The mandatory requirement for a second staircase in respect of new high rise residential buildings has been under consideration by the UK Government for some time. Following a consultation, proposals for imposing these stricter rules for domestic buildings over 30 metres from the ground in England were issued on 23 December 2022.

However, there was a strong feeling in the industry – and amongst the wider public – that these steps didn’t go far enough. In March 2023, a coalition of industry professional bodies (including RICS, RIBA, CIOB and the National Fire Chiefs Council) wrote to Michael Gove (the UK Government's Secretary for the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities) calling on the Government to reduce the height threshold to 18m to improve safety.

The letter also noted that this change would harmonise the position across the UK, given that the Scottish Government issued an update to guidance in Scotland in 2019 which confirmed the requirement for a second staircase on all domestic buildings over 18 metres.

Updated Proposals

The Government appear to have taken this response on board as, in a speech on 24 July 2023, Mr Gove intimated the UK Government's intention to proceed with the proposals but to lower the applicable threshold to 18 metres.

Mr Gove expressly referred to the support from industry bodies, noting that he was looking to provide "much-desired clarity to builders", regarding the proposals and that making the change formed part of the "considered and gradual evolution of safety standards".

There was an acknowledgement of the potential for these changes to impact on live projects, and Mr Gove confirmed that his department was seeking to work rapidly with the industry to design transitional arrangements with a view to "securing the viability of projects which are already underway, avoiding delays where there are other more appropriate mitigations”.

Impact on Projects

Following the original announcement in relation to buildings over 30 metres, a number of developers ceased work due to the lack of clarity on how these provisions would affect them. The number of buildings affected will clearly increase as a result of the lowered threshold.

Although Mr Gove has sought to provide clarity to the industry by confirming that all new projects over 18m will require a second staircase, it is the details of the transitional arrangements which are more likely to provide what contractors and developers require. It is only once this information is known that plans can be made or amended to allow projects potential caught by the new requirements to move forward. All parties will therefore be hoping that Mr Gove comes good on his promise for rapid engagement.

For further information on matters relating to the Building Safety Act please see our Building & Fire Safety Hub.


Eric Johnstone

Legal Director

Louise Shiels

Head of Dispute Resolution and Risk & Partner