Longboat Quay | Irish Times Letters to the Editor

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21 October 2015

Industry experts are now coming to a consensus that regulations introduced specifically to address problems encountered by residents of Longboat Quay and Priory Hall, BC(A)R SI.9, have not addressed systems failures. Builders and developers of multi-unit residential projects are still in control of the regulatory process. They can still employ certifiers directly as employees, manage access to sites on an ongoing basis, wind-up special purpose vehicles (shelf companies) on completion to book-end liability. With no requirement for structural or defect liability insurance to be in place for consumers the scene is set for long legal battles for for redress of future defective schemes for consumers. Not only does our new “reinforced self-certification” system continue to ignore multi-unit systems problems, it appears to be at a huge cost to the consumer and industry. Here is a selection of Irish Times “Letters to the editor: from a Longboat Quay resident to a number of senior industry experts .


Resident’s perspective:

see Irish Times “Longboat Quay 7 Building Regulations, 7th October 2015

Teresa Hackett, resident of Longboat Quay

“A chara, – Your editorial “Light-touch regulation leaves owners with the bills” (October 5th) prompted me to review the purchase documents for my Longboat Quay apartment. At least nine parties were involved in building and certifying the development.

Gendsong Ltd (in receivership) and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (a State agency) were joint developers. There were two professional architects.

Two engineering companies and a fire consultant were responsible for, among other things, the structural elements, mechanical ventilation, fire alarm, smoke alarm, fire detection system, fire stopping and fire barriers that are now deemed to be unsafe.

One company had the good fortune to be selected for the redesign of the new fire alarm system installed in February 2015 that we are assured is now compliant.

In 2011 Dublin Fire Brigade assured owners that fire security at Longboat Quay was in order, in response to a concern raised about the fire-alarm system. Had we been warned that this was not the case, the nightmare situation in which we now find ourselves might not have escalated.

In the meantime, the builder is back in business up the road.

In January 2015, apartment owners were asked to pay 21 per cent of the fire-alarm upgrade costs (amounting to over €137,000).

Now we are being asked to raise millions more in order to stay in our homes. Among other failures, the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, which is supposed to protect apartment owners from costs that are the responsibility of the developer or builder, clearly is not working.

Those responsible for this fiasco must be held accountable, and must make good on the undertakings they gave when we purchased our apartments.

Otherwise standards of proper governance, and the notion of natural justice for ordinary citizens going about their lives, are well and truly broken.”


Expert’s perspective: 

see see Irish Times “Longboat Quaq 7 Building Regulations, 7th October 2015

Eoin O’Cofaigh FRIAI, Past RIAI President, Past President, Architects’ Council of Europe, 2000, Honorary Member, the American Institute of Architects & the Institute of Architects of Russia, Member 2001-2007, Building Regulations Advisory Body

“Sir, – As one of those within the architectural profession who has been saying for the past three years that the present system of building regulation offers no real protection for homebuyers, your editorial is spot on. You write, “Light-touch regulation didn’t work in the banking sector and doesn’t work in the construction sector either.”

Priory Hall and Longboat Quay were built under an old system of building control regulations, which then minister for the environment Phil Hogan changed two years ago to an enhanced system of self-regulation. The changed system will not work either.

The system of regulation brought in by Mr Hogan is a disaster in waiting.

The present system still allows a professional employed by developers to sign-off on their own developments. It also forces a certifier, usually an architect, to take responsibility for the builder!

Who, with the tiniest knowledge of human nature, could imagine that a system which lets a builder pass all responsibility on to someone else will somehow result in better building?

No wonder the builders support Mr Hogan’s changed system!

Under the present system, homeowners will still get shoddy houses and flats.

And all they get is Mr Hogan’s “immediate access of information to lead them towards a solution”. This is a joke. We need better buildings, not more paper.

You refer to latent defects insurance and in truth this, too, is needed. But latent defects insurance – of which the Department of the Environment has washed its hands – hasn’t happened for the past three years. It won’t happen, because until the insurers see a properly functioning building control system, they will stay away.

This country needs dependable, regular, competent, independent inspection of building designs and building sites. This inspection can be by the local authority or by professionals answering to them, and can be done at zero cost to the public purse.

As you say, the present situation is appalling and must be brought to an end, quickly. This can be done. Independent inspection of construction is no mystery. It can be seen all across the developed world. Northern Ireland has had it for years.

The present Irish system of self-certification is unique. The sooner Mr Hogan’s self-certification system is scrapped and a proper system of independent inspection is brought in, the sooner there will be hope for future homebuyers.

Until this is done, there will be more Longboat Quays well into the future and more demands on the unfortunate taxpayer.”


Senior Architect:

Longboat Quay – who is responsible? 8th October 2015

Paul Kelly MRIAI, Senior Architect and current member of the RIAI Building Control Steering Group

“Sir, – Eoin O’Cofaigh (October 7th) claims that the system of building control by self-certification, introduced by Phil Hogan in 2014, is unique. Mr Ó Cofaigh is incorrect. In 1997 Norway introduced a similar system of building control based on self-certification. Due to a consequent decline in the quality of construction, the system was abandoned as a failure in 2010.

