Ministerial Review into Fire Safety is “…a joke” | Irish Examiner

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01 October 2015

Under new Building Control Regulations SI.9 introduced in March 2014, little has changed for purchasers of speculative multi-unit homes. Developers can still sign-off in-house, sell on and wind up development companies leaving purchasers with no new consumer protection. From a consumer perspective the new Building Control system launched by former Minister Phil Hogan last year has nothing new- in principle a developer controls the design, construction and certification with no requirement for any independent oversight before homes are sold just as happened in Longboat Quay.

The following three articles in the Irish Examiner and the Irish Times illustrate clearly the problems consumers face, safety issues and costs, under our “self-certification” building control system. Remarkably no additional Building Control resources have been put in place by the Minister or Department for  local authority inspections despite recent high-profile building failures. There are fewer than 70 Building Control officers nationwide. In fact there are more dog-wardens than Building Control Officers in Ireland. 

  • In the Examiner article “Fire safety response is just a smokescreen“, 30 September 2015, author Michael Clifford offers a scathing analysis of the response by Minister Alan Kelly and the Department of the Environment to recent high-profile building failures that have potentially fatal fire-safety defects. Extract:

“ALAN KELLY likes to give the impression of being a man who gets things done, but in some respects he is the man who just gives the impression of getting things done. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his response to the emerging problems over homes which are effectively fire traps.

The Department of the Environment and Local Government last week announced a “review” to “develop a framework for general application” in homes where concerns have been raised about fire safety.

…These failings are primarily attributable to the developers in question, but also reflect the appalling system of self-regulation that pertained in those days, and still does to a large extent.

The names of the places where fire concerns have arisen are now well known in the public realm: Priory Hall, Belmayne, Longboat Quay, Shangan Hall, all in Dublin; Kentswood Court in Navan; Glenn Riada in Longford; Riverwalk Court in Co Meath; Millford Manor in Newbridge…

The response from Government has been “a review” — a review replete with statements like the following: “The review will have regards to the typical risk profile faced by residents, their visitors and fire service personnel in and about apartment developments and housing estates”.

… All of these aims could be undertaken by simply ringing up the local fire brigade and organising for a cursory survey and a chat with residents. None of it addresses the fears of residents who are living in homes which do not offer full protection against fire. None of it addresses the financial imposition on homeowners who have discovered that their trust in the State to regulate building has been completely misplaced.

The review will consist of some senior local authority personnel and a “fire expert”. Crucially, it is scheduled to report on January 31 next. That date is significant, as it provides that no response will be forthcoming from Mr Kelly until after the next general election is safely out of the way.

…In terms of addressing any of the outstanding issues, it amounts to a hill of beans.

Independent Kildare councillor Willy Crowley, who has been advocating on behalf of the Millfield Manor residents summed it up in his response to news of the review. “It’s a joke,” he said.”

  • In “Docklands residents face €4m bill over fire risk” the  Irish Times, 30 September 2015, the article reports on a Longboat Quay residents meeting, the defective residential scheme developed by Bernand McNamara in 2006. Residents were informed of a €4m remediation bill to undertake fire safety works immediately to the complex. Extract:

“More than 600 residents of a Dublin docklands apartment complex face evacuation from their homes on Thursday on the orders of Dublin Fire Brigade, if they cannot fund €4 million of fire safety works.

The residents of Longboat Quay, a complex of 298 apartments built by developer Bernard McNamara on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, were told on Tuesday night they needed to pay up to €18,000 each in order to fix serious fire safety defects including problems with fire-stopping material in utility services linking apartments and the “compartmentalisation” of common areas to prevent the spread of fire.

…The city’s chief fire officer wrote to the Longboat Quay Management Company earlier this month warning the building may have to be evacuated if work to fix these problem was not under way by Thursday...

Defects came to light last year when a fire engineer working for the receiver of an apartment reported the lack of fire-stopping material to Dublin Fire Brigade…Inadequate fire alarms have been upgraded, but the substantive works ordered by the fire brigade have not been completed…Residents were told on Tuesday of the extent of the costs…”

  • In another piece in the Examiner “Fire-risk flat owners must pay €4m or block will close” 30 September 2015, author Michael Clifford goes into more detail of the Longboat Quay meeting this week. Mr Clifford has previously noted how a unit in a 2006 defective development was sold recently, even with an evacuation order pending, to an unsuspecting purchaser at an Allsop auction (see post Here). Extract:

“Owners in a controversial apartment block were told last night they have to come up with €4m in less than a week or Dublin Fire Brigade will move to have the building evacuated.

The fire brigade has threatened twice in the last six weeks to apply for a fire safety notice if remedial works to make the 299-unit Longboat Quay safe are not started immediately…

A member of the management team, Richard Eardley, who is also an owner, told shocked attendees that owners would have to pay between €9,300 and €18,000 depending on the size of their units if funding can not be secured elsewhere…

Around 100 owners and residents attended last night’s meeting, which was told that events which began with the discovery of major deficiencies in February of last year have now come to a head.

The first phase of the remedial works involving the upgrade of a totally inadequate fire alarm system was completed in February.

The Irish Examiner reported at the time that fire marshals had been deployed within the buildings to patrol the common areas 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to alert residents in the event of a fire.

The deployment was one of the conditions imposed by Dublin Fire Brigade in order to prevent evacuation.

Last night’s meeting was told that the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, which is nominal landlord, had funded most of the €1.2m cost of that phase but it was unclear whether it would pay anything towards the next phase.

The development was built by Gendsong, a vehicle for developer Bernard McNamara, which is now in receivership.

A number of those in attendance at the meeting asked whether Mr McNamara had any liability, but were told that the corporate vehicle rather than the individual was responsible.

One owner pointed out that Mr McNamara was now back building at another location in Dublin.”

Last night, Sherry Fitzgerald estate agents were “awaiting further clarification” on the planned sale of an apartment in Longboat Quay that is threatened with evacuation. The 2-bedroom unit is on the market with  a price tag of €475,000 (see here). Only two weeks ago another unit was sold through Allsops to an unsuspecting buyer for €250,000.

Other posts of interest:

BC(A)R SI.9 Submission Series No 3: The Legal Environment and Consumer Protection | Deirdre Ní Fhloinn

“Risky housing sale outrageous but legal” | Longboat Quay

Is Limerick Hotel fire a 3rd “Lucky Escape”?

Michael Clifford: “when will we address cracks in construction?” Irish Examiner

You can still buy a non-compliant home…and it’s all perfectly legal | SI.9 Loopholes

Irish Examiner | “Local Authorities should be setting the standard”- Minister Paudie Coffey

Building Failures – Is the consumer protected?

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