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Fires In Historic And Listed Buildings

Fires in historic buildings that are workplaces not only carry a risk of loss of life and earnings but they can also mean the loss of an irreplaceable part of our heritage. Because these historic buildings are so valuable, any proposed changes, including fire precautions etc, must be carefully considered and carried out with the intention of 'minimum intervention' in the building's fabric.

Most building works are subject to building control under Building Regulations. Historic and listed buildings are also subject to controls under planning legislation. In the latter case, any proposed building work may therefore also require listed building consent from the planning authority. Such controls will apply in the case of any work which could affect the character of the building, such as the alteration of doors or door fittings to increase their fire-resistance, the provision of new fire-resisting doors or the treatment of panelling and internal woodwork etc.

All applications for consent to carry out building, alteration or demolition work on Grade I or Grade II listed buildings (Category A or B in Scotland) will be notified by the planning authority to the Secretary of State (or Scottish Ministers). Consent may only be granted by the planning authority if the Secretary of State indicates that a personal determination by the Secretary of State is not necessary in the circumstances of the case. You should seek advice from your local building control authority or other building approvals body at an early stage if any building works are proposed.

It is important to be flexible in assessing the fire safety measures that will be appropriate for buildings in these categories, particularly when you need to ensure that structural matters are in character with the rest of the building. It is also important to ensure that the work does not cause unacceptable damage to the fabric of the building.

Where a fire certificate or some other type of fire safety approval is required it is important that you advise the enforcing authority of all the important facts, including the Historic or Listed Building status.

If there are substantial practical difficulties in upgrading the building to an acceptable standard of fire safety in the conventional way, fire safety engineering may provide an acceptable alternative. Before considering such a solution, you should check with the local building control authority or other building approvals body whether this approach is acceptable under the building legislation which applies to your workplace.

A fire safety engineering approach that takes the total fire safety package into account can provide a more fundamental and economic solution than more prescriptive approaches to fire safety. In some instances and particularly where members of the public are admitted, if an adequate fire safety solution cannot be achieved without unacceptable alteration to the fabric or character of the building.

there are two options:

  • limit the number of occupants in the workplace; or
  • stop using part of the workplace for that particular purpose.
However, an increase in supervisory employees and effective surveillance and supervision of evacuation procedures may, in some circumstances, compensate for shortcomings in some structural features.

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