Dáil debates: Enforcement? BC(A)R SI.9

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In the following Government Debate from last year Minister Phil Hogan notes that statistics on enforcement procedures were due to be published. These will be of great interest to stakeholders in the construction industry. Enforcement of the regulations is one area where there has widespread industry concern recenty. Key stakeholders the ACEI, SCSI and RIAI (representative bodies for engineers, surveyors and architects) have all been critical of the lack of adequate resources allocated to Local Authorities to administer the new regulations. The RIAI recently came under fire for breaking ranks with others and formally requesting deferral of SI.9 in January. A lack of resources at local authoroty level was one of the issues in these formal letters to Ministers Hogan and Bruton.

Statistics on enforcement have not been available for some time. At around the same time as Building Regulation Advisory Board was suspended in 2012 the reporting of statistics relating to local authority procedures seems to have been discontinued by the Department.

In a recent Independent article on implementation on 11th March author Ken Whelan noted “It is understood that the county councils have asked the Department of the Environment to delay the introduction of the regulations until they have the necessary staff capable of dealing with the updated building regulations”. Given recent lay-offs in Local Authorities it is hard to believe there are adequate resources allocated to the new regulations. This is of particular concern to the industry with respect to completion stages: owners may not inhabit complete buildings until completion documentation required under BC(A)R SI.9 has been approved and validated by Local Authorities. In 2007 there were less than 70 building control officers for the entire country.

Link to Fire Safety Regulations: 23 Oct 2013: Dáil debates (KildareStreet.com)

http://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2013-10-23a.492&s=”Clare+daly”+enforcement+building+control#g493.q

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Extract:

Dáil debates Wednesday, 23 October 2013; Other Questions: Fire Safety Regulations

Clare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)

12. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 100 of 23 October 2012 in which he noted that the local building control authorities are empowered to bring summary prosecutions for building code offences in the District Court and have wide powers to make application to the High Court to secure orders where buildings do not comply with the requirements of the building regulations and that local authorities have further strong enforcement powers available under the Fire Services Act 1981 while acting in their capacity as fire authorities, the uses of the above powers to enforce fire safety compliance in the 12 months since he gave this information to Dáil Éireann following the Priory Hall saga and in view of the unknown widespread non-compliance with fire safety regulations leaving whole apartment blocks as fire hazards noted at Foxford Court, Lucan, Thornfield Square, Clondalkin and Belmayne among others. [44769/13]

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

As indicated in the reply to Question No. 100 of 23 October 2012, local authorities have extensive powers under the Building Control Acts which they can use to enforce compliance with the building regulations. However, there is a time limit of five years after a building has been completed during which an enforcement notice may be served by a local building control authority.

The case at Priory Hall demonstrates Dublin City Council’s effective use of its powers to enforce compliance with fire regulations. Other local authorities have also used the courts to effect compliance with planning permissions, building regulations and fire regulations, all of which are critically relevant to the safety of building occupiers and the quality of the built environment. Results can also be achieved, and often are, through discussion and persuasion with the threat of legal action.

Comprehensive statistical returns on enforcement activity under the Building Control Act and the Fire Safety Act are not yet available for the period in question – I will submit them to the Deputy when I get them – and will be published in line with normal arrangements in due course. The Department continues to liaise with local authorities in regard to significant building control issues that have arisen in a number of multi-unit developments across the country, including those instances that have been raised by the Deputy. I expect local authorities to continue to use all of the powers currently available to them to address serious building defects.

Clare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)

This is an incredibly serious issue which obviously entered the public domain through the fire safety concerns in Priory Hall but it is most definitely not confined to Priory Hall. I am not sure from the Minister’s response if he is saying that all the other developments cited in the question are outside the time limit period and therefore the best that the local authorities can hope for is to nicely ask the developers to comply. The reality, fox example, particularly in case of Foxford Court in Lucan is that a similar developer has built in Balbriggan. I know from a resident who submitted a freedom of information request that the local authority has not rigorously pursued the developer to ensure fire safety compliance and its has adopted a softly softly approach which is not good enough when lives are potentially at risk. an the Minister confirm to the House what was the particular breach of regulations of the fire safety legislation in terms of Priory Hall and can he give us an assurance that the same breach of the regulations has not occurred in respect of other developments cited or any other developments?

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

As the Deputy will note, we have made substantial progress in respect of Priory Hall in resolving these issues.

Our approach is housing-led. In other words, we would get people into homes as quickly as possible with the necessary supports and thereby ensure that they do not spend any longer than they have to in emergency accommodation. We are very much aware that we are facing into the winter and that people will be looking for housing and emergency accommodation. This is a major problem in Dublin in particular. We are working with the authorities throughout the country to ensure that we address the problem. It is not easy to do that. It is an issue that has been raised over many years. It is one on which we have a policy. An oversight committee is advising me on the policy and I am determined that we will work on that issue with great priority.

Patrick Nulty (Dublin West, Independent)

With respect to the Minister of State, it is all an elaborate fiction. There are 100,000 people on the housing list. I do not think any Deputy in this House is not inundated with requests from people who are unable to access appropriate housing for their needs. The Minister mentioned that she wanted to get solutions. More European funding would be available through the European Investment Bank, for example, if we had a proper regulatory framework for approved housing bodies. When will she bring forward legislation to bring that in and allow us to access the extra funding that would be available?

I ask the Minister of State not to listen to the spin that her officials seem to spinning and to talk to people at the front line. She should go out and talk to homeless people and ask them is the system working. I can tell her that it is not.

Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)

Will the Deputy put a question to the Minister of State?

Patrick Nulty (Dublin West, Independent)
It is not good enough for Ministers to come into the House and give the same spin, bluff and rubbish when citizens’ lives are being destroyed by austerity and the Government’s policies.

Jan O’Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)

I want to absolutely reject what Deputy Nulty said about spin and bluff. First, we are working with approved housing bodies on a regulatory framework and we have agreed a voluntary framework with them which eventually will move to a statutory framework. Second, we have applied for funding from the European Union under the JESSICA fund and we hope to get an answer on that soon. Such funding would address the problems of flats in Dublin and in other cities that are currently in need of renovation and would provide homes for people. Third, as I said, we have maintained the homeless budget and stabilised the general housing budget and that has been done against a difficult financial situation where we are under the troika whether we like it or not—–

Patrick Nulty (Dublin West, Independent)

Increase the taxation of the wealthy.

Jan O’Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)

—–and considering the difficulties in the economy, we have a done a very good job in maintaining budgets in the housing area. Admittedly there are huge problems, but it is simply unfair to suggest that we are not addressing them.

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