Ambiguity in newly published documents means schemes will still be “impossible” to sign off, say housebuilders.

The government’s design guidance for second staircases lacks technical detail and will still result in schemes being delayed, according to industry experts.

Last week the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) finally published its long-awaited guidance on how second means of escape in residential buildings above 18m should be designed.

But Home Builders Federation executive director Steve Turner said ambiguity within the guidance means it will be interpreted differently by clients and the fire brigade, making schemes “impossible to sign off as a design”.

High rise staircase shutterstock 2

The guidance on second staircases is still not clear enough, the HBF has said

“Designers, builders and contractors fear that there is still too much room for varying interpretation of the guidance document from the different authorities who are involved in approving schemes which will continue to cause delay and frustration to the delivery of much needed new homes,” Turner said.

Missing details include the “unhelpful” lack of a clear purpose for second stairs in the document and a lack of clarity on evacuation lifts, according to Turner.

HBF technical and sustainability director Rhodri Williams added: “We urge government to work with industry and other stakeholders such that the detail can be agreed, and clear guidance can be provided as a matter of urgency.”

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has also called for more detail on “how the guidelines translate into building design, the interaction with the new building safety regime, and how the guidelines ensure that all people who live and visit these residential buildings are ensured safe and equal egress”.

The document comes nearly 15 months after proposals to require second staircases were first announced, during which a string of major schemes have been delayed by redesigns without any official design guidance.

While the guidance last week has been broadly welcomed by industry groups, it has been criticised for not making evacuation lifts an absolute requirement as has been called for by the NFCC and RIBA.

>>See also: What the second staircase guidance means for the industry

An NFCC spokesperson said it was “disappointing to see that there is still no provision to ensure the second stairway is a firefighting stairway”.

RIBA board chair Jack Pringle also said the guidance “falls short” by not requiring a fire-fighting shaft, which it said was “vital for emergency evacuation and fire-fighting operations”. 

The guidance outlines how interlocked stairs do not count as two means of escape and will be considered as a single stair.

The policy will come into effect on 30 September 2026, with a 30-month transition period.