Is Riverwalk Court in Ratoath the next “Priory Hall”?

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18 June

It would appear that we are seeing a wave of high-profile building failures. Another development, this time an apartment development in Ratoath, has been the subject of several articles highlighting how our building control system of “light-touch self-certification” has let down owners yet again.  The following articles in the Examiner set out the context behind residents claiming they have been abandoned by Meath County Council in a “firetrap”. Listen to a radio interview with Michael Clifford author here: “Meath Co.Council accused of abandoning residents” LMFM, Monday 15th June.

“By July of last year, Mark Fitzmaurice was at the end of his tether. He and the other owners and residents of Riverwalk Court had been living in a worsening nightmare for the previous five years.

Their homes in the Co Meath town of Ratoath were literally falling apart. With each new investigation of what lay behind the walls, new construction flaws were uncovered.

Water ingress was the most enduring problem, but it was quickly becoming apparent that the safety of residents and their families could no longer be assured.

The residents had employed an engineering firm to do a survey of the block of 26 units. Conspect Engineers had over the course of a year conducted a number of surveys, each one unearthing further structural problems.

In an overview dated July 14, the firm had enumerated nine separate deficiencies that contravened fire safety standards and rendered the block dangerous. The author, Michael Fleming, then added: “In keeping with a duty of care and in the interests of safety to the occupants, we have made our current findings a matter of record to the local authority.”…

If the building is deemed unsafe, the local authority is obliged to act under Section 20 of the Fire Services Act which empowers it to “serve notice on the owner or occupier if a building which appears to the authority to be a potentially dangerous building”. This can include notice to undertake remedial work immediately, or to evacuate the building.

The first obligation on the local authority is to conduct its own inspection, draw up a report based on that and inform both residents and the developer of its findings. If the inspection’s findings mirrored those of the engineer’s report, the council would be obliged to act on Section 20.

Instead, the council acted in a manner that could be deemed mystifying. On September 22, three months after receiving the damning report, two council officials attended on site with the residents.

By then, the residents’ management body had also submitted a copy of the report to the council. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the chief fire officer was not present at the meeting with residents.

Over the last few years, a number of instances have arisen where work done at the height of the building boom has been found to be dangerous in terms of fire safety.

This was the issue in Priory Hall in Dublin in 2011. The outcome there was an evacuation of the 190 apartments on foot of an application by the fire officer in Dublin City… Despite all that, the fire authority could not be faulted for acting as it did to ensure the safety of residents.

Another issue arose in Dublin last year in relation to a development on the city’s Sir John Rogerson’s Quay called Longboat Quay. In that instance, remedial works were undertaken and fire marshals installed to patrol the building 24/7 until the building was brought up to a safe standard seven months later. That work was largely paid for by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, which was involved in the development. [Blog Note: problems in Longboat Quay are ongoing and that work may have to be largely funded by the state through the Dublin Docklands Development Authority]

In Ratoath, no action was taken. It is not even known whether an inspection report was compiled. The residents were never informed of an outcome…There is no end is sight for the residents. They can no longer avail of home insurance because it has become unaffordable due to the defects uncovered. For those wishing to sell, the prospects are also pretty bleak.

Most pressing of all though, is the fire safety concerns. Mark Fitzmaurice is blunt about the council’s conduct regarding the fire safety concerns.

“The only reason Meath County Council haven’t acted to date is they either don’t understand the seriousness of the situation, which means they’re not fit for purpose,” he says. “Or, they are acting out of some political or financial consideration and if that’s the case, they’re not fit for purpose.”

  • Council ‘left us to live in death trap flat’ irish Examiner 15 June 2015, author Michael Clifford goes thru a series of events that point towards Meath County Council abandoning dozens of residents living in an apartment complex condemned as a fire trap. Extract:

“The council was given the engineer’s report last July highlighting major deficiencies in the fire safety for Riverwalk Court in Ratoath. The deficiencies in the building were such that the report’s author felt compelled to forward the report to the council in the interests of public safety.

Three months later, two officials at the council inspected the block, but the residents were never informed whether an inspection report was compiled and if so what the outcome was…

However, a solicitor representing residents was contacted last Tuesday in the first official contact from the council since the “inspection” nine months ago…

In recent years, the discovery of major fire risks to buildings constructed during the building boom has led to radical action from some local authorities…

The residents of Riverwalk Court have encountered a litany of construction problems over the last few years and are currently engaged in legal action with the developer, Saltan Properties.

The principal of Saltan Properties is Michael Ryan, who owns El Alle stud in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

In July 2013, he was found not guilty of bribing former Fine Gael councillor Fred Forsey, who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for corruption.

In response to queries from the Irish Examiner, Mr Ryan said he does not accept that the standard of work at the complex was not up to a proper standard.”

“Yesterday, the council said it is in “ongoing contact with the developer through the offices of its fire service and has been closely monitoring the situation regarding Riverwalk Court for some time”.

Other posts of interest:

More Fire Safety evacuations, European Committee of Social Rights court case & uninhabitable rented housing | NEWS

‘So far, we have been spared tragedy”- the legacy of boom-time housing | Michael Clifford

Peter McVerry says he’d be embarrassed if he was Alan Kelly | Journal

Building regulations make Dodge City look good | Irish Examiner

Kildare fire disaster shows madness of Kelly’s self-certification proposals | Green party

Radical plan to exempt new homes from building rules | Independent

Questions asked about Minister Kelly’s Social Housing Strategy | Irish Times

Self-regulation did not work in the past – and it won’t work in the future |Paul Meila

Independent inspection is essential – Flawed building regulations | Irish Examiner

Simon Carswell: Politicians, Construction industry lobbying and banking | look back 10

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