A proposed law to make sprinklers mandatory in all new homes in Wales this week won backing from the House of Commons
The proposed amendment to the Welsh building regulations would mean every new residential scheme would have to incorporate active fire protection, in the form of fire sprinkler systems.
Ann Jones, the Welsh Assembly Member leading on the legislation said: ‘I am delighted that [the Legislative Competence Order] has passed the Commons committee stage unopposed.
‘The overwhelming support this bid has received is a testament to the strong moral and technical case presented by domestic sprinkler systems.’
The House of Lords and Privy Council will now decide whether the Welsh Assembly can turn the proposal into law.
Wales will have full control over its building regulations from the end of 2011.
The House of Lords gave a mixed response earlier this month to a proposal to make sprinklers compulsory in all new homes in the UK (AJ 11.03.10).
Previous story (AJ 5.2.10)
Wales demands sprinklers in all new homes
The Welsh Assembly has voted in favour of making sprinklers mandatory for all new homes in Wales
The decision follows the critical second reading of a private members’ bill to make sprinklers compulsory in new homes in both England and Wales, opposed on cost grounds by Conservatives in the House of Lords. However, the Welsh success could now strengthen calls for English legislation.
Stephen Hill of Cardiff-based practice Holder Mathias welcomed the move: ‘I have been trying to introduce this thinking into residential design for years,’ he said, ‘but developers are reluctant to install sprinklers unless they have to.
‘By following an essentially American model, a high degree of flexibility in apartment design is possible. Double-door protection from habitable rooms to the common parts access/escape corridor can be removed, giving opportunities for wider, open-plan solutions, such as bedrooms off the living space. It should be possible to achieve a larger feeling with less area.’
However, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) is cautious about potential cost implications. A spokesperson said: ‘The regulatory requirements being placed on builders by central and local government… are constantly being increased.
‘Sites will only support a certain level of cost before it is no longer viable for builders to build,’ warned the spokesperson, adding: ‘This will mean more potential sites remaining inactive, which has obvious implications for housing supply and employment in Wales.’
Tim Crowther, head of Technical design at HTA Architects said: ‘sprinklers on their own are not the answer.’ He points out that current English, Welsh and Scottish building regulations fail to acknowledge the ‘percentages of all fatalities occurring in the room where the fire started – 43 per cent in living rooms and 20 per cent in kitchens.’
Crowther said: ‘The Building Regulations could be modified to require a higher standard of provision of fire alarm and detection by adding smoke or heat alarms to living rooms and a heat alarm in every kitchen to all new dwellings.’
Steve Davy, director of Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects said: ‘This is a brave step by the Welsh Assembly. The estimated 1-2% increase in the cost of building a property is a small price to pay for preventing fire related injuries and deaths.
‘It will be interesting to see how the issue of maintenance by householders is addressed; the sprinklers are only going to be effective if they are maintained.’
Andrew Sutton, vice-president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales thinks it unlikely the measure would become law before building regulations are devolved to Wales in December 2011.
The English version of the building regulation amendment will be discussed at a House of Lords committee on 5 March.