Delays to new fire safety laws holding up housing schemes across London, Gove warned

London Assembly member Sakina Sheikh tells housing secretary of “the urgency of providing the clarity to developers”, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Michael Gove (left) and London Assembly member Sakina Sheikh (right)
Michael Gove (left) and London Assembly member Sakina Sheikh (right)

The number of planned or under-construction homes in London which have stalled due to uncertainty over fire safety rules has grown by almost 4,000 in six months.

Mayor Sadiq Khan last year accused the government of “dither and delay” over its plans to require all new buildings in England taller than 18 metres to have a second staircase.

The rule is being brought forward by Housing Secretary Michael Gove to ensure residents have more than one escape route and to make search and rescue operations easier for firefighters. It comes as policymakers seek to learn lessons from the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, as the 67-metre building had only one staircase.

Khan, who has said he is “sympathetic” to the measure, revealed in September 2023 that at least 34,000 homes across the capital at various stages in the planning pipeline were unable to be built due to a lack of clarity over how the regulation will be applied.

It remains uncertain, for example, whether the two staircases in each building will need to be entirely separate or whether they can be contained within the same building core.

The mayor recently confirmed that the number of homes affected has grown to “nearly 38,000”.

The figure only includes homes from planning applications which are large enough to be referred to the City Hall, meaning that the true number of properties which have stalled across London is likely to be much higher.

The new statistic was revealed by Khan in his answer to a written question from Labour assembly member Sakina Sheikh.

He told her: “It has now been over a year since the government launched the consultation on the requirement for second staircases and they have yet to publish the technical details. I understand that they have now committed to publishing this by the end of March.

“This delay has resulted in many developers deciding not to pursue their proposals until there is clarity on the requirements. The current number of schemes referable to me affected by this delay is now nearly 38,000.

“My officers do not have details on affected schemes which are not referable to me, which means the number of new homes whose delivery is being delayed by the lack of clarity around the requirements for second staircases is inevitably significantly higher.

“My housing and planning teams continue to work with DLUHC [the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities] to stress the urgency of providing the clarity to developers to help unlock the delivery of much needed homes in London.

Sheikh said: “The housing crisis is bad enough without the government making it worse. It’s not good enough that they’re missing their own deadlines for the rules new schemes need.

“Buildings over 18m should have a second staircase to allow residents to get out safely in an emergency. The uncertainty the delay is causing, however, means Londoners are seeing the homes they need get stuck in the planning system.

“It’s unbelievable that ministers have the gall to criticise others’ housebuilding efforts when they are preventing new homes being built for Londoners.”

DLUHC was approached for a statement in response.

In October 2023, Gove confirmed that once the regulations have been detailed, developers will be given a 30-month transition period in which to adapt to the new rules.

He also confirmed that any building projects which already have permission to build but which “do not follow the new guidance will have 18 months for construction to get underway in earnest”. Once the 18 months has elapsed, and if construction has not started, a new ‘building regulations application’ will be required.

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