An architect's perspective

Antony Davis and Magdalena Prus discuss fire strategy in the St James’s Oncology v Lendlease case and the Building Safety Act.

The decision in St James’s Oncology SPC Limited v Lendlease Construction (Europe) Limited & Another (“St James’s Oncology v Lendlease”), published by the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) in October 2022, marks further development in fire safety guidance by the UK judiciary. St James’s Oncology v Lendlease is of interest because it focuses on internal fire protection in the healthcare sector. In the context of the latest fire safety reforms, a new regime under the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) for ‘higher-risk buildings’ also applies during the design and construction of hospitals if the height threshold of 18m or at least 7 storeys is met.

This article discusses the key issues raised by the parties and the court, particularly when reviewing and approving the fire safety strategy, and adopting a fire engineering approach, to achieve the compliance of the proposed strategy with relevant standards and guidance. Advice on fire safety in the design of healthcare buildings is included in the ‘Firecode’ suite of Health Technical Memoranda (HTMs). The HTMs are similar to Approved Document B, in that they provide specific guidance for the designers to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations.

These issues serve as a starting point in this article for analysing the architect’s role in the preparation of fire strategy for buildings and the implications of changes made during construction.

The case

St James’s Oncology v Lendlease concerned the alleged fire safety and electrical engineering defects in the basement power plant room of the Oncology Centre at St James’ University Hospital in Leeds (“the Oncology Centre”). The key document setting out the fire safety design for the Oncology Centre was the fire safety strategy prepared by engineering consultancy, AECOM. One of the main issues in this case arose from the changes to the basement compartmentation strategy presented in Revision 12 of the fire safety strategy, which required 60-minute fire-resisting construction to the electricity substation and the rooms within it. Revision 19 of the same document was prepared shortly before practical completion of the Oncology Centre was certified on 14 December 2007. It removed the need for compartmentation in those areas.

During the course of the remedial works between 2015 and 2017 to address issues other than those complained of in these proceedings, concerns were raised about the lack of sub-compartmentation between certain rooms in Plant Room 2. It was confirmed that Plant Room 2 had been built in accordance with Revision 19 of the fire safety strategy. However, subsequent investigations concluded that in the absence of fire-engineering justification, the ‘original’ fire compartmentation shown in Revision 12 of the fire safety strategy should have been constructed in Plant Room 2.

In the decision, the judge — Mrs Justice Joanna Smith DBE — generally confirmed that the key issues to be determined related only to Revision 19 of the fire safety strategy. Based on the contemporaneous correspondence between the relevant parties involved in the design and construction of the Oncology Centre, the judge found that “there does not seem to have been a coherent or structured approach to the amendment of the fire strategy”. The judge continued that “there is no evidence of detailed consideration of what was required and it is not clear that… AECOM was in agreement with the various points that were said to have been agreed…” between the parties. The judge concluded that there was no proper detailed review and approval process relating to the fire safety strategy.

The judge also dismissed Lendlease’s argument that Revision 19 of the fire safety strategy was “an agreed and justified fire engineering solution”. Referring to the expert evidence, the judge concluded that Revision 19 of the Fire Safety Strategy “did not provide a standard of fire safety equal to or better than that provided for in HTM 81”.

Fire strategy – requirements

Judge Smith identified the fire safety strategy as one of the most critical documents in the case. She suggested that “Fire strategy documents are used by the designers as a means of explaining and justifying their fire safety decisions to the end user of the building”. While there is no clear definition of what constitutes a fire safety strategy, Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations 2010 (as amended in 2018) requires that fire safety information should be provided to the person responsible for the operation of the building and defines the fire safety strategy (or fire strategy) as:

(3) … (a)… information relating to the design and construction of the building or extension, and the services, fittings and equipment provided in or in connection with the building or extension which will assist the responsible person to operate and maintain the building or extension with reasonable safety;

Approved Document B Volume 2 (ADB) contains a section on Regulation 38 and describes the intention behind the regulation:

The aim of regulation 38 will be achieved when the person responsible for the building has all the information to enable them to do all of the following:

a.    Understand and implement the fire safety strategy of the building.

b.    Maintain any fire safety system provided in the building.

c.    Carry out an effective fire risk assessment of the building.

