Publication - Consultation analysis

Multi‑storey residential buildings - fire risk posed by external wall systems: consultation analysis

Published: 11 Feb 2021

An independent analysis of consultation responses to the Draft Scottish Advice Note (SAN): Determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems in existing multi-storey residential buildings.

Multi‑storey residential buildings - fire risk posed by external wall systems: consultation analysis
3. Understanding of the Guidance, Legislation and Processes

3. Understanding of the Guidance, Legislation and Processes

Question 1. Overall, do you find the advice helpful in understanding the guidance, legislation and processes as they apply to buildings in Scotland?

Overview of Responses

Table 10: Overall, do you find the advice helpful in understanding the guidance, legislation and processes as they apply to buildings in Scotland?
  Yes No
  Number % Number %
Individual 7 88% 1 13%
Organisation 11 65% 6 35%
Fire Safety / Engineering / Consultants 3 75% 1 25%
Misc Construction 1 33% 2 67%
Finance and Insurance 2 67% 1 33%
Housing and Property Management 1 50% 1 50%
Local Government 2 100% 0 0%
Residents and Tenants Groups 1 50% 1 50%
Further and Higher Education 1 100% 0 0%
Total 18 72% 7 28%

N=25. Percentages do not all add up to 100 due to rounding.

3.1 A majority of consultation respondents reported that they found the advice helpful in understanding the guidance, legislation and processes as they apply to buildings in Scotland (18, 72%), Table 10.

3.2 Individuals were more likely to note agreement with Question 1 than organisations. While a majority of organisations agreed that the advice was helpful this varied by sub-group.

3.3 The main theme that emerged from this cohort of respondents was that the advice note was "welcomed", "helpful", "useful" and a "positive step". More specifically the feedback, including from SFRS, Fire Sector Federation and the National Fire Chiefs Council, confirmed that the Draft SAN:

  • Provided useful background to, and an understanding of, key Building Standards legislation, and described the links between relevant pieces of legislation and the guidance;
  • Provided a practical understanding and overview of the guidance, legislative and regulatory processes applicable to buildings in Scotland;
  • Clarified the intent of the Scottish Government and set out high-level parameters within which the guidance was intended to be applied; and
  • Adopted a risk-based assessment approach.

3.4 While the feedback from this cohort of respondents was largely positive, there were a few comments made regarding:

  • The technical nature of the Draft SAN. It was noted that it could prove challenging for audiences with lower levels of knowledge and expertise in the fire risk assessment of buildings to fully understand (e.g. mortgage lenders, homeowners, residents and tenants groups); and
  • It was further noted that the current layout and structure of the Draft SAN, in addition to the level of technical detail, resulted in a challenging and "complex" read. It was suggested that more could be done to enhance readability.

3.5 There were also a number of specific comments where respondents felt the Draft SAN provided insufficient guidance and advice in its current format. These have been noted below:

  • SFRS noted that it would be helpful if more guidance could be provided on powers for remedial works when a building had been given a completion certificate;
  • Linked to the above point, there was a perceived lack of clarity on whether current legislation would ensure remediation of an unsafe external wall system where it is deemed necessary. The National Fire Chiefs Council suggested that outlining a process for enforcing remediation where the circumstances warrant it could be helpful (e.g. in the case of product substitution where it is found that a submitted completion certificate is inaccurate to the extent that it has resulted in an unsafe building);
  • The Property Managers Association (Scotland) Ltd noted that more detailed guidance would be required to ensure sufficient engagement with owners of flatted properties (e.g. which might include joint rather than single owners). A related point was that the Draft SAN would need to accurately reflect the different legal form of property ownership in Scotland (e.g. "building owners" do not exist in Scotland in the same way as in England);
  • UK Finance sought further guidance on the status of mixed-use developments with residential accommodation, as well as different approaches to multi-storey residential buildings of any height and those of 11 metres or more; and
  • An Individual respondent perceived there to be lack of clarity in the Draft SAN more generally and pointed to repeated reference in the document to "seek appropriate professional advice" as a sign of this.

