The beginning of August 2021 witnessed the official initiation of working with Planning Gateway One, one of the amendments that took place because of the Public Inquiry after Grenfell disaster. After the fire, an independent review to the Building Regulations and Fire Safety commenced to understand the shortcomings of those that led to the disaster in 2017. This review concluded that the current system was not efficient enough and failing, especially when it came to high rise buildings, and thus needed major amendments.
Planning Gateway One’s main objective is to make sure that fire safety is incorporated into buildings from the earliest stage possible, thus ensuring proactivity. Through making use of the existing planning process undertaken in England, it requires fire statements that prove that fire safety has been considered in the early construction stages.
Future expected Gateways to follow:
Following Planning Gateway One, Gateway Two and Three are expected to follow. Gateway Two will be part of the coming Building Safety Bill and will cover the technical design and construction phase. It introduces a “hard stop” for when the construction cannot commence before the Building Control application is approved. Gateway Two will also require stronger change information and competence management procedures during the construction phase.
Gateway Three represents the final certificate or completion phase. It also constitutes a “hard stop” for where the final inspections and completion certificates are issues by the Building Safety Regulator. At this stage, prescribed document and as-built building information will be required to be included within the building control application.
Forward and proactive thinking in Fire Safety Issues
In the report issued by Dame Judith Hackitt after the Public Inquiry, the importance of including fire safety thinking early on was highlighted. That forward thinking would result in essential fire safety features being considered from the beginning, at the time where all other fundamental design decisions are made. That will also minimise future work needed to revisit the planning proposals and amend them in later development stages. This in turn will lead to a higher number of successful schemes considering fire safety, as well as reduced costs for developers and architects in terms of re-designing requirements.
What are the elements of Planning Gateway One?
The elements of Planning Gateway One are quite simple. For starters, developers of projects that include high rise residential or educational buildings (i.e relevant buildings) are now required to submit a fire statement. This statement is there to set out the fire safety considerations to be implemented in the project. Also, Planning Gateway One assigns the Health and Safety Executive1 as the legal consultee for planning applications.
What type of projects does Planning Gateway One cover?
Planning Gateway One identifies relevant buildings as those that contain two or more dwellings or educational accommodation (such as student dormitories). In addition, a relevant building must meet the height requirements of 18 m or above or be formed of seven storeys. With the Building Safety Bill being currently under consideration, it is expected that more buildings might be included to the list in the future.
(1. The Health and Safety Executive is a UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Great Britain.)
Health and Safety Executive Role:
As per Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, there was a need for input from fire safety specialists at the early application stages. This is where the role of the Health and Safety Executive comes in. Local planning authorities are now required to consult with HSE for certain planning permission applications, specifically those that form part of the “relevant buildings” definition. It is expected that the Building Safety Bill, once abided by, will move over the role of HSE here to that of a Building Safety Regulator, which is a newly created position formed of a competent fire engineer that can provide such consultations. The application for a planning permission must be also accompanied by a fire statement unless an exemption is applicable.
Fire statements are there to provide information related to fire safety and can be quite similar to a short and concise fire strategy of the building. They are to contain information that are precise and applicable to the development itself and proportionate to its scale and complexity. The whole concept of them is to provide evidence that fire safety has been actually considered, and thus incorporated into the planning application. Fire statements are also required to include set out and external site information, including that of fire brigade access and water supply. Nevertheless, the level of detail required within those is much less than that required at the building control application stage. The government has issued a template form 2 which can be filled by developers for fire statements or used as guidance. The publication of that form is to ensure consistency in applications as well as coverage of all required essentials.
Fire statements are required to contain the various principles, concepts, and approaches relevant to fire safety that have been included in the design. They should also show the site layout, fire brigade vehicle access, and extinguishing water supply. Moreover, fire statements need to list the consultations undertaken on any issues, especially where fire engineered approaches are to be followed, and the results of these consultations.
It is worth nothing here that fire statements are also required under the New London Plan, (refer to previous article here: https://www.brennaktuelt.no/arkitektur-brannevaluering- brannfare/londonplanen-sitt-fokus-pa-nye-brannsikkerhetstiltak/110128 ). However, it was clarified that when both policies apply (the Planning Act 2021 and the New London Plan), it was acceptable to submit the Planning Gateway One as a baseline and amend it for the differences required in the New London Plan.
(2. The standardised form can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/996387/Fire_s tatement_form_-_static.pdf)
A good step forward, one of many to come
There is no doubt that all the recent alterations to regulations, including but not limited to Planning Gateway One, have been introduced to improve the overall quality of fire safety in England. Even though more work is needed, and is being done, it is definitely a step in the right direction. People have the right to feel safe, and politicians are finally acknowledging that right.