In its 2013 report on construction regulation reform, the World Bank asks what has been learned from Norway’s experience. Ireland appears to be unique in having learned nothing from Norway, nor anything, it would appear, from the experience of the increasing number of residents who are the innocent victims of the absence of a functioning and independent system of building control.”


Academic Expert: 

“Longboat Quay and regulation” 10 October 2015

Orla Hegarty MRIAI, Course Director Professional Practice and Regulations, UCD School of Architecture

“Sir, – Some are sceptical about the costs of an independent system of building control. In fact, a robust and effective system of stage inspections could be delivered at a fraction of the cost of the present system and provide greater consumer protection. The 2014 regulations (Statutory Instrument 9) transposed the previous ad hoc system of self-regulation into law; the system is unreliable, inherently inefficient and unnecessarily bureaucratic.

Independent inspections at critical stages of construction could be funded by increasing the €30 commencement notice fee. Local authorities (or private inspectors under their control) could drive a change in culture by using their powers to enter sites and stop works, neither of which is available under SI 9. Furthermore, there are efficiencies to be made in using national standards, dedicated systems and focused inspectors.

SI 9 will not prevent another Longboat Quay and it is expensive to deliver. In more ways than one, we are paying a very high price for self-regulation. “


Other posts of interest:

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”

“Risky housing sale outrageous but legal” | Longboat Quay

3 thoughts on “Longboat Quay | Irish Times Letters to the Editor

  1. Michael O'Neill MRIAI

    Several issues seem to be missing in the above contributions, although all are condemning self certification

    1. Design has to be conducted competently and there has to be a follow through from the design stages to the built work stages to ensure quality assurance translates into construction assurance.

    2. There has to be interim inspections undertaken and photographic records and tests made to ensure that construction assurance is qualified and made certain by quality control assessments leading to construction control

    3. There has to be interface management at every stage to ensure that the people who are supposed to be doing things, and supposed to know what they are doing, are ACTUALLY doing things and ACTUALLY know what they are doing.

    4. With these measures in place you can offer an opinion that a statistically acceptable set of inspections have taken place following a competent set of design documents and work practices based on them that in turn followed sound principles of building trades, specialist installers and suppliers and state that therefore the building or works is substantially compliant..

    To be most effective, the above approach needs to be overseen by independent inspectors. But there is (and there was) nothing stopping any competent professional from doing this as supporting evidence for issuing an Opinion. In terms of remedial work, this is the only method with any credibility, and which can be done reasonably cost effectively.

    The current strategy of pinning liability for the work of the builder on two Certifiers is a distraction to avoid having the strength in depth approach outlined above and will not result in an improvement in building quality. I do believe that only changes to company law and legal action against Directors will do that.

    Reply
  2. Raymond K. Quirke (@QuirkeArchTect)

    Priory Hall was a bad design issue, the “room within a room” was contrary to Fire regulations. I understand this issue was made clear in the fire certificate application.The design fault was not rectified. Priory Hall was certified compliant with Building Control by an RIAI practice.
    There are huge questions to answer here. Was the RIAI architect incompetent or was fraud committed? Why wasn’t the fault spotted by Surveyors and Engineers working for the buyers during purchase?

    Reply
  3. Michael O'Neill

    These are all valid questions and I have raised similar queries myself four years ago when this was being debated in another online forum.

    – – –

    …MORE regulation isn’t necessarily the answer. 🙂

    The point is that we’re not using the regulatory powers we have and Building Control Offices throughout the contrary were totally understaffed during the Tiger years and are still relatively understaffed if you’re trying to cover 100% of new builds.

    I have to tip my hat to John Sweeney of Meath County Council, one of the few Building Control Officers who developed policies of engagement prior to commencement to set the course of builders and developers and tell them what he wanted to see in developments and the standard he would work to – I think he achieved something like 88% one year, some enormous figure.

    He was able to do this partly because he was out doing his job and not swanning around going to non-productive seminars and conference like so many public servants.
    The other part of his accomplishment centred on the man himself, one of the most dedicated people I have met in the Building Control Officer position.

    ———————————————

    We need an approachable system of governance that is enforced in a reasonable manner, not islands of autocracy whose word cannot be questioned. In this the Technical Guidance Documents allow us some leeway in that regulations are note suited to try to control new forms of building or even straitjacket existing forms.

    Building forms and details are a developmental process and architecture is changing all the time, so a rigid autocracy would not be not helpful. Equally an absentee Site Architect or NO Site Architect at all is totally useless where the protection of the public is paramount.

    In this regard, schemes which have neither Architect nor engineers carrying out limited inspections during the building programme are suspect, whatever the excuse offered by the developer. This is a base cost-cutting exercise that nobody benefits from except crooked developers and builders who intend to cut corners.

    I have seen both in my 21 (now 25) years practising and have carried out remedial works following the involvement of well known firms. Winning awards for design, like being Registered as having passed an assessment, is no guarantee of competence in building or of integrity in issuing certification.

    Reply

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