Getting Our Housing in Order | Vivian Cummins

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Vivian Cummins

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:

Councillor calls for 100% “true” inspection and certification of all new homes

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

Fewer than 90 social housing dwellings completed in 2014

Kildare fire disaster shows madness of Kelly’s self-certification proposals | Malcolm Noonan

 

1 thought on “Getting Our Housing in Order | Vivian Cummins

  1. Michael O'Neill MRIAI

    It is heartening to see a senior member of the institute support the position of 100% inspections by the local authority. However, even in Meath where high levels of inspections and pre-commencement meetings occurred, we see that problems with building standards are not unknown.

    Therefore while I wholeheartedly support Mr. Cummins points, I would like to highlight the lack of competence and professionalism in the builders of non-compliant properties, and the laughable system of provenance contained in the Building Regulations, on top of all their other shortcomings.

    At the moment the client – possibly a layperson – is allowed to determine who is competent to carry out the work. This slithering dis-ingenuity was possible a sop to self builders who were going to be forced into appointing contractors but it raises “clients” to a level of competence seldom seen outside the offices of seasoned commercial developers.

    The builder of farm out-houses who is starting to climb the ladder of success to private dwellings and apartments is not competent to interpret the building regulations solely because of his experience at building uninsulated solid block walls on slabs with no DPM never mind a Radon Gas Barrier.

    At a higher level of work, the builder of duplexes is not fit to comments multi-storey apartment buildings solely because he can read a fire cert drawing.

    In short, significant additional training in terms of technical knowledge, programming, cost control and deemed-to-satisfy detailing is required for each jump in the ladder to ensure that a contractor knows how to build and supervise the work his own men – subcontractors – carry out on his behalf.

    However I have my doubt that any minister of this disastrous government will tackle the developer contractors, since they already look like bucking due to the self-build lobby.

    But if they are really to make a difference, we have to not only ensure that the professionals are up to scratch, but that the contractors themselves become more professional, and end the “cute hoor” mentality which is seen as widespread in the building industry.

    Perhaps we need to start jailing contractors for producing sub-standard life threatening work.

    Reply

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