Consultation outcome

Consultation response - Amendments to Approved Document B: Second Staircases

Updated 29 March 2024

Consultation response

1. This is a partial response to the ‘Sprinklers in care homes, removal of national classes, and staircases in residential buildings’ consultation that was published on 23 December 2022. It deals with proposals for second staircases in tall buildings. A further response to other parts of that consultation will be published in due course.

2. The government is committed to ensuring that people can be confident that buildings are safe. Since 2018 the government has been undertaking a technical review of the fire safety guidance to the building regulations within Approved Document B. Initially, Government issued a call for evidence on the technical review of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations. The desire for change was apparent and Government has been working to ensure that any changes represent expert consensus based on a robust evidence base. The technical review covers 10 work strands, including a focus on the means of escape for blocks of flats and means of escape for disabled people.

3. On 23 December 2022 the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Local Communities (DLUHC) conducted a public consultation on sprinklers in care homes, removal of national classes, and staircases in residential buildings. This consultation follows from the government’s commitment to undertake the technical review of Approved Document B, as outlined in the workplan published in April 2020 and updated in June 2022.

4. This consultation sought views on proposals to amend Approved Document B to;

a. recommend sprinklers in new care homes, regardless of building height;
b. remove the national classifications system for construction products and require all relevant construction product to be tested to the British Standard;
c. introduce a threshold whereby residential buildings above 30 metres in height should be designed and built with 2 staircases;
d. launch a call for evidence on revisions to paragraphs 10.6 and 10.7 of Approved Document B covering materials and products used in the construction of external walls.

5. The consultation ran for 12 weeks, from 23 December 2022 to 17 March 2023. It was published online at GOV.UK and respondents were encouraged to complete an online survey or alternatively submit responses via email or in writing. This report is considering the second staircase part of the consultation specifically.

6. The consultation complied with the duty on the Secretary of State in section 14(3) of the Building Act 1984 to consult the Building Safety Regulator and other bodies representative of the interests concerned on proposed changes to the substantive requirements in the Building Regulations.

7. There were 285 responses to the consultation, 113 of which were received from individuals and 166 from organisation representatives and 6 did not declare either way.

Summary of responses


8. This report is structured around the questions set out in the consultation document. Each section includes a quantitative analysis of the responses and a summary qualitative analysis of the views and comments submitted for each consultation question. The question numbers used in this report are consistent with the question numbers on the survey form.

9. It should be noted that none of the questions in the consultation received a 100% response. Every percentage given in the tables and text in this report is a percentage of the replies of those who answered the particular question and where responses could be coded into “yes/no/don’t know” out of the possible 285 respondents for consistency, unless stated otherwise.

10. The percentages are based on the full sample, with some of the findings summarised based on targeted analysis of responses from key stakeholders.

11. The percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number. Some responses have not been included in the responses as they were not written in a format where we could identify clearly the response provided.

Staircases in residential buildings (Question 19-25)

Question 19 - Do you agree that Approved Document B should include a maximum threshold for the provision of a single staircase in multioccupancy residential buildings? [Agree/Disagree]

1. 186 (65%) of respondents said “agree”
2. 26 (9%) said “disagree”
3. 73 (26%) did not answer

Question 20 - Do you agree with our proposed threshold of 30m+? [Agree/Disagree]

1. 72 (25%) of respondents said “agree”
2. 138 (48%) said “disagree”
3. 75 (26%) did not answer

Question 21 - If you disagree with the proposed threshold, at what height do you think the threshold should be set? and Question 22 – What evidence do you have to support this threshold?

The favoured threshold heights are set out in the table below, in order of written preference:

1. 14 (5%) of respondents were in favour of no threshold
2. 7 (2%) were in favour of 50m
3. 72 (25%) were in favour of 30m
4. 60 (21%) were in favour of 18m
5. 28 (10%) were in favour of 11m
6. A number of individuals suggesting a range of alternative thresholds such as 10m, 15m, 20m and 60m

12. There was wide recognition that there is no evidence that shows a single staircase to existing tall buildings as being unsafe, if designed and maintained correctly. This was widely echoed by professional opinion and is articulated by a significant number of respondents. The latter group favouring a risk assessed fire engineered design path, which would be aided by the improved holistic package of other ADB safeguards, rather than a threshold of one height or another.

13. However, a significant majority of respondents were in favour of the proposal to introduce a threshold. Respondents reflected both public and professional opinion that two, or multi-stair buildings offer greater resilience and would thus aid public confidence.

14. A wide range of current issues shaped the opinions of respondents; headlines are set out below. Many are interlinked with responses to Question 25, and these are discussed in greater detail at that point:

a. Increasing numbers of tall buildings and denser developments
b. Changes in the demographic and the numbers of occupants of tall buildings
c. Need to provide safe evacuation of disabled, vulnerable and less mobile people
d. Changes in human behaviour that are influencing evacuation patterns
e. Concern over single stair congestion between evacuation and fire fighting
f. Firefighting operations that in themselves can produce risks
g. Combustibility controls of construction materials are not complete in their coverage
h. Increasing concern over toxicity
i. Need to mitigate against poor construction quality, building management shortfall and failure/breakdown of systems
j. Greater contingency against redundancy across the board

15. There was broad support within respondents of 30m being a suitable threshold. Respondents agreed with the principles set out in the consultation and highlighted that a 30m threshold allows for a less restrictive balance with financial, space and societal impacts that might be incurred if applied to a larger number of lower buildings with a lower threshold.

