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Building Regulations Application

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 832 No. 3

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Building Regulations Application

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this issue, given that the new regulations are due to commence next week.

I recognise the need to have a strong regulatory system to maintain a high quality standard of building for family homes. The experience of hard-pressed residents in Priory Hall and in other developments underlines that. However, the regulatory measures coming into effect on 1 March will penalise own-build home owners who want to build their own family home. One-off homes will be hit with a regulatory framework designed for large-scale developments in major towns and cities. This will dramatically increase costs and has the potential to damage the construction industry at a time when the Government claims it is trying to boost it. There has also been a failure of the Government to communicate the changes, leading to speculation about their impact, further damaging the construction industry. It may well be seen as another anti-rural bias of the Government.

The regulations can essentially be broken down into three broad principles. Anyone wishing to building anything - with the usual exemptions - must, by law, employ what is referred to as an assigned professional, such as an engineer, architect or surveyor, to inspect the property on-site. This assigned professional must inspect the building, and at the end of the procedures, issue a certificate warranting that they have inspected the works and that they comply with the regulations. The professional also warrants that he or she accepts responsibility for the legal liability for the inspection of all works as necessary, to ensure they are neither defective nor contravene any requirements of the second schedule of the building regulations "notwithstanding the responsibilities of other persons or firms in relation to the works". What implications does that have for indemnity insurance? Some would say that some have left the market or are planning to do so because of what does not appear to be a clear delineation between the owner and the inspector. The assigned professional must submit a full set of completed drawings to the building control authority on completion.

There are various problems with these regulations. The cost of the regulations will place a hefty and disproportionate burden on one-off housing. There has been no public information campaign, leading to speculation about the consequences of the changes that may potentially harm the construction sector. What level of resources have been given to local authorities to handle the deluge of information and paperwork that will result from the new system? When we consider the crisis in respect of roads and housing and the fact that development charges have diminished to such an extent that the income does not exist any more and there are recruitment embargoes in local authority planning departments, we should acknowledge the pressure all this will put on the system. Up to 500 architects' practices may well be out of the loop with these inspections, with all the implications this has on that sector.

Perhaps the Minister can respond to those issues, and maybe then I will make suggestions if I do not feel he plans to examine them. Ultimately, I ask him to consider a deferral in the first instance, with a review panel and a targeted approach. It is incumbent on him to consider a deferral for six months, re-engagement with the stakeholders, and to take on board some of the suggestions that have been made to me and to many of the Minister's colleagues.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The new building control amendment regulations will greatly strengthen the arrangements currently in place for the control of building activity by requiring greater accountability in relation to compliance with building regulations in the form of statutory certification of design and construction, the lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates. These new regulations are necessary following the widespread instances of failure by owners, designers and builders to comply with their statutory obligations under the Building Control Act 1990 to design and construct buildings in accordance with the building regulations.

Every effort has been made to ensure arrangements are in place for a successful transition to the new building control arrangements from 1 March 2014. Discussions have taken place with all stakeholders for the past two years in respect of implementation. The new online building control management system has been developed to provide a common platform for clear and consistent administration of building control matters across the local authority sector. The local government sector has been involved from the beginning in dealing with these measures. Briefing and guidance on the new system has been provided for local authority staff and representatives of the key construction sector professional bodies, as well as for the Construction Industry Federation in recent weeks. The definitive code of practice for inspecting and certifying buildings and works was circulated to industry stakeholders on 7 February 2014.

Standard forms of contracts used for both private and public sector projects fall to be revised to reflect the new regulatory environment. The Government construction contracts committee and the key construction professional bodies both report strong progress in advancing this work within their respective sectors. The Government has established an oversight group to ensure no unavoidable delays will occur in critical public infrastructure projects at a time when construction activity and employment depends so heavily on public sector investment. Briefing and guidance is available within the Government and within the private sector to deal with contractual challenges and procurement issues that will inevitably arise as change takes place. The above measures are the key supports necessary to ensure the new regulatory arrangements can work well in practice.

The training for professionals has been taking place for the past few months. The Construction Industry Federation, the chartered building surveyors, the chartered quantity surveyors and the local authorities have all welcomed these particular measures. The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland has been a bit reluctant to come to the table in respect of these matters, and there has been a difference of opinion within its own membership, and I am sure the Deputy alluded to that. In the past ten days, however, I understand that 1,200 architects have been subject to training and are now very familiar with the new contractual obligations and regulations.

Concerns that the new regulations prevent a self-build situation are unfounded. I notice that on four occasions this week, misinformation was provided on Mr. Duffy's programme, in spite of the fact that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has been providing the appropriate information, which he refuses to read out. These allegations on cost are unfounded, although all house builders and owners must comply with the regulations. An owner who intends to self-build - known as direct labour - will, as before, assume legal responsibility for ensuring the building or works concerned are compliant and he will be required, as builder, to sign the undertaking by the builder and the certificate of compliance on completion.

As local authorities and industry move to full implementation next week, the Department will continue to work with all parties to ensure they understand their obligations and the steps necessary to meet them. These changes are essential to deal with the disgraceful legacy issues we have seen with Priory Hall, unfinished estates and the supply of pyritic material.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I agree with the Minister's final statement. A strengthening of regulations is required to maintain and confirm that a high quality standard of building is put in place. Notwithstanding the fact the Minister said he will not agree to a deferral, I ask him again to consider a specified term of three to six months before this comes into effect. Would he also consider putting a review panel in place to monitor the new regulations thereafter? This will assure us it will not have a detrimental effect on rural Ireland and on the elements of the industry that find themselves outside the loop in respect of their ability to carry out inspections. Will he make a committed effort to launch a public information campaign to allow us to be sure the public is well aware of the implications of the changes?

Would the Minister consider a national building inspectorate? There could be targeted inspections, a system of licensing or registration of builders, and information on builders shared among the relevant authorities, with full prosecutions of any designers or contractors who are negligent in their duties. An open register of inspections and prosecutions and reports of inspections could be made public.


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