Moving from Self-certification of Buildings towards Independent Inspection| Cork County Council

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Councillor Marcia D’Alton

The following motion was proposed by Independent Councillor Marcia D’Alton to Cork County Council on 12th October 2015. Councillor D’Alton is a qualified Engineer, an experienced environmental consultant and has been an elected representative for 10 years.

The motion was passed. 

Extract from Councillor D’Alton’s website: See full link here.

“MY MOTION ON THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE FOR THE QUALITY OF NEW CONSTRUCTION, 12TH OCTOBER 2015

OCTOBER 13, 2015 MARCIA D’ALTON

That the State would acknowledge its responsibility to people who in attempting to buy their own homes, now find themselves with hazardous properties not constructed in compliance with the building regulations.

And that Cork County Council asks the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government to move away from the current system of self-regulation in the design and construction of buildings and to replace it with an independent Approved Inspector system similar to that operating in the UK.”

The presence of the wall linings with their low surface spread of flame rating played a major part in the disaster. Had the express requirements of the Draft Building Regulations in relation to both these matters been enforced and observed, the consequences of the disaster might have been significantly diminished.” These were the words of Batt O’Keeffe, TD in the Seanad in 1990. He was speaking about the Stardust fire in 1981 and he and other members of the Seanad were debating the new building control laws that were being introduced.

Essentially, those building regulations gave us:

  • Priory Hall in Donaghmede, Dublin. A 189 apartment unit in which the fire risk and shoddy workmanship is so great that the current estimate of its remediation is €30m
  • The Elm Park office and apartment complex on Dublin’s Merrion Road, comprising 218 apartments and enough office space for 3,500 workers on which NAMA had to spend millions to remedy fire safety risks
  • Belmayne, Balgriffin. The largest boom-time residential development on the North side of Dublin in which 300 of the 960 units were shown to need extensive repair work due to fire safety problems
  • Longboat Quay in the heart of the Dublin Docklands. A 298 apartment unit in which the fire risks have recently been identified as so extensive that the residents are to be evacuated.
  • Hillcrest, Pembroke Wood, Passage West where I live. My family has spent the last 10 years remedying the effects of shoddy building. The low point was discovering an empty roast chicken bag used as a draught stopper behind a skirting in the hall. The culmination was the reconstruction of the external balcony this summer at a cost of €5,000.

Under the acclaimed new regulations introduced in 1990, the system of building certification that was approved in Ireland was the “Opinion on Compliance” system, commonly known as self-certification. The designers and builders of projects, on their own responsibility, provided certificates of compliance with the building regulations. Within this system, there is a recognition that the primary responsibility for designing and construction of buildings rests with the industry itself.

Local authorities as the building control authorities were obliged by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government to inspect 12 – 15% of new buildings for which valid commencement notices were received. So 85% of newly constructed homes were not required to be inspected. Even at that, most local authorities had no written procedures for inspection, no requirement to call to a building site more than once and if they visited at all, they had to take the builder’s word that construction materials were to standard and that behind completed walls and floors, wiring, plumbing and foundations were all up to scratch.

I am angry about this. Council officials were so stretched they could not keep up. They were, as ever, insufficiently resourced by government. The inadequacies of the 1990 building controls were highlighted in the Seanad before they were even passed into law. It was to take a series of evidenced catastrophies arising from those inadequacies before building controls were tightened by new laws in 2014.

The new system now requires an assigned certifier to oversee and sign off on each stage of the building in accordance with an inspection programme agreed prior to the start of development. In fact, the new system is so tight that 38 separate steps are involved in getting the appropriate permissions and permits in place for a simple warehouse.

Paper does not produce good buildings. We are still in a situation where a developer can employ his own assigned certifier for his own projects. We are still in a situation where the local authorities as the building control authorities will be inspecting only 15% of construction projects. And the new system is so onerous that experts believe it runs the risk of simply putting builders off building.

What is missing is a guarantee of ensured third party oversight and independent audit. The UK has had a simple Approved Inspector system in operation since the 1980s with 100% inspection of new builds. 100% inspection is also required in Northern Ireland, the United States and in many other countries across the EU. There is a reason Ireland is ranked 128th out of 189 nations by the World Bank in respect of our construction process. The UK is ranked 17th.

A history of inadequate legislation and inadequate enforcement is the key reason rogue builders have been allowed to build profits on the back of the innocent public who will be unearthing their legacy for many years to come. The State is entirely responsible for both the inadequate legislation and the inadequate enforcement. I ask that this Council would support me in calling for the State to take responsibility for this. I ask that this Council would support me in calling for the State to financially safeguard consumers who through no fault of their own are prisoners of a legacy left by rogue builders. And I ask that this Council would support me in asking that Ireland would introduce an Independent Inspector system with 100% inspection of construction projects similar to that operating in the UK for the past 30 years.”

Other links of interest:

Dublin City Councillor calls for audit of every building in the Docklands

Sligo, Wexford and Wicklow Co. Councils pass motions calling for SI.9 to be revoked

Kildare Councillor gets motion passed calling for Independent Inspections of all new houses

Priory Hall & Longboat Quay: “I’m convinced there are others” | Taoiseach Enda Kenny

First Priory Hall, then Longboat Quay…now schools | Irish Examiner

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

“After 18 months of operation the industry view of SI.9 is pretty conclusive: it’s not working”

5 thoughts on “Moving from Self-certification of Buildings towards Independent Inspection| Cork County Council

  1. Andrew Alexander MRIAI

    “And the new system is so onerous that experts believe it runs the risk of simply putting builders off building.”