ADB continues by making reference to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. Section 4 of which describes what should be fire safety strategy considerations for a building:

a.    measures to reduce the risk of fire on the premises and the risk of fire spread on the premises;

b.    the measures in relation to the means of escape from the premises;

c.    measures for securing that, at all material times, the means of escape can be safely and effectively used;

d.    measures in relation to fire fighting on the premises;

e.    measures in relation to the means for detecting fire on the premises and giving warning in case of fire on the premises; and

f.    measures in relation to the arrangements for action to be taken in the event of fire on the premises…

Fire strategy – the architect’s role

ADB also references BS 9999 which describes the role of the designer in “ensuring effective fire protection” in the design, construction, and maintenance stages of a project. Focusing in on the design stage, as this is where the architectural role is most critical, it states:

7. 2 The design stage 

The basic fire safety strategy should be decided at the outset of the design process, so that all sectors of the ensuing process can be coordinated. The fire safety strategy report for the design should include the key assumptions and conditions that underpin the design…

The designer should review the method(s) of procurement, construction, installation, integration and commissioning, and seek to ensure that the various elements can be properly inspected and tested and maintained and repaired… and that there is sufficient management documentation.

When concentrating on the role of the architect in this process specifically and the documentation that captures the fire safety strategy, the RIBA Plan of Works describes an architect’s involvement at key stages in the development of the fire safety strategy.

In the RIBA Work Stages 0 to 3 (‘Strategic Definition’ – 0, ‘Planning and Briefing’ – 1, ‘Concept Design’ – 2, and ‘Spatial Coordination’ – 3), it describes the main architectural tasks as undertaking site appraisals and testing client requirements and project briefs to determine the appropriate level of fire safety suitability.

These stages of the process should also include input from key project stakeholders (such as end users, facilities managers, specialist consultants, fire and building control authorities, and others) and include a record of key fire safety design decisions in the form of the fire safety strategy report at the end of RIBA Work Stage 2.

RIBA Work Stage 3 focuses on integrating the fire safety measures into a spatially coordinated building design, aligned with feedback and development from the key stakeholders (and a possible update to the fire safety
strategy report). The architect’s role may vary across projects (depending on their brief and requirements) but
generally, architects play more of a lead role within the design team during these stages.

For RIBA Work Stages 4 to 6 (‘Technical Design’ – 4, ‘Manufacturing and Construction’ – 5, and ‘Handover’ – 6),
while still a central presence within the design team, the architect generally plays much less of a leading role. Instead, the architect is there to help coordinate and record the different technical fire safety requirements as part of the building procurement and construction process.

For RIBA Work Stage 7 (‘Use’), if the architectural appointment is extended into this project stage, the architect will focus on how the implementation of the fire safety strategy is impacting on the Facilities Management of the building. This will include collating feedback and risk assessments for review and feeding into updates to the fire safety information as required.

Key changes under the Building Safety Act

Based on the facts of the case, it appears that the compartmentation issues in Plant Room 2 of the Oncology Centre arose from an uncoordinated change to the fire safety strategy during construction, when the building works were nearing completion. With the introduction of a new regulatory and legislative regime under the BSA, the issue with the compartmentation, such as that discussed in St James’s Oncology v Lendlease, could have been avoided.

The new legislation establishes three new Gateways at key stages of the design and construction process. Gateway 2 applications must demonstrate how the proposals comply with building regulations requirements, and building control approval must be obtained from the Building Safety Regulator before relevant building works commences on site. The BSA names the Health and Safety Executive as the new Building Safety Regulator in England, whose main functions are overseeing the safety and standards of all buildings, including those relating to fire, and leading the implementation of the new regulatory framework for high-rise buildings.

Most importantly (and of relevance to this case), any ‘major’ changes to the approved design proposed during construction will require approval from the Building Safety Regulator before the change can be implemented. At the moment ‘major’ changes are not yet defined, and whether or not a change will be a ‘major’ change may depend on the circumstances of the project. However, the change in the fire compartmentation in St James’s Oncology v Lendlease is likely to have been considered as ‘major’ because it had a significant impact on fire safety of Plant Room 2.

In addition, the BSA requires that all the relevant information about the building is created, stored, updated, and maintained throughout the building life cycle, with the responsibilities of the relevant parties clearly defined as part of the ‘golden thread’ requirement.


While a change to fire safety strategy should be carefully considered by the key parties at appropriate stages of the project, St James’s Oncology v Lendlease shows that is not always the case. One could reasonably assume that, had the BSA been in place at the time of the design and construction of the Oncology Centre, it is unlikely that the changes to fire strategy and on-site could have been implemented without a proper scrutiny of the amended proposal by the relevant parties, including the Building Control Body/Building Safety Regulator, or properly recorded agreement and approval of the amended proposal.

This article originally appeared on the J.S. Held website.

Fire & Risk Management is the UK’s market leading fire safety journal, published 10 times a year, and is available exclusively to FPA members in digital and print format depending on your requirements. You can find out more about our membership scheme here.

Antony Davis is a Senior Consultant with J.S. Held, and Magdalena Prus is a Chartered Architect.