Some promising announcements related to building and life safety were made this week in the UK.
The secretary of state for Housing, Communities, and Local Government introduced a new £1 billion Building Safety Fund (more than 1.2 billion USD) on May 26 to assist with the removal of non-ACM (non-aluminum composite) cladding on high rise residential buildings. The funding will be added to the £600 million (approximately $660,000 USD) set aside in 2019 to pay for the replacement of unsafe exterior walls on buildings over 18 meters (roughly 59 feet) that do not meet building regulations, according to a prospectus for the fund.
The funding for 2020-2021 is designed to alleviate the burden on leaseholders who are being asked to foot significant bills for the removal of combustible exterior wall assemblies, including plastic-laden cladding and insulation, on private high-rise buildings. Additionally, the monies can be used to offset siding costs in public buildings where assessments would have otherwise been passed along to renters. As part of the launch this week, the government stressed that landlords must cover renovation costs without increasing rent for their tenants.
On the same day, UK officials announced that changes had been made to building safety regulations—specifically the guidance known as Approved Document B. The new mandate calls for high rise residences over 11 meters tall (about 36 feet) to be sprinklered and feature consistent wayfinding signage. Current regulations in the UK call for sprinklers at 30 meters (about 98 feet) and taller. The lower height requirements go into effective on November 26.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government press release also stated that the housing secretary, mayors, and local leaders are committed to ensuring that critical building safety improvements continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
NFPA has heavily reported on the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire that took 72 lives when fire rushed up the side of a 24-story apartment building that included ACM cladding and other combustible exterior wall components. In the three years since that tragedy, UK officials and business owners have come under fire for dragging their feet on code enforcement, non-compliant cladding removal efforts, the remediation costs reportedly being passed on to tenants, lax code enforcement, and other infractions.
In response to the deadly fire, NFPA developed a risk assessment tool for existing building stock with combustible exterior walls. The incident has also been covered extensively in NFPA Journal, including a recent NFPA Journal article on the difficulty of obtaining data related to facade fires and a new Learn Something New video that highlights the persistent global problem of facade fires. Grenfell was also a key factor in NFPA creating the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, which identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards.
The steps being taken by elected officials in the UK show progress in addressing the components of the Ecosystem, in particular investment in safety and government responsibility.