    Possibly true to an extent however in his recent excellent paper (linked to this forum in the post Professional Liability and BC(A)R SI.9) Mark Sanfey SC echoed my own thoughts on the weakness of SI.9 (with respect to the Builder’s Undertaking) when he wrote;

    “It appears therefore that the builder is under an obligation to build in accordance with the documents and designs given to him, as long as he does so, he does not have liability for any non-compliance with the Building Regulations.”

    The Building Control Act of 1990 in many respects laid the ultimate responsibility for compliance at the door of the owner and the builder. SI.9 was essentially an exercise in apportioning and expanding blame to the building professional. Nothing more and nothing less.

    However in the wording of its respective certificates and undertakings SI.9 has undermined whatever initial protection was offered by the 1990 Act.

    Reply
  2. Michael O'Neill MRIAI

    Mobile: 085-7333852
    Email: info@marciadalton.net
    Website: http://www.marciadalton.net
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    Dear Councillor D’Alton,

    Just my two cent and to state my wholehearted support for your initiative

    Thank you for being the only voice of reason (apparently) amongst your colleagues running the Irish State. The cosy relationship leading to BC(A)R S.I. 9 of 2014 and the later backpedaling in S.I> 365 of 2015 has seen rogue builders and corrupt developers hide behind the Design and Assigned certifiers.

    These two unfortunate creatures bear insupportable liability arising from being asked to certify unattainable perfection because of legislation written by the builders’ and developers’ “colleagues” in government, which is designed to protect rogues and criminals who make the most from the building industry from being punished and fined for their crimes.

    This relationship needs to be broken and exposed.

    I speak as an architect who practiced in Ireland for 23 years before being forced to work abroad in order to keep my family fed and housed and educated because of State mismanagement of the housing sector.

    This included cosy relationships between estate agents and lending agencies leading to artificially high house prices and unsustainable debt, as well as builder-developers buying their own product for tax purposes, again artificially raising prices.

    I worked within the self-certification regime from 1990 and I found that the onus for responsibility for applying standards and inspection levels rested with me and the team in our office.

    I was lucky to have worked with good contractors like Cosgrave Brothers and McNamaras at the time (1990’s to Early Noughties) when buildings were constructed of robust materials using blockwork and wet trades and solid timber frames which gave reasonable compliance with Part L and good Fire Protection.

    I say “lucky” because the level and detailing of these technologies was well understood by builders unlike the current multilayered drywall construction with timber framing which has left us with so many potential death traps.

    It is clear that many builders do not understand how these highly insulated sandwiches work. It is equally clear that few people understand the fire risk posed by unrated air handling systems. We’ll be waiting until someone dies before taking action, or relying on the carbon monoxide sensors as a get-out-of-jail clause for the incompetents who write the regulation but fail to give worked examples that are integrated and actually work.

    I would go so far as to say we need a government mandate to urgently inspect this newer-built accommodation NOW before a death occurs.

    Anyway that is another fight.

    Thank you once again for championing this much needed and affordable means of putting manners on Developers and Contractors who think nothing of risking peoples health, well being and lives so they can make a few more millions.

    Best regards,

    Michael O’Neill

    Reply
  3. Michael Tweed

    “Under the acclaimed new regulations introduced in 1990, the system of building certification that was approved in Ireland was the “Opinion on Compliance” system, commonly known as self-certification. The designers and builders of projects, on their own responsibility, provided certificates of compliance with the building regulations.”
    Actually the 1990 Building Control Act required NO certification of buildings. It provided the mechanism for the Minister to introduce Compliance Certificates but this power was not used until Phil Hogan introduced the amended regulations. Opinions were not “approved in Ireland”, rather they were gladly accepted as proof of compliance by LENDERS OF CAPITAL.
    The 1990 Act actually left a vacuum. It was those lending capital where new buildings were collateral who required some assurance that buildings were sound – and it was for them that the RIAI plugged the hole with the introduction of Opinions on Compliance. Opinions on Compliance have no statutory linkage to the 1990 Act at all. They simply provided a proof to a lender. They were drafted as Opinions because there is significantly less liability in issuing an Opinion rather than a Certificate and since it was left to the individual architects to provide proof of compliance why wouldn’t they choose to give such proof in a manner which reduced their liability, since there PII and livelihoods were at risk in providing such proofs?
    I fully and wholeheartedly support this motion – although I doubt it will have any affect.

    Reply
  4. Michael O'Neill MRIAI

    I would like to clarify a couple of points raised by Michael Tweed, whose main points I agree with.

    1. I do not recall that there was a vacuum created or left by the 1990 Building Control Act per se. I seem to recall that there was a continuation of contractual and professional arrangements in relation to issuing documents confirming the status of built work. I think this had been in existence prior to 1990, but this as this is before I started issuing Opinions I cannot be certain. I am fairly certain that there was a policy not to include comments about certification in the legislation because it could easily have been introduced if it had been desired to do so.

    2. The comment about Opinions being “approved in Ireland” is confusing because, as Michael Tweed has stated, there was no statutory basis for the issuing of opinions. However I seem to recall that Opinions had been agreed between the RIAI and the Incorporated Law Society around this time (1990) which were settled as giving a balance between assurances regarding the built work and attracting liability for the person issuing the opinion. In that sense the Opinions were ‘approved’ between the bodies who agreed them in order to satisfy a conveyancing need, often to benefit their mutual clients.

    Reply

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