Single staircases for tall buildings not being allowed in other boroughs
Towers being built at Portal Way in North Acton. Picture: City and Docklands Property Group
Hammersmith MP Andrew Slaughter has criticised the use of single staircases in skyscrapers that have been approved in a recently built tower block in North Acton.
In his recent email newsletter sent close to the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, he welcomed the decision to abandon a plan for a 35-storey building in White City at the Westfield site. The new design will have fewer storeys and a second staircase in line with the recommendations of London Fire Brigade.
He told his constituents, "New tall and very tall buildings are being put through planning with a single staircase despite the concerns of the London Fire Brigade. I was pleased to learn this week that the new towers planned for the Westfield site in White City have come down in height and will have
a second staircase – they will still be up to 35 storeys, but in neighbouring Acton there are plans for 55-storey towers with a single escape stair."
He confirmed that he was making reference to One Portal Way in North Acton, the 55-storey building which is close to completion. He says that there may be at least four very tall buildings in this area which will be constructed with a single staircase. The timeline for construction of these buildings is unclear and they may now be under the planning control of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) rather than Ealing Council which gave approval for the first tower. It is understood that issue with the lack of capacity on the electricity grid may also delay the completion of these buildings. Mr Slaughter has been told that the developer, Imperial College, may be reconsidering the design of the remaining buildings.
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) was persuaded to scrap its original scheme near the shopping centre after discussions with Hammersmith & Fulham Council planners. Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire had described the proposal, which was just a few hundred metres away from the site of the tragedy, as ‘shocking’ and it is believed this was a factor in the revisions.
The original design relied on the ‘stay-put’ strategy that proved so fatal at Grenfell. The theory was that the fire would be contained at the point where it started but combustible cladding meant that the whole building was eventually alight.
URW had insisted that the design was in line with current building regulations and that apartments in the new complex would have had sprinklers and there was to evacuation lifts for disabled residents. As the building façade was deemed 100% non-combustible, it was felt a “stay put” strategy would be safe.
Earlier this year, the developer of a 51-storey apartment tower close to Canary Wharf withdrew its application after concerns were raised about the single staircase.
Many other countries have a requirement that more than one staircase should be provided in tall buildings and some fire safety experts are arguing this should be introduced in the UK.
When asked about the issue, the chair of Ealing’s planning committee, Cllr Shital Manro, said that the issue had been raised at Mayor’s Question Time this February. The Mayor had responded by saying, “ My London Plan Policy D12 requires all development to achieve the highest standards in fire safety and Policy D5 seeks the provision of an evacuation lift, where a lift core will be provided. My recently published draft Fire Safety London Plan Guidance requires developments to provide a rigorous assessment of the number of stair cores provided based on factors such as the proposed evacuation strategy, the height of the building, and the anticipated number of occupants.
“I am aware that in many instances residential buildings are designed to support a ‘stay put’ strategy and that one staircase may comply with the Building Regulations. However, after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, residents’ willingness to stay in their flats may have changed. I have repeatedly said that the fire safety requirements in national Building Regulations are not fit for purpose and the progress of reform is too slow.”
Cllr Manro pointed out that the issue is a matter of building regulation rather than planning so it would not necessarily be within the powers of the borough planning committee to refuse designs incorporating a single fire escape route.
We have asked Ealing Council for comment and await a response.
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