the Government’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel and the Industry Response Group (IRG) to complement national remediation efforts.
The Competency Framework for Business Fire Safety Regulators was first published in 2013
and was subsequently revised in February 2020. The latest, revised version of the Competency Framework was published on 28 June 2023 and can be viewed here.
The Framework was produced to provide a common approach to developing, achieving and maintaining the competence of Fire Safety Regulators (FSRs). The revised Framework will help to support enforcing authorities in this time of change. Significant changes are being made to the fire safety regulatory framework following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017 and the subsequent publication of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety – Building a Safer Future.
Following the discovery of buildings with similar external wall systems (EWS) to Grenfell Tower, it became clear no central guidance existed on how to implement a temporary change to the evacuation strategy.
If a Stay Put strategy cannot be maintained, and there is a serious risk to relevant persons, Fire and Rescue Services (the “FRS”) are under a duty to enforce the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“The FSO”) and may require the FRS to consider prohibiting use of some or all parts of the building. This can result in residents having to vacate their homes. This has serious consequences for people. In some cases, this can put people in the position of having to pay their mortgage and other bills, at the same time as paying for their own alternative accommodation. Moreover, a breach of an FRS prohibition is a criminal offence. To enable people to continue to live in relative safety in their own homes, interim solutions were needed to mitigate the risk.
NFCC convened a group of industry professionals to develop a technical guide, whilst accepting that the principal way to reduce risk was to urgently remediate the non-compliant EWS. Following extensive consultation, the group has published a fourth edition of the guidance.
You can view the key changes to the fourth edition and read the Simultaneous Evacuation Guidance on our website.
Fire Protection Board – Building Risk Review (BRR) Programme
Following a Ministerial request, in July 2019 the Chair of NFCC convened a new Fire Protection Board. The Board launched the Building Risk Review Programme to understand and help reduce fire risk in high-rise residential buildings. The programme aims to meet the Government’s ambition to significantly increase the pace of inspection activity across high rise residential buildings. You can read more detail on the BRR here.
NFCC’s evidence-based policy advice in action
Widening scope of the proposed regime of ‘high risk’ residential buildings from 30m down to 18m
Initial scope for the proposed regime defined higher risk building as those 30m and above. NFCC advice, data and evidence has informed a position where this has now been widened to 18m. NFCC continues to provide advice and support on ways in which policy settings could be designed to better reflect risk, including further changes to scope.
Sprinklers for new build 11 metres plus residential buildings
NFCC has welcomed the change that we called for in 2019 within Approved Document B (ADB) of the Building Regulations, which has lowered the threshold height for the installation of sprinklers in new blocks of flats to 11m. Our position statement can be found here.
£1.6bn Government funding for ACM and non-ACM cladding remediation
NFCC have repeatedly highlighted barriers to remediation of buildings with unsafe cladding systems, including financial support. Ministers and officials now point to NFCC positions across a range of areas to justify key decision-making. Our Select Committee Evidence on this area can be found here
£20m – Budget 2020 funding announcements to support Protection
Following evidence to support the spending review, in 2020 the Government announced £20 million of funding, including £16m for direct support for FRSs to review or inspect all high-rise multi-occupied residential buildings by the end of 2021, to bolster work targeting other higher-risk buildings and support protection departments. Read our response to the funding announcement here
Supporting FRS and other stakeholders with timely and appropriate guidance in the Covid-19 response
NFCC have been working closely with FRS Protection departments and other stakeholders, providing them with advice, peer review and support during the pandemic. This has included compilation of guidance to safely enable the Nightingale Hospitals. Our Covid guidance can be viewed here