16. Respondents also showed support for introducing a threshold of 18m on the basis that it provides alignment with High-Risk Building threshold under the Building Safety Act, the Fire Safety Act, and the baseline trigger recommendation for two stairs in draft BS 9991, and the threshold for internal firefighting provisions.

17. There was major concern raised by respondents over the cost and space impacts consequent to the proposal and their effect on housing provision. See commentary under Question 28.

Question 23 - Do you agree that additional measure should be provided to ensure sufficient separation between staircases? [Agree/Disagree] and Question 24 - What additional measures should be provided to ensure the appropriate separation between staircases? Please provide additional evidence to support your view.

1. 187 (66%) of respondents said “agree”
2. 20 (7%) said “disagree”
3. 78 (27%) did not answer

The main themes of responses were:

18. Staircase Enclosure/Compartmentation - There was wide agreement that the two stairs should be compartmented from each other, with specific responses sighting that for buildings over 30m this should be to REI120 performance. Further responses proposed that construction of the protected stair enclosures should be of A1 or A2-s1, d0 materials.

19. Lobby Approach - Many respondents suggested that the provision of a protected sterile smoke-controlled lobby should be considered as an approach to protecting stairways. Responses also noted that providing lobbies could support the development of provisions for disabled evacuation, which also recognising the benefit it may offer for firefighting.

20. A number of respondents raised the question as to what fire resistance period would be appropriate for protected lobby enclosures, and some suggested a review of standards for common corridor walls.

21. Disabled Evacuation – several respondents were clear that this consultation proposal should not progress without a full set of guidance standards that would provide a sound basis for the safe and ready evacuation of disabled, vulnerable people and those with lesser mobility. Respondents commented that provisions are unequal at present.

22. Respondents suggested that the recommendation in draft BS 9991 (i.e., evacuation lifts operable in managed and automatic mode, together with protected evacuation lift lobbies) should be incorporated in ADB.

23. Fire Fighting – Respondents highlighted that the provision of two stairs could help firefighting as it would give options of approach, relieve congestion conflicts with evacuation, enable safer ascent above a fire floor if needed, etc. Respondents linked these points to the provision of protected lobby approach increasing the degree of protection between a stair and the fire source. However, respondents noted that problems of smoke incursion can still occur if fire doors are left open for hose layout. The provision of stair lobbies was highlighted as an option that may offer the prospect of them being used as firefighting lobbies to the fire floor and thereby limit the need for hoses through the stair enclosures.

24. Respondents also noted that circumstances are dependent upon the position of the two stairs. It was noted that if they are positioned apart in regular fashion then existing guidance for the provision of firefighting shafts and reach remains satisfactory. However, if on certain building layouts, the stairs are in proximity, consideration was raised as to whether both staircases should be of firefighting standard.

25. A number of respondents believe that Fire Service Operational Standards should be reviewed and adopted to balance with building standards as far as might be possible. These comments also raised the matter of exploring ways to utilise high reach appliances.

26. Smoke Control - Respondents highlighted that there should be alignment across guidance with the height limits in SCA Guide, draft BS 9991 and industry practice. It was also suggested that the allowance of manual operation on multi stair buildings is unreliable and not fit for purpose.

27. Respondents recognised that certain building layouts that may have stairs and lobbies in proximity present complex smoke control zones and multi shafts. Some respondents suggested that in the face of complex arrangements and concerns over smoke incursion from firefighting operations, the bringing forward of the use of pressurisation of stairwells could be considered.

28. Means of escape, alternative escape directions and travel distances – respondents recognised that the provision of an additional stair will help provide an additional means of escape by giving more escape capacity, avoidance of congestion, and providing against the redundancy of one staircase. Many subsidiary points were raised over the position of the staircases and whether there should be provision of an alternative direction of escape, which is a common objective for means of escape. A number of respondents opined that they should not be co-located, whilst others believed that safe arrangements can be secured, which is vital for building layouts that have small footprints.

29. Respondents shared their support for existing dead-end allowances, but a number of respondents questioned extensive extended travel distances as a component within the objectives of this consultation.

30. Final Exits - numerous respondents requested that any amendments forthcoming from the consultation should include guidance on the separation and disposition of final exits and routes from protected stair enclosures to such exits.

31. Lifts – respondents highlighted their desire to see a wider provision of evacuation lifts and more reliance on firefighting lifts for evacuation in tall buildings in relation to lift provision and redundancy considerations in tall buildings. A number of respondents suggest that guidance regarding lifts should be included in the review.

Question 25 - Do you have a view on how long the transitional should be, and what evidence do you have to support your proposed transition?

32. A total of 167 answers were made to this question but this included a number who expressed no preference or were otherwise indeterminate.

