Firetrap Homes | “Fingal CoCo ‘head in the sand’ approach to building control”

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11 August 2016

The Sunday Business Post published an alarming story last weekend Exclusive: read secret report on fire safety at major Dublin housing development about a fire report commissioned in 2012 by Fingal County Council  which was never published.  The independent report, written by industry heavyweights Michael Collins (architect) and Michael Slattery (Fire safety expert) identified serious breaches of fire regulations in a large housing development in swords and examined typical apartments at ground, first and second floor level.

“Fire safety issues in dozens of units at a boom-time estate in Fingal have been quietly repaired on foot of a secret report delivered to the County Council four years ago…

Fingal Co Council confirmed that it had spent over €1 million repairing the units at Holywell, a major housing development in Swords, where units sold for almost €500,000 during the boom.

The draft report, which has never been published, was commissioned in January 2012 to look into “possible systemic shortfalls” in fire separation systems after concerns were raised during a routine maintenance inspection. However, social housing tenants and owner-occupiers had already been living at the development for many years.”

Although remedial work was carried out by the Local Authority to make 55 homes safe, at a cost of up to €20,000 per apartment, Local Authority tenants were not made aware of the dangerous state the units were in at the time and were not evacuated.  Repairs appear to have been made when units became void and in a piecemeal basis.

There is nothing in the report or article to suggest that the defects in units are not typical and affect the entire development.  Why did the Local Authority not act and publish the report immediately?  Why was an evacuation order not issued?

“In response to a series of questions from this paper, Fingal Co Council said that its primary responsibility as owner of the properties was to rectify the issues uncovered in the report, and its secondary responsibility was to inform the developer and management companies of the findings.

A spokesperson said: “The council then engaged in correspondence and meetings to ensure the developer and management companies were aware of their responsibilities and were taking action to identify if similar issues had occurred in other blocks within the estate. It was the responsibility of the developer and the management companies to bring to the attention of other property owners in the development any issues that needed to be addressed.

…Fingal Co Council told this newspaper that the issues it uncovered “would have been caused by poor workmanship and non-compliance with building regulations”.

Private owners in the estate are now only becoming aware of significant safety concerns they have unwittingly lived with for many years.  It would appear that the Local Authority ‘put their head in the sand” on issues and preferred to leave tenants and owners live in dangerous homes rather than act or make them aware of the serious safety issues.  Which official in Fingal County Council made the decision to suppress this information?  Was the Department of the Environment aware of the report?  Does the state have a duty of care to citizens to act immediately if they know a building is hazardous?  Local Social Democrats councillor Cian O’Callaghan said:

“The publication by The Sunday Business Post of a report into fire safety deficiencies at Holywell in Swords raises a number of serious questions for Fingal Co Council.

“Why, for example, did Fingal seemingly fail to detect these issues in the construction of units, and again when it was acquiring these units? What efforts did the Council make to notify residents and homeowners when these issues came to light in 2012?

“I’ve been raising these issues and asking questions for some time at council meetings, and have been met with a brick wall. I’m now very concerned that we could be looking at serious failings by council management. This smacks of a ‘head in the sand’ approach to building control,”

Is this the only privately-commissioned report by a Local Authority that has been swept under the carpet by the Department?  How many more state-purchased Part V social housing units built by private developers are dangerous to tenants?  Between 2005 and 2008 Fingal alone spent €8.1m purchasing Part V social units off developers, and in the ten year period 2002- 2012 over 15,000 Part V houses and apartments built by private developers were purchased by the state.

Articles of interest:

Frustration grows among Holywell residents – Independent.ie

Calls for drains to be inspected – Independent.ie

Other posts of interest:

Examiner | Housing Defects Special 

FACTCHECK: “If my house is defective, Do I have any rights?”

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

Is the scene set for another Priory Hall? | Look Back 11

Defective schools | Are our children safe?

Further questions over Newbridge fire-trap houses that have ‘no resale value’

“ BCAR… is one of the key reasons behind the absence of new housing supply” | BARRY COWEN (FF)

Reintroduce State Inspection of Buildings | Mick Wallace T.D.

Here’s How to Avoid Another Longboat Quay | Dublin Inquirer

The State still has no function in testing compliance of building regulations

2 thoughts on “Firetrap Homes | “Fingal CoCo ‘head in the sand’ approach to building control”

  1. Michael Tweed

    The Fingal commissioned report clearly states that these are timber framed multi-occupancy buildings. All the party walls and the separating floors are timber – a combustible material. The only protection is plasterboard.
    It’s an undeniable fact that the fire protection of the timber separating structures has to 100% – not 99.5% – it has to be absolute, EVERY time, between EVERY apartment. Close but no cigar = close but rapid fire spread!
    This is a building whose construction should have been of major concern to Fingal Co Co Building Control. After all they validated the Commencement Notice and issued the Fire Safety Certificate (FSC). The Building Control Act 1992 gave Building Control Departments fully mandated powers of inspection. Why weren’t they out on site checking the fire stopping details during construction? Stopping work on site until it was corrected would quickly have put manners on the builder! But even with close Building Control scrutiny I wouldn’t live in one of these apartments if you gave it me for free and paid me to live it it!
    Oh and it’s worth considering that these apartments are all fitted with gas boilers. Aren’t they the yokes with flames in them?
    The Fingal commissioned report states that the timber frame details submitted in the FSC application were standard Century Homes details but that a different timber frame supplier was used. ALL timber frame fire stopping detailing relies entirely on fire test data which is EXTRAPOLATED to the particular bespoke design. I wonder how far that extrapolation can be pushed for the detailing to perform in line with the test results. So far REAL fires in timber frame houses have proved to be disastrous and catastrophic!
    In this case I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to describe these as “firetrap homes”. I’d as soon sleep on the street!

    Reply
  2. Paul Lee

    A conspiracy of silence exists between those parties that ought to be taking responsibility for either enforcing the regulations or robustly and publicly lobbying the government for same. The fact that there is little to no comment from construction-related professional institutes says it all.

    Reply

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