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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
December 11, 2023


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Changes proposed for building regulations in Northern Ireland – How will this affect residential buildings?

Substantial changes to building regulations in Northern Ireland have been proposed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire which, if implemented, will amend regulations and guidance primarily on blocks of flats, but also on other residential buildings. Ron Alalouff reports.

The proposals contained in a consultation published in July by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance include providing fire safety information to the building owner/occupier, the provision of wayfinding signage, evacuation alert systems and secure information boxes and, where appropriate, automatic fire suppression in care homes, nursing homes, children’s homes and student accommodation.

Provision of fire safety information

High-rise-Building-IFE-23The new requirement to provide fire safety information at the handover stage of a building would apply when a ‘relevant premises’ is erected, altered, extended or subject to a material change of use. It would also apply when a building containing flats with a storey more than 11m above ground level is created.

The information is intended to help identify and document the fire safety measures incorporated into the building and the fire safety design assumptions that have been made. This approach seeks to ensure there is no disconnect between fire safety standards in design, construction, occupation and enforcement over the lifetime of a building.

The proposed new regulation 37A will make it a legal requirement to produce adequate ‘as built’ fire safety information for the building owner/occupier. The aim of the regulation will be achieved when the person with fire safety duties in a relevant premises or building containing one or more flats – with a storey more than 11m above ground level – has all the information to enable them to:

  • Understand and implement the fire safety strategy of the building
  • Maintain any fire safety system provided in the building
  • Carry out an effective fire risk assessment of the building

Automatic fire suppression

A new requirement to provide automatic fire suppression systems in certain types of higher risk residential buildings would apply to new builds, and those created by a material change of use. In buildings containing flats, the government is proposing a storey trigger height of more than 11m.

This, says the consultation document, is consistent with a 2019 industry call for sprinklers in all new and converted residential buildings, hotels, hospitals, student accommodation, schools and care home buildings more than 11m in height.

The consultation also proposes the requirement for sprinklers in all care homes/nursing homes, children’s homes and family resident centres. The consultation document says that “supporting evidence from research carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) for various regions and the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) demonstrates the clear benefits to be gained from sprinkler installation in these premises, against the relatively low costs involved”.

Similarly, it is proposes that in view of the risk of students having “an immature approach combined with a lifestyle of partying, smoking, alcohol consumption and cooking at late hours under the influence…” purpose-built student accommodation with a storey more than 11m above ground level should be fitted with automatic fire suppression systems, as the most effective and efficient way of protecting both lives and property in the student sector.

The consultation says that the regulation will:

  • Highlight and recognise recent developments in construction standards and sprinkler technology for residential use – in particular BS 9251 Sprinkler systems for residential and domestic occupancies: Code of practice
  • Acknowledge research that has been carried out in England, Scotland, Wales and by the Chief Fire Officer’s Association on the effectiveness of sprinklers in various types of premises and associated cost/benefit analyses
  • Bring Northern Ireland closer to the position in other jurisdictions, by requiring automatic fire suppression systems through building regulations.

In order to reflect the proposed changes to the regulations on fire safety information and automatic fire suppression, the government has also published proposed guidance to be included in Technical Booklet E.

Extension of smoke alarm coverage


Image credit: Alamy Stock

In addition to existing provisions for interconnected and mains wired smoke detectors in circulation spaces on each storey of dwellings, in the principal habitable room, and a heat detector in each kitchen, the proposals include at least one smoke alarm to be installed in all habitable rooms, and at least one heat alarm in every kitchen.

Proposed new guidance in Technical Booklet E will also cover:

  • Smoke ventilation from common escape routes in blocks of flats with a storey more than 11m high
  • Clarification of requirements for buildings containing flats with a top storey less than 11m above ground level
  • Changes to the provision of firefighting shafts, fire vehicle access distances and fire mains
  • Evacuation alert systems – which enable a fire and rescue service to change the evacuation strategy via an alarm – to be installed in blocks of flats with a storey more than 18m above ground level
  • Wayfinding signage and secure premises information boxes for blocks of flats with a storey more than 11m above ground level

The consultation closed on 25 September 2023 and the government will publish its response “in due course”.

Further reading: 


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Plus, we explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.


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