In a letter to Nick Hurd MP, Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has questioned whether the existing building regulations are fit for purpose, following the New Year’s Eve blaze at the King’s Dock multi-storey car park in Liverpool. In a fire that looks set to have a financial impact of over £50million, the question should be are we creating buildings and structures that are resilient and do the regulations go far enough?
The fire, which reached temperatures of 1000 °C, destroyed upwards of a thousand vehicles inside the car park and caused extensive damage to the building itself. In an interview with the BBC Joe Anderson said it was unlikely the building could now be saved. The Mayor went on to state in his letter there was a “question of their efficacy in dealing with petrol based fires”, but the statistics show that the opposite is true.
According to the UK Fire Statistics, there were 162 car park fires between 1994 and 2005 in which a fixed fire suppression system was present. Automatic sprinklers extinguished or contained 100 of these fires; and in only 1% of cases did the sprinklers operate but fail to contain or extinguish the fire. It is assumed that the remainder of the fires were too small to actuate the sprinklers, or were contained quickly by other means. This 99% success rate of activated sprinkler systems containing or extinguishing car park fires lays to rest the myth that sprinklers are ineffective at controlling fires in this setting.
While the car park met current Building Regulations, this only means that the building complies – not that it is resilient. The Regulations are designed with life safety in mind and in this case they worked and everyone got out without injury. However, property protection is not considered and as such a fire which destroys a structure entirely can still be considered a success. This is fundamentally wrong.
As a result of the lack of focus on property protection it has been estimated by the Association of British Insurers that £20m of claims will be paid out to insurance customers for the loss of vehicles and possessions in the fire. The construction cost of the building itself has been estimated to be in the range of £15m, bringing the total cost of property damage to an estimated £35m. However, the total cost of the fire will be far larger when the effect on the city as a whole is taken into account.
The loss of the car park’s 1,600 spaces, charged at £15 per day, means a potential £24,000 of lost revenue daily, and the car park may not reopen for a year or longer. If it takes 18 months to reopen, this will mean potential lost earnings of £13,140,000. Visitors will seek alternative places to park, causing confusion and congestion and potentially cancelled visits should suitable alternative parking not be found. The ripple effect from this will be felt by businesses in the area who could previously expect custom from those parked in the multi-storey, who will now be spending less time in the town as they search for alternative places to park.
Initial estimates of the cost of installing a sprinkler system in the car park have fallen within the range of £600k to £950k; considerably lower than the costs incurred as a result of the fire – costs that not only affect the Liverpool Echo Arena but smaller businesses and the city as a whole.
Despite the evidence of the effectiveness of sprinklers in car parks and the resultant costs of a fire such as this one, the regulatory guidance for building safety does not call for the installation of sprinklers. The regulations concern themselves solely with life safety and do not take into account the wider economic effects of fire.
Compliance with the regulations as they stand offers the bare minimum standards, rather than adequate resilience. By the existing regulations’ measure, the fire was a success as no one was injured. However, to consider the Liverpool car park fire a ‘success’ would be a difficult pill to swallow for many people, and for this reason the BSA backs the call for a review of building regulations with regards to the installation of sprinklers across the built environment.