The BRegs Blog received the following opinion piece from Kildare–based architect, Vivian Cummins. It follows our post last week on a motion to be tabled by Kildare Co. Council regarding SI.9 inspection and certification:
On Wednesday last I listened to a woman on the radio describe how her rented home of ten years in Dublin had been repossessed on Monday by a financial institution because her landlord had defaulted on the mortgage. She could not find any alternative accommodation that she could afford. As a result, she and her two young children were homeless and living in ‘emergency accommodation’ in a hotel 25 miles from their former home. They would have to move again on Thursday as the hotel had prior bookings and she did not know where they would be going next. She portrayed a resigned stoicism that belied how traumatised she probably was.
Homelessness is no longer confined to ‘winos and down and outs’. Homelessness is visiting the middle classes. Over 2,000 people are now in ‘emergency accommodation‘ in Dublin as almost 100,000 wait for social housing nationally. Having shelter and a roof over our heads should not be a luxury or a privilege; it is the most basic requirement of any society. The housing crisis presents the potential for enormous social unrest in Ireland as we were just beginning to experience the first tentative steps of an economic recovery. It has the capacity to become a major issue as the General Election looms. We cannot say we were not forewarned of the housing crisis that would occur due to mortgage defaults and barriers to supply.
Why the inaction by various Government Departments?
Why are we allowing this housing crisis to continue to stall our recovery?
I am very pleased that my local representatives, here in Co. Kildare, are trying to do their bit in relation to housing issues. Their action follows concerns for public safety following a fire that destroyed a terrace of houses in Newbridge in less than 20 minutes. Last week Councillors in Kildare Co. Council voted unanimously to call for 100% inspections by Building Control Officers of all new buildings to ensure compliance with Building Regulations and fire safety in particular. Up to now the target for any Local Authority was 15%. I hope many other Co. Councils will follow suit. Kildare and the other commuter belt Local authorities know firsthand the aftermath of rushed and poor standard construction. They are in the front-line to ensure that this does not happen again and they should be listened to.
It was clear that the councillors understand their moral obligations on this issue and are not willing to hide behind any niceties afforded by lack of accountability for Local Authority staff. Cllr. Willie Crowley who tabled the motion was scathing in his criticism of council staff who he alleged had been “misleading and selective” in their responses to his motion on the protections afforded to home owners by Building Control Regulations. Cllr. Crowley had a very simple solution to one part of the problem; he proposed an increase in Commencement Notice fees to finance independent inspections of all new buildings. The Department of the Environment could implement this in a matter of weeks and this could have immediate impact.
“This is a national first and I believe Kildare County Council can give a lead to the rest of the country,” said Cllr. Crowley. “We need to move away from the failed system of self-certification.”
You can listen to a podcast of an interview with Cllr. Crowley on Kildare fm (Link Here:).
Broadcaster and columnist Ivan Yates has commented extensively on the housing crisis and its impact on the economy. On Thursday last he wrote in the Independent:
“There’s no official appreciation of the impediments in the way of building projects………A residential catastrophe beckons, as an endemic housing shortage is set to cause an epidemic of homelessness, displacement and higher living costs. (Link Here:)
The Mayor of Kildare, Cllr. Brendan Weld, cautioned that clear oversight of building standards was necessary to ensure that developers and builders did not use the excuse of having to fast track housing as an excuse for shoddy or dangerous standards in its provision.
On Friday 17th July a conference on housing is to take place in Athy, Co. Kildare. It is titled “Breaking the Mould – Responding to Old Challenges with New Opportunities”. Speakers will include Fr. Peter McVerry (Peter McVerry Trust, David Hall (Irish Mortgage Holders Association), local representatives and this writer.
Vivian Cummins is an architect in private practice and President of the Co. Kildare Chamber of Commerce. He is a former member of the RIAI Council 2014.
Other posts of interest: