Second staircase; second chance

Stuart Bosley of Quantum and DeSimone Consulting Engineering looks at navigating the challenges of the new ‘second staircase’ regulations

The Government’s recent ruling on second staircases has caused significant disruption for both developers and the housebuilding industry. Despite the resulting and the pausing of many major developments, it’s crucial to remain focused on the ultimate objective: ensuring the safety and wellbeing of residents.

The proposal will mean all residential towers over 30 metres will see the introduction of a second staircase, which represents a significant advancement in the enhancement of fire safety measures in high-rise residential buildings, reinforced by the lessons learned from the Grenfell Tower fire. 

The second staircase ruling is estimated to cost £1.6bn over the next decade, and will cause potential delays for over 125,000 homes in London, according to real estate firms Lambert Smith Hampton and Connells. The ultimate aim for the second staircase ruling is to create alternative escape routes for residents living in high-rise buildings, guaranteeing their safety during emergencies.

The construction on many high-rise developments have been halted due to this potential new ruling, including a 380-home development in East London which was paused due to fears it wouldn’t meet the new second-staircase regulations. The 10 residential blocks were of various heights between three and 16 storeys. The developer behind the scheme blamed the Government for the delay and the uncertainty around the new regulation.  

Housing association Clarion is another example of a housing developer forced to pause work on high-rise buildings due to uncertainty around the new rulings. The housing association has 15 schemes above 30 metres in height, where work is now either not moving forward or moving forward at an extremely delayed rate. Clarion’s chief executive said that he didn’t want to develop a building that does not meet legislation nine months out, so put the schemes on hold. High-rise residential buildings currently in procurement in London could be delayed for as long as nine months, according to research from consultant Arcadis. 

The ruling has certainly caught many housebuilders and developers off guard. The National Fire Chiefs Council has argued that second staircases should be mandatory in high-rise residential blocks over a certain height, as “a correctly designed second staircase removes the risk of a single point of failure, buying critical time for firefighting activities,
and providing residents with multiple escape routes.”

While these challenges are very real, the conversation is important. The industry can overcome these disruptions and commit to bolstering fire safety standards, as when it comes to health and safety, there is no room for compromise. 

As consulting engineers we are experts at managing complex projects and navigating new regulations, and it’s important that housebuilders and developers understand that a balanced approach is essential – one that assures safety for residents while minimising possible disruption. Achieving this balance requires effective collaboration between all stakeholders – from architects, designers, housebuilders and developers to government bodies and residents.

While the proposed second staircase ruling presents many challenges for developers, including compliance with regulations, increased costs, and potential project delays, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  There are practical steps that can be taken to navigate these complexities, ensuring compliance while mitigating financial impacts. 


Engage with architects, contractors, and relevant stakeholders at the earliest stages of a project. By integrating fire safety considerations, including the second staircase requirement, into the initial design and planning phases, developers can proactively address compliance issues and identify potential challenges upfront. 


Relationships are everything in terms of construction projects. Foster collaboration among project teams, including architects, engineers, and contractors, to ensure a cohesive understanding of the second staircase ruling’s implications. Such a collaborative approach will be likely to enable efficient co-ordination and integration of the ruling’s requirements into the project’s design, which will thereby reduce the likelihood of design clashes or costly reworks later in the construction process. 


As mentioned earlier, you should update contractual arrangements to address the second staircase ruling’s requirements and potential cost implications. Engaging expert consulting engineers and incorporating specific clauses related to compliance and cost allocations can help manage contractual risks. 


Leverage technology, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), to optimise design coordination, clash detection, and compliance verification. BIM allows for the seamless integration of the second staircase requirement into the project’s virtual model, facilitating early identification of design conflicts and compliance issues. 


Don’t be afraid to ask; no one knows everything, so reach out to industry experts, such as engineers, construction consultants, and project managers with experience in this space and develop practical solutions with cost-effective alternatives. 

To reiterate, the implementation of the second staircase ruling presents significant challenges for the residential sector, including potential delays in the delivery of essential affordable housing in London. However, it’s important to view this as an opportunity for the industry to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of residents and enhance overall standards. Despite the challenges, we can expect to witness housebuilders and developers rising to the occasion and finding innovative solutions to navigate the ruling’s requirements. 

By embracing these challenges and working together, the industry can create safer living environments for residents while striving to maintain the momentum in delivering the affordable housing which is so badly needed.

Stuart Bosley is MD of Quantum and project advisory at DeSimone Consulting Engineering