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Greater Manchester calls for fire safety to be at the heart of building design

05/12/2017

Greater Manchester is calling for a ban on flammable cladding systems and an overhaul of the planning system to put fire safety at the heart of building design and construction.

The demands form part of Greater Manchester’s evidence submission to the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, set up by the Government following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Under current legislation, the fire and rescue service is not a statutory consultee for planning applications, an oversight that local fire chiefs believe could be rectified to ensure the safety of buildings, residents, and firefighters are not put at risk.

Greater Manchester’s High Rise Taskforce – set up by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham – is recommending the planning process is changed to give local fire and rescue services statutory consultee status for certain types of development, such as large scale projects. This will mean that issues around water pressure and layout, which can affect firefighters’ ability to tackle a building fire, and other factors that will impact fire safety will be addressed early on in the design and construction of a building.

Evidence submitted to the review highlights local concerns and conflicts in existing legislation and recommends a number of improvements and changes, including:

  • The use of flammable materials in cladding systems should be banned.
  • A national feasibility study should be undertaken into the retrofitting of sprinkler systems in high rise buildings, and other higher risk residential premises, which undergo major refurbishments.
  • The regulatory regime needs to be changed to ensure that a minimum standard of firefighter safety is required within building design.
  • The relationship between the Fire Safety Order and other pieces of legislation and the responsibilities of different regulators needs to be more clearly defined and guidance produced.
  • Building regulations should be reviewed to reflect modern building methods and should consider and promote the fire resilience of a building.
  • There needs to be a major review into the competency of people who are considered ‘responsible persons’ under fire safety legislation along with the introduction of mandatory registration and a complaints procedure.

Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett, who is leading the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce, said: “Greater Manchester has taken swift and robust action to address fire safety issues following the Grenfell Tower fire. Specialist fire officers have inspected all residential high rises in Greater Manchester and are working with housing providers and building owners to reassure residents.

“But while this work will continue locally, steps need to be made at a national level to ensure a tragedy like this can never happen again. That’s why we’re demanding radical changes to legislation and regulatory guidance that will put fire safety firmly at the centre of building planning, design and construction – placing the safety and welfare of Greater Manchester residents at the heart of any new system.”

The High Rise Taskforce also calls for a review of public sector budgets, saying that cuts to the fire and rescue service and local authorities have impacted on the numbers of specialist staff available to ensure compliance with fire safety regulations.

Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester Beverley Hughes added: “Public sector budgets have been cut to the bone in recent years. Since 2010, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has lost 485 uniformed officer posts, impacting on fire safety and protection work, as well as frontline firefighting. While our fire service has done a tremendous job in recent months, carrying out compliance inspections on more than 500 tower blocks, this is a pace that simply cannot be maintained if current budget pressures continue.

“I reiterate Greater Manchester’s call for ministers to provide the necessary funding to ensure our buildings and our residents are safe. This includes investing in sprinkler systems, supporting housing providers and building owners with the replacement of cladding systems, and ensuring our fire and rescue service has the resources it needs to effectively enforce fire safety powers.”

The High Rise Taskforce was set up by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham following the Grenfell Tower tragedy to provide fire safety reassurance to thousands of local residents living in high rises across the city-region. The Taskforce includes landlords of tower blocks across the city region in both private and public ownership, GMFRS, as well as representatives from every local authority in Greater Manchester and other specialist officers who can offer support to ensure every high rise is safe.

The evidence submission has been produced by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service on behalf of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Mayor of Greater Manchester. The principles in the submission have also been agreed by the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce.

Read the full submission.

For more information about the work of the High Rise Taskforce visit www.manchesterfire.gov.uk