When will we address fire safety in low rise blocks?
Last week, the RICS proposed new guidance designed to reduce the number of buildings that will need an EWS1 fire safety assessment before flats in the block can be mortgaged or re-mortgaged. A consultation on the proposals runs until 25 January, so if you are a leaseholder in an affected block or you are impacted by the use of these forms in any way, you can have your say here.
Taking lower rise buildings out of the equation is good news for leaseholders – some would say that the intention was never to include them in the first place. So if the proposed changes to the form are made following the current consultation, forms should not apply to:
- Buildings above 18m with no cladding or curtain wall glazing
- Buildings below six storeys where less than a quarter of the building has non-metal composite cladding.
However, regardless of cladding, since the advent of EWS1 investigations those carrying out invasive assessments of residential buildings have unearthed a wide range of other defects in low as well as high rise blocks that could pose a fire safety risk. So what is to be done about that?
Rather than putting the fear of God into flat owners – and pulling even more buildings apart causing huge cost and distress for residents - a better solution may be for owners and building managers to concentrate on ensuring that passive and active fire safety measures in blocks are effective and regularly tested. Constant reminders to residents not to engage in potentially dangerous activities such as balcony barbeques is also really important. Fire safety should always be uppermost in flat owners’ minds – it is too easy to forget that your own actions, as well as others’ may have tragic consequences.
A huge amount of fire safety information will soon be required on handover of new buildings under the new S38 of the fire regulations – and will apply to older blocks too. Routine inspection, testing and maintenance of all systems and processes will be required. This is yet another responsibility to add to the workload of block managers and other ‘accountable persons’ but, if adhered to correctly, the new rules should provide peace of mind for jumpy residents who are rightly concerned that their buildings may have hidden faults.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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