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CROSS Safety Report

Do planning applications hinder safety improvements?

Report ID: 1043 Published: 17 November 2022 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A potential issue about the reconstruction of a structurally inadequate external fire escape from a building has been raised with CROSS.

Key Learning Outcomes

For building owners, employers, persons responsible for compliance with fire safety legislation:

  • Fire safety provisions must be maintained to be fit for purpose
  • Replacement or repair of fire precautions, including external fire escapes, may require planning permission; this may take time to be achieved
  • A fire risk assessment is a 'live' process, reflecting the premises as it is, and amended to account for temporary situations

Full Report

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A potential issue about the reconstruction of a structurally inadequate external fire escape from a building has been raised with CROSS. An application to a Local Planning Authority to make safe the external fire escape has been submitted, and the Authority insisted on a full and formal planning application.

The reporter is of the mind that this process is liable to take months, or even longer than the average time, and this time horizon is not appropriate for a case that is in need of immediate safety improvements.

The reporter is of the opinion that this is an “unthinking application of planning rules”, where safety is treated purely as a legal issue and not an engineering matter. They call for a better understanding between the engineering profession and the legal profession, in order to align their prioritisation of safety and better serve the public.

Expert Panel Comments

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It is the panel’s opinion, that ideally, a fire escape should never have got to the point of needing to be rebuilt, either because of degradation due to the lack of oversight and maintenance, or due to deficiencies in the original solution.

Planning laws are in place to prevent people from doing unacceptable things to buildings that could adversely affect the occupants and the neighbourhood; there is an obvious need for planning, and it needs to be respected. While fire safety is important, there may exist numerous other issues that cannot be overridden. It is part of the Local Authority’s duties to prioritise these issues. If planning requirements mean that there is a delay in doing the work, then the owner needs to put in place appropriate temporary measures, following procedures that are already in place.

a fire risk assessment is a 'live' process

It is the responsibility of the Responsible Person (under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO)) to ensure there is a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment (FRA), and a record (where required) of the risks and the associated measures, including adequate means of escape. A fire risk assessment is a 'live' process, reflecting the premises as it is, with any issues being identified as soon as possible. If the means of escape stair is no longer available, then this must be recorded and accommodated in the FRA, with adequate measures instigated immediately.

If the reporter has concerns that have not been addressed, then they should contact the local Fire and Rescue Authority/Service who are (in general) the enforcers of the FSO and are the appropriate body to check if a breach of the FSO, which places relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in the event of fire, may have been committed.

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