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Khan blames Gove for housing delays caused by confusion over fire safety rules

Delays to 34,000 planned new homes come amid uncertainty over government’s new fire safety regulations for second staircases in tall buildings, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq Khan (left) is unhappy with Michael Gove (right)
Sadiq Khan (left) is unhappy with Michael Gove (right)

Sadiq Khan has accused the government of “bureaucratic dither and delay” over proposed new fire safety rules, claiming that a lack of certainty is causing London housing projects to stall.

In a letter to housing secretary Michael Gove, the mayor said that 34,000 homes on major development sites in the capital were unable to proceed, because it was unclear how the new rules would be applied.

The new rules are expected to require all new buildings in England taller than 18m to have a second staircase.

In Enfield, part of the council’s flagship Meridian Water development is now being redesigned to accommodate second staircases in buildings above 18m, despite previously receiving planning approval.

Khan said that although he was “sympathetic to this position” and has “long supported the highest standards of fire safety”, the policy “was announced without any confirmation of the transitional arrangements or the detail of the technical requirements for compliance”.

The government had initially proposed setting the height limit for buildings with only one staircase at 30m – a rule Khan introduced in London in February this year, though there remains no such requirement in the rest of England.

But in a speech in July, Gove revealed that the England-wide limit will instead be set at 18m.

Khan wrote: “The manner of the announcement has left planning authorities and developers in limbo, at a time when the national housing crisis means the sector can ill afford to slow development.”

Gove promised in his speech that there would be “transitional arrangements in place to make sure that there is no disruption to housing supply”.

City Hall points out that councils and housing developers currently have no guidance on what the transition period will allow for, or what technical requirements will be needed to satisfy the new rules – for example, whether the two staircases will need to be entirely separate or whether they can be contained within the same building core.

Khan told Gove: “New data from the major schemes that cross my desk reveal that there are 34,000 homes which are impacted by the proposed new second staircase requirement.

“They are in limbo at various stages of their evolution within the development sector while they wait for clarity from your department.

“Moreover, there will be thousands more homes affected across London which are not on major schemes and so do not come across my desk.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been approached for comment.

In August, Khan was accused of hypocrisy over his 30m rule. The Conservatives said that 21 housing schemes – each with buildings taller than 30m and only one staircase – have been granted planning permission on land owned by City Hall since 2016, the year that Khan came to power.

The 21 projects, each currently at various stages of completion, all received their approval before the rule was announced, with the last of them gaining permission in 2022.

A spokesman for Khan said the Conservatives were making “a very disingenuous attack”, as the 30m rule only applies to new developments, rather than those that already have planning permission.

Fire safety in tall buildings has received particular attention from policymakers since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The 67m tall building had only one staircase, which meant search and rescue operations by the fire brigade were harder to conduct, and it was harder for residents to escape the tower.