Morris + Company tower delayed amid fire brigade concerns over single staircase

A schematic implementation of a 52-storey tower in London’s Canary Wharf designed by Morris + Company has been delayed just hours before it was scheduled to be scheduled amid concerns from firefighters over safety.

The 172-meter residential skyscraper on Cuba Street will have only one staircase as per its current design.

Tower Hamlets Council’s Strategic Development Committee was due to make a decision on the planning request for the 421-apartment building Thursday evening, after it recommended officers approve it.

A meeting was supposed to take place to decide whether to move forward with the project last night

But the meeting was called off by the board after developer Ballymore withdrew the request following a last-minute intervention by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) earlier in the day.

“We have concerns that the design presented does not provide an adequate and appropriate means of escape and the associated evacuation strategy for all building users,” the fire service said in a statement on its website published yesterday.

“In buildings with one escape route, we expect the developer to have their own fire engineers to provide a full review to show resilience in the event of a fire and this does not appear to have been implemented.”

Canary Wharf with Cuba Street
The tower (straight left of One Canada Square) has been proposed for the high-rise commercial district of London’s Canary Wharf

Ballymore said it will now work closely with the LFB and the local authority to deliver the planning approval scheme in a timely manner.

The plans for the Cuba Street Tower have received media attention in recent days, with fire safety expert Arnold Tarling telling the Guardian: “It’s utter madness that this is still allowed.”

Under the International Building Code, adopted in the United States, buildings higher than 128 meters must have at least two stairs.

Cuba Street floor plan
Suggested floor plan for levels 33 to 47, with one stair

However, building regulations in England allow a single staircase to be used for even the tallest buildings if the fire safety strategy is to keep residents ‘in place’ in the event of a fire.

This has become a controversial topic since the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people, and soon the only stairs in that building were shrouded in smoke as the fire spread.

The plan of Cuba Street would be two and a half times taller than Grenfell Tower, although unlike the ruined block, it would contain sprinklers. Grenfell was completed before sprinklers were needed on the new, high-rise building blocks in England.

Suggested drawing of a skyscraper
Unlike in many countries, skyscrapers in England may have a single staircase if a “stay put” fire safety strategy is used.

Ballymore said it would provide clarification on the development.

“As part of the Cuba Street development planning application, Ballymore received feedback from the London Fire Brigade on the day he was going to the commission, asking for clarification on aspects of the application,” a Ballymore spokesperson told Dezeen.

“We are pleased to provide this clarification and will continue to work closely with the LFB and the local authority to deliver the planning approval scheme in a timely manner,” the spokesperson added.

“Like all Ballymore projects, the Cuba Street scheme will be built in accordance with approved and emerging guidelines and British Standards.”

Cuba Street High
Ballymore said it would provide a “clarification” to the fire service of these concerns

The request will be returned to Tower Hamlets Council once the issues are “resolved”.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said in a statement provided to Dezeen: “We are bound by UK planning law and standards when considering a planning application in our area. Applications must be determined based on planning merits, regardless of who the applicant is.”

“Comments were received from the London Fire Brigade yesterday, which raises a number of issues that need to be addressed. The applicant has requested more time to respond and therefore this item was not considered at last night’s meeting and will only be brought to the committee once these issues are resolved. “.

At another Ballymore project called New Providence Wharf in nearby Poplar, more than 40 people had to be treated for smoke inhalation last May after a fire broke out and spread across multiple floors, with two hospitals.

The LFB investigation found that a failure of the building’s ventilation system had caused it to act “like a broken chimney, resulting in a potentially life-threatening situation”.

Ballymore is also the developer behind the controversial Sky Pool, in Embassy Gardens in southwest London.

Rendering a skyscraper
The proposed building will be 172 meters high and contain 421 apartments

Morris + declined to comment.

Plans for the proposed Canary Wharf building can be found on the planning portal of Tower Hamlets Council.

Pictures and schematics courtesy of Morris +.

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