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Government rejects call for buildings regs changes for timber frame construction sites
Published:  23 December, 2010

A new government document on the future of Building Regulations appears to scotch a key recommendation of the London Assembly in relation to the fire safety of timber frame structures under development.

The Assembly’s Fire safety in London: Fire risks in London’s tall and timber framed buildings, published last week, calls for building regulations to be “reviewed specifically” in relation to timber-frame construction techniques.

But a report – Future changes to the Building Regulations - published by the Department for Communities and Local Government points out that Building Regulations do not cover buildings under construction.

It says “considerable pressure” had been brought on the government in response to recent fires in timber frame buildings under construction.

“The fire statistics show that timber frame buildings have a greater risk of fire damage, but as this has not resulted in a higher risk of injury, there is not thought to be any need to change the regulations,” it says.

But the government intends to closely monitor the area in co-operation with the timber frame industry and other external bodies in order to gain a better understanding of the issues.

 Other recommendations of the Assembly’s report included temporary sprinklers to be installed on timber frame construction sites, a ban on occupation of sites until the whole development is complete, and identification of the safety critical stages of the construction phase, such as installation of cavity barriers.

The UK Timber Frame Association said it had investigated use of temporary sprinkler systems on construction sites together with various members of the sprinkler associations.

“Whilst the idea appears to be sound, on close inspection there are a number of obstacles to overcome in order to make this a practical solution,” said UKTFA chairman Geoff Arnold.

“Such things as adequate water pressure, known to be low in London, and cold weather freezing the system are two immediate concerns that would need addressing before such a system could prove reliable and beneficial.

“In terms of changes to Building Regulations, we are yet to be convinced that changes are required and believe that current Building Regulations are adequate. We are, however, open to further debate on this point.

Mr Arnold described the recommendation to ban residential occupation on timber frame construction sites prior to all buildings being complete as “overreaction”.

“Any such situation should be risk assessed and the actions taken contingent on the risk assessment.

“I have had first-hand experience of working with the London Fire Brigade and Health & Safety Executive on this issue and it is possible to develop practical solutions to this very problem which do not involve such a black and white decision as put forward by the London Assembly.”