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UK reassesses partial evacuation

Cover Story: After 9.11

Partial emergency evacuation of tall buildings in the UK could soon be ruled out, reports Damian Arnold

English councils are threatening to refuse planning permission for tall buildings unless owners produce plans for simultaneous evacuation of all the occupants, local authorities have warned.

Emergency plans for many tall buildings have been based on a partial evacuation procedure starting with the affected floor then the floors immediately above and below.

But district surveyors have told NCE that such procedures were unlikely to get approval in future.

'If there is an emergency in a building, September 11 will be in the back of the minds of the people that occupy it, ' says Peter Hamilton of the London District Surveyors Association.

'Looking at some of the bigger towers being built in London around the 50 to 60 storey mark it is unlikely that they would get partial evacuation procedures cleared.'

Evacuation procedures are being looked at as part of a review of building regulations being co-ordinated by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

The ODPM's building regulatory advisory committee has set up a working group to examine section 20 of the 1939 London Building Act, which covers tall buildings in 13 inner London boroughs. The group is looking at adopting the act for the whole country.

Changes that could arise from the review would allow local authorities a more continuous role overseeing the safety of buildings. 'It would not necessarily be a licensing system but there could be a system of annual certification, ' said Hamilton. Some engineers have separately proposed a licensing system for tall buildings, similar to that which applies to football stadia, where safe evacuation is also a key issue (NCE 9 May).

The issues have been raised in a discussion document - Rethinking Building Control - which was produced by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors on behalf of the ODPM.

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