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Navigating Fit-Outs in Higher Risk Buildings

The Building Safety Act 2022's new gateway system brought into force in October 2023 requires Building Regulations approval by the Building Safety Regulator for the works to Higher Risk Buildings (over 18 metres or seven storeys high, with at least two residential dwellings). This includes tenant internal fit-out works in existing buildings. 

The Gateway 2 stage (Building Regulations approval) involves the submission of detailed design information and introduces an eight-week statutory period for determining the application before the works can commence on site. 


It can be said, at least, that the new regime's process and timescales are not practical for fast-track retail and commercial fit-outs. 


One approach to tackle this challenge is to treat specific parts of the building as independent entities, separate from the rest of the Higher Risk Building. The Building Safety Act 2022 allows part of the overall structure to be assessed if it meets the criteria to be an independent section and, therefore, its own building. The criteria for an independent section are as follows:


i) It has its own entrance and exit to the outside.

ii) It has no access to any other section within the overall structure.

iii) It only has access to another section of the overall structure, which does not contain a residential unit.


Access is defined in Regulation 4(7) of the Higher-Risk Buildings (Descriptions and Supplementary Provisions) Regulations 2023. It means a doorway, archway or similar opening. Access that is only used in an emergency or for maintenance is not included.


Sketch Design recently assisted a client in revising the access strategy to demonstrate the independence of the retail area within a mixed-use Higher Risk Building, allowing for more straightforward and time-efficient fit-outs.


Our approach involved close collaboration with fire engineers, Approved Inspectors, building management teams, and potential tenants. Together, we navigated the complexities of the new legislation while ensuring the needs of the tenants' businesses and the safety of occupants were met. 

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