3.6 Almost 30% of respondents (primarily organisations) reported that that they did not find the advice helpful in understanding the guidance, legislation and processes as they apply to buildings in Scotland (seven, 28%), Table 10.

3.7 There was some feedback from this cohort of respondents including residents and tenants groups and individual respondents that the Draft SAN was "largely a reiteration of the latest building standards" or that "there is no new provision in here, simply a repeat of existing legislation and requirements".

3.8 Further, there were various comments made on the volume of information/detail, content, language and/or terminology used in the Draft SAN, and that this could "risk creating further confusion for the reader, making it more complicated to both understand and comply with current guidance". There was reference made to the inherent challenges for any non-technical person in fully understanding the detail of the guidance, as illustrated by the quotes below.

.."it is not written in a way suitable for the primary audience….While professional building managers, for example, those operating within a housing association or managing student accommodation, may have applicable knowledge and expertise to fully assess the information contained within the advice note, the vast majority of building owners affected by issues surrounding external wall systems will likely be individual homeowners with no prior technical knowledge".

Homes for Scotland

"…the amount of text and level of information provided is not considered appropriate (introduction is half the document) for the intended recipients. As consultants with technical knowledge and experience in this field, it took us a few reads to really understand the intent and direction of the note. For a non-technical person, it is likely that the information in the note would be hard to understand in its current form".

ARUP

3.9 As such, a clear request was made for revisiting the Draft SAN to ensure it was sufficiently "clear", "concise", "relevant" and "useful". There were suggestions that it could be "simplified" and "streamlined" in places, and that a greater use of both technical appendices and simple visuals could aid clarity of messaging and improve communication and understanding.

3.10 In terms of the latter point regarding greater visualisation within the Draft SAN the following were mentioned:

  • Process maps;
  • Flow charts to inform decision-making processes;
  • Standard risk ranking matrix (or similar);
  • To illustrate levels of fire risk (i.e. deviations from the benchmarks that are used to assist with the fire safety risk assessment process);
  • To highlight the trigger points at which intrusive inspections would be required; and
  • Pathways to recommended outcomes to resolve "redline issues" (i.e. those where there is already a recommended course of action such as the removal of external cladding).

3.11 Another aspect noted by both Rockwool Ltd and MIMA that could increase the potential for confusion or misinterpretation of the advice note was a lack of consistency and/or conflation of terminology and classifications referred to within the Draft SAN, as illustrated in the respondent quote below.

"The Review Panel on Building Standards (Fire Safety) in Scotland found that the European Harmonised tests offer "a better and more cohesive structure for testing reaction to fire and it was "no longer necessary" and "both unhelpful and unnecessary" to retain both the British Standards (BS) and the European Standards in the guidance for reaction to fire tests….the advice note should be updated to consistently use the European Classification system throughout as per the Technical Handbooks do. Any reference to BS reaction to fire classifications should make clear that there is no equivalence between the national classifications and Euroclass system".

Rockwool Ltd

3.12 Finally, wider individual points were raised regarding a perceived lack of clarity in the Draft SAN and/or a call for more information or detail to be provided in the final version.

3.13 Firstly, Ravelston Terrace Cladding Working Group noted that:

  • There could be a clearer justification provided regarding reasons for the latest standards being applied to older buildings;
  • The guidance was unclear in terms of how the benchmarks within the Technical Handbooks would be used to assess the risk to life in fire risk assessment process;
  • The advice note should distinguish between what is demonstrably important to protect life and what would be the ideal, but hard to justify due to cost; and
  • That more information could be provided on what the "more stringent measures" (Paragraph 1.2 in the Draft SAN) would include and that are not required for the safety of lives.

3.14 ARUP noted that the Draft SAN could further clarify:

  • How departures from the guidance can be justified and whether third party verification (i.e. peer review) would be required;
  • Who the fire risk assessment is intended to "provide assurance" to; and
  • What will drive a relevant person to undertake a fire risk assessment and external wall appraisal given that it is not a legal requirement.

Contact

Email: Colin.hird@gov.scot