1. 21 (7%) of respondents were in favour of a short (less than 3 months) transition
2. 7 (2%) were in favour of a 3-month transition
3. 22 (8%) were in favour of a 6-month transition
4. 28 (10%) were in favour of a 12-month transition
5. 20 (7%) were in favour of a Phased / Graduated transition

33. Short transition – respondents who favoured a short transition were mindful that a longer period might lead to an unnecessary number of projects proceeding before any deadline and that this would lessen the opportunity to gain potential safety benefits across the housing pipeline. They were also of the opinion that a short period could relieve some of the uncertainty that exists within the market.

34. Additionally, respondents noted that many developers and housing bodies are conscious of a likely forthcoming change and that they are already often voluntarily including future proofed staircase provision in their projects.

35. Standard Transition - a larger body of respondents were concerned that the long timelines involved with the design and planning phases of taller buildings necessitates a longer transition period for the change to be assimilated, funded and designed in conjunction with planning approval timing and constraints. This group saw 6 or 12 months as being required.

36. Graduated - a further number of respondents suggested a graduated formula that would apply a short transition where feasible but that would also make allowance for an acceptance of schemes under current guidance where for instance, they already have Planning Consent and committed designs and funding. Thus, avoiding costly and potentially destabilising midstream changes that an over rapid regulatory imposition would create.

37. Some comments noted that implementation of the transition for staircase amendment purposes would benefit from resolution of the separate consultation on ‘What is Commencement of Works’.

Government response

Implementation of a new threshold

38. We agree with respondents that although there is no evidence to suggest that buildings with a single staircase are inherently unsafe if designed and maintained correctly, a second staircase will support building egress and provide enhanced provision for firefighting and evacuation. The vast majority of respondents were in favour of the proposal to introduce a threshold which would require a second staircase. The lead option in the consultation was a threshold of 30m+. 30m is a threshold for safety measures such as increased fire resistance requirements and marks a recognised trigger representing an increase in the level of risk compared with buildings below 30m.

39. We recognise that respondents showed support for introducing a threshold of 18m on the basis that it provides alignment with the High-Risk Building threshold under the Building Safety Act, the Fires Safety Act and the baseline trigger recommendation for two stairs in draft BS 9991, and the threshold for internal firefighting provisions. Taking this into account we have decided to proceed with introducing a threshold of 18m for new tall residential buildings to require a second staircase.

Updated guidance in Approved Document B

40. Currently, Approved Document B does not set a threshold above which more than one staircase must be considered. An introduction of a second staircase at a specific threshold would, for the first time in England, set a maximum height for using a single staircase in residential buildings creating clear guidance for designers to make sure that residential buildings achieve an appropriate level of safety. Staircases provide an essential means of escape for residents in the event of an emergency and provide the emergency services with a point of access to all floors of the building.

41. We will be implementing a second staircase only solution. This will ensure that second staircases will be provided in all buildings above 18m+ in height. A second staircase will facilitate evacuation if a ‘Stay Put’ recommendation needs to be overridden. The provision of a firefighting shaft, alongside the inclusion of a protected staircase is expected as well as compliance with all other provisions outlined in Approved Document B. The updated guidance will not call for evacuation lifts as a matter of course and will provide developers with the clarity they need to progress developments. The design of each high-rise building will continue to receive individual scrutiny from experts, now via the Building Safety Regulator. The fire safety design for any higher risk building above 18m will be subject to review at Planning Gateway One by fire safety professionals and by a multi-disciplinary team at Gateway Two.


42. We appreciate the concerns that were raised by respondents over cost and space impacts and the effect the proposal could have on housing supply. We recognise that any update to the Approved Document B guidance can impact housing supply because it will increase build costs and potentially reduce the saleable floorspace of developments. But we are clear that this new standard should not jeopardise the supply of homes by disrupting schemes that have been planned for years. The introduction of a second staircase only solution will cause the least amount of cost impact to housing supply. It is customary for changes to building regulations to be accompanied by a transition period to provide clarity to building control bodies and those commissioning, designing and carrying out the building work. It also reduces the risk to developers being impacted by changes to requirements part way through the design and construction process.

43. The transitional arrangements will give developers 30 months from the publication of the guidance, during which new building regulations applications can conform to either the previous guidance or the updated guidance requiring a second staircase. When those 30 months have elapsed, all applications will need to conform to the new guidance. Any approved applications that do not follow the new guidance will have 18 months for construction to commence in earnest. If it does not, they will have to submit a new building regulations application, following the new guidance. Sufficient progress for this purpose will match the definition set out in the Building (Higher-Risk Buildings Procedures) (England) Regulations 2023 and will therefore be when the pouring of concrete for either the permanent placement of trench, pad or raft foundations or for the permanent placement of piling has started.

44. With these transitional arrangements, we will ensure that projects that already have planning permission with a single staircase can continue without further delay. This reflects the fact that the introduction of a second staircase is part of a gradual evolution of safety standards within buildings. It should be noted that there is no suggestion that existing and upcoming single-staircase buildings are inherently unsafe as long as they have been built in accordance with the relevant standards, well-maintained and properly managed.