Mayor accused of breaking own rules over single staircases in tall buildings

Tories point out several tower blocks planned on City Hall land do not meet new fire safety criteria set by Labour mayor, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

The Grenfell Tower disaster and (inset) Sadiq Khan
The Grenfell Tower disaster and (inset) Sadiq Khan

City Hall Conservatives have told Sadiq Khan to “follow his own rules” and stop buildings taller than 30 metres from being built without second staircases – including those already with planning permission.

The fire safety rule was put in place by the Labour mayor as a legal requirement for new buildings in the capital in February of this year. At a national level, the government is looking to introduce even stricter rules which will also apply in London, which will set the threshold for a second staircase at buildings taller than 18m.

But Emma Best – deputy leader of the Conservatives on the London Assembly – said several building projects granted or pending planning permission on land owned by City Hall and its associated bodies were in breach of the 30m rule, and that those schemes should be “reviewed”.

A spokesman for Khan hit back, calling Best’s comments a “disingenuous attack” and insisting that fire safety is “of paramount importance” to the mayor.

Best had submitted a pair of written questions to Khan earlier this year, asking how many planning applications submitted on City Hall land are taller than 30m but only include one staircase. She asked for all applications lodged since 2016 – the year that Khan was elected as mayor.

The mayor’s team responded by saying that some 21 schemes have received permission to go ahead with only one staircase, while a further six had permission pending.

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The 21 projects with permission to build – each currently at various stages of completion – all received their approval before the 30m rule was announced, with the last of them gaining permission in 2022.

Commenting on this answer, Best said: “It is imperative that people feel safe and secure in their own homes. A second staircase is a proven mitigation that prevents people being trapped inside of buildings in an emergency situation.

“Now this has been established in London, developments should not be allowed to go ahead without a second staircase in place, especially on the mayor’s own GLA [Greater London Authority] Group land.

“The mayor should follow his own rules and ensure that all his developments are reviewed, regardless of the status of their planning permission.”

A spokesman for the mayor responded: “This is a very disingenuous attack. The assembly member knows that the 21 schemes they refer to were all given permission before the new requirements were put in place.

“The mayor is ensuring all new developments on his land meet the new criteria for second staircases.

“Fire safety is of paramount importance to the mayor, and he has been leading the way on new standards.

“Sadiq has long been calling on government to introduce stricter national measures to ensure fire safety in tall buildings.”

The spokesman confirmed that the six pending schemes will be subject to the 30m rule.

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.

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