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The Housing Bill 2016: More than supply or the same old story? | Ireland after NAMA: Cian O’Callaghan

Cian O’Callaghan | Ireland after NAMA

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The Housing Bill 2016: More than supply or the same old story?

Posted by irelandafternama under Commentaries | Tags: homelessness, housing, Housing Policy Ireland, housing supply, rental market |

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There has been much discussion, and not a little disagreement, about the Housing Bill 2016 (Housing Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2016) currently going through the Seanad.  In essence, it is the Government’s attempt to ‘fast track’ the delivery of new housing units.  And while there has been some debate about a small number of legislative changes that will, potentially, give tenants more rights, the bill offers an example of more of the same, rather than fundamental departure, in terms of the housing policy pursued by successive governments.

In this post, I want to do two things. Firstly, I want to look briefly at some core points of the bill with a view to identifying where they depart or continue existing policy.  Secondly, I want to place the state’s approach to focusing on stimulating supply through incentivizing the development sector in a historical context.

 

The Housing Bill 2016

The Housing Bill 2016 is generally a continuation of the kinds of housing policies successive governments have been pursuing for years now. Its basic premise is to remove (more) barriers to development in order to increase supply quickly. Most fundamentally, it assumes that supply is the single most important element of the housing problem and that remedying the issue of supply will have a ‘trickle down’ effect to subsequently alleviate the other crises of housing affordability, homelessness, and tenure insecurity.

As I want to argue below, this assumption is highly problematic, as borne out from historical evidence in the Irish context.  But before I get to this, I want to briefly focus on three key points from the bill that have gained media and activist attention.

Firstly, the bill includes a clause to curb wholesale evictions when a property is sold to a large investor. It builds on the so-called ‘Tyrllestown amendment’ by including a provision that landlords with 20 properties or more cannot evict tenants when selling to an investor.  This protects against a particularly high-profile form of eviction, but one which is perhaps very limited in the overall scheme of things.  Some estimates suggest that this will affect only 0.56% of landlords*.  Moreover, a new get-out clause was also included in the bill, which allows a landlord to pursue a vacant sale (i.e. evict existing tenants) if they can prove that the value of the sale is decreased by 20% as a result of occupancy.  Given the current market conditions it may not be difficult for landlords to ‘prove’ this.

Secondly, the bill makes provisions to amend Part 4 Tenancy by removing the six-month window at the beginning and end of a four-year lease agreement in which a landlord can terminate a tenancy.  This improves the rights of tenants but offers limited protections in a context where a number of other gaping loopholes exist that allow landlords to terminate tenancies. Moreover, in a context where rents have increased by 40 per cent since 2011 this will do little to combat the tsunami of economic evictions taking place.

Thirdly, the bill proposes to give increased powers to An Bord Pleanála by introducing new ‘fast-track planning permissions’ for ‘strategic housing development’.  This removes planning powers, in particular instances, from the local authorities.  The bill proposes that:

“Applications for permission for strategic housing developments shall be made direct to the Board (An Bórd Pleanála) and not to the local planning authorities.”

The rationale here is to reduce the time it takes developers to secure planning permission, and thus reduce the overall time it takes for new housing supply to come on stream.

In the Irish planning system, An Bord Pleanála operates as an adjudicator of last resort on planning decisions made by local authorities: “Anyone applying for planning permission and anyone who made written submissions or observations to the planning authority on a planning application, can appeal a subsequent planning decision to An Bord Pleanála”.

As such, the ‘fast track’ approach, while ensuring a quicker process for developers, potentially removes one more avenue for community opposition to new development. Given the less than exemplary recent history of sustainable development in Ireland, the removal of recourse to objection is potentially worrying.

It has been documented in academic work by Linda Fox-Rogers and Enda Murphy and Gavin Daly that during the boom local authority planning departments were put under pressure to deliver favourable planning outcomes.  One mechanism used was the incorporation of ‘pre-planning’ talks, whereby a developer submitting an application could avail of extensive meetings (even negotiations) with the planning authority to ensure that a planning application could fit the criteria to be granted permission.  Will An Bord Pleanála, which is an independent body, now also be expected to engage in pre-planning discussions with developers given the political pressure to quickly increase supply?  If the answer is yes, it could seriously undermine the independence of the authority.  If the answer is no, the new measures might well fail to deliver the fast-track supply of housing the bill promises.

Underpinning the bill as a whole is the assumption that the supply of housing is the biggest challenge to overcome.  This dogma, although increasingly challenged by various housing experts, is stubbornly trotted out in the media by politicians and vested interests.  This simple formula for solving periodic housing crises, namely increase supply through removing barriers to development and incentivizing the construction and investment sector, has had a long history in Ireland, with highly variable outcomes.

 

Build it and they will come

This approach has deep roots in the history of Irish Housing Policy. Indeed, the first Fine Gael government sought to deal with a crisis of tenement housing by offering grants to incentivise higher income families to take out mortgages to buy their own home, thus freeing up units in tenements for low income families.  When Fianna Fail came to power in 1932, they instead embarked on a programme of building social housing, in the process offering incentives for the construction sector during a period of relative economic stagnation.  These two moves set in place the conditions that have remained stable in Irish housing policy since – a focus on homeownership as the optimum model of housing tenure and a close relationship between the successive Governments and the construction sector.  These close relationships have provided fluctuating outcomes for Irish housing.

To take two broad, and broadly different, examples.

Firstly, attempts by the state to solve period social housing crisis have in the past focused on strategies to increase supply and/or renovate existing stock.  Moreover, this has often been achieved through incentivizing the private sector.  For example, the plans to create Ballymun emerged in the context of a crisis of tenant housing in Dublin city centre.  Built using new rapid-build materials, Ballymun was intended to as modernist utopia delivering a large supply of working class housing.  However, while the development proved a relative success in the early years, the state’s failure to deliver local jobs coupled with the withdrawal of Dublin Corporation investment and general upkeep of the flats led to spiralling social problems in the area.  The supply of housing alone was not enough to make the community sustainable.

However, when the regeneration of Ballymun was slated in the 1990s, the focus was once again overwhelmingly on the ‘bricks and mortar’ approach to supply.  Although the plans included provisions for community and economic regeneration, these promises remained largely undelivered by the state.  Moreover, the regeneration was to be financed by the construction of new private housing units on site, which was expected to also lift the economic profile of the area.   Thus, what the community got was new public and private housing units, but less in terms of long-term investment in the community or the local economy.  The regeneration during the 1990s failed to deliver on long-term community development because of a focus on a supply of housing units rather than taking a more holistic view of housing.

Despite these problems, the Ballymun model of regeneration became the template for regeneration schemes in places like Cork, Limerick, and Dublin.  Using a Public Private Partnership (PPP) approach, regeneration of social housing was expected to deliver new social housing, enhance community development, and deliver private sector housing supply.  Moreover, it was expected to do this by incentivizing the private development sector.  Many of these PPP schemes collapsed with the property crash, leaving communities high and dry.

Secondly, from the 1986 Urban Renewal Act on, the state introduced a series of tax incentive schemes to increase the supply of property development in urban and rural areas.  This was a major factor in kick-starting the Celtic Tiger property bubble, which saw an astronomical increase in the supply of housing.  Between 1991 and 2006, 762,541 housing units were built in Ireland.  However, this supply did not lead to more affordable housing. In fact, house prices increased by between 300 and 400 per cent in different parts of the country.

The tax incentive schemes were extended far beyond the point at which they were necessary.  These policies to increase supply were a key factor in the creation of the 2,846 unfinished housing estates identified in 2010, including 78,195 complete and occupied units, 19,830 under construction, 23,250 complete and vacant, and planning permission in place for a further 58,025.

Moreover, the unregulated development that resulted from reducing the barriers for developers actually undermined the creation of sustainable communities built around strong transport links and services.  One of the reasons planned developments like Adamstown and Clongriffin failed to deliver on their promises, