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Written Statement - Regulating for automatic fire suppression systems in domestic buildings

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This report includes: a literature review; data gathering; cost benefit analysis; and uncertainty and sensitivity analysis.
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John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development

 

On February 16th 2011 the National Assembly for Wales passed one of the first examples of Private Members’ legislation, the Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure) which was introduced by Ann Jones AM, enabling Ministers to introduce regulations making automatic fire suppression systems compulsory in all new and converted domestic properties. The Welsh Government has recognised the clearly expressed will of the Assembly and has considered in detail the complex questions raised.  We accept that there is a cost to introducing sprinklers but, as a society, we must seek to prevent avoidable death and injury arising from house fires.

The Welsh Government will now develop consultation proposals aimed at requiring fire suppression systems to be installed in all new and converted residential accommodation.  We will take this forward as a matter of priority and, although certain aspects of the regulatory process are outside of our control, our outline programme aims for the regulations to be made in September 2013.      

In considering the case for the Measure, the Assembly’s Legislative Committee asked that the Welsh Government examine the detailed costs and benefits before making regulations under the Measure. A cost benefit analysis of the proposal to introduce sprinkler systems in new residential premises has been undertaken for the Welsh Government by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).  The summary of this work is at appendix A and I am today publishing this report on the WG website as well as placing a copy in the Members’ Library.

The following sets out the background to the issue and Welsh Government’s intentions for taking forward regulations under the Measure.

The case for regulation

The reduction in the number of deaths from fires in the home over the last ten years has been significant.  Hard-wired smoke detectors are already compulsory in new residential premises under building regulations and a major Welsh Government investment programme resulted in hard wired detectors being installed in most existing social housing. The introduction of Reduced Ignition Propensity cigarettes in November 2011 is expected to reduce the incidence of fires started by cigarettes and the number of associated fire deaths. 

Notwithstanding this progress, the number of deaths and injuries is still too high.  On average, over the last 10 years, 17 deaths and 503 injuries have resulted from fires in residential properties each year in Wales.

Appropriately designed and maintained fire suppression systems undoubtedly save lives and prevent injuries, as well as reducing damage from fires.  The British Standard sprinkler system is the highest level of protection from fire currently available; there are other systems available, however the evidence of their effectiveness is not strong and the absence of standards makes regulation difficult.

The BRE report indicates the cost benefit analysis case for installing sprinkler systems in new build care homes, halls of residence and potentially for flats, sheltered flats, and traditional houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

The study indicates that the cost benefit case is less strong for regulating all new domestic properties but the Welsh Government believes that care is required when considering any policy that has the potential to protect life. Installing sprinkler systems in new residential premises would protect around 6,000 new dwellings each year and would significantly improve fire safety in them.

The absence of sprinkler systems is not the only cause of death and injury in fires.  A range of other factors such as physical or mental impairment, old age, poverty, families with young children, link fire deaths to social deprivation.  We will be commissioning further work to understand more fully the fire risk factors in the existing housing stock and what steps might be available to address these in the future.

Type of sprinkler systems

The main standard for sprinkler systems for residential premises in Wales and England is the British Standard 9251:2005.  This requires sufficient pressure to be delivered by the mains or to be tank fed. The likelihood is that installation would require a separate water tank and pump to operate in homes in Wales.. The cost benefit analysis has therefore been based on the costs of including such a system in new residential premises. The cost per residential premises is estimated at £3075 for a house and £879 for a flat (further details on costs are contained in the BRE cost benefit analysis).

A number of other fire suppression systems are marketed worldwide including low pressure or simple systems based on use of the existing mains water supply.  Lower cost systems may be suitable for use in Wales but we have limited evidence of their effectiveness compared to the British Standard.

Fire suppression should be targeted at rooms most likely to give rise to fires.  With the expected reduction in fire deaths in bedrooms and lounges as a result of the introduction of the new Reduced Incendiary Propensity cigarette, the highest risk area is likely to be the kitchen.  There are systems marketed to tackle kitchen fires which could, if standards are developed, provide a regulatory option but, again, we have limited evidence of their effectiveness as they have not been widely installed.

Regulatory Impact

As a result of current market conditions, some areas of Wales are close to  being unviable for house building as the land and construction costs are at risk of being greater than the price a new house can command. This tendency is prevalent in some parts of South Wales Valleys and other priority regeneration areas.

We will shortly be consulting on proposals to increase the energy efficiency of new build housing in line with our climate change commitments (building Regulations Part L). As part of that work we have looked at the cumulative impact of policies on development including the potential installation of residential sprinklers.

The regulatory impact assessment which will accompany the formal consultation proposals relating to sprinkler systems will be based on the cost benefit analysis undertaken by BRE.

Development of consultation proposals

Work is commencing on the development of regulations and technical requirements relating to sprinkler systems with the intention of introducing regulations in the second half of 2013. The proposals, which will be subject to public consultation, will reflect the scope of the Measure: they will be based on the introduction of automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residential accommodation, including new housing.

Since our proposed policy deals with construction standards and the inter relationship with Part B of the Building Regulations, development of proposals will be referred to the Statutory Building Regulations Advisory Committee for Wales for advice. It is intended that the committee be augmented by Fire and Rescue and industry experts for this work.  

These proposals are significant and important in taking forward fire safety. Wales will be at the forefront in reducing fire risk and cutting the number of avoidable deaths and injuries caused by fires in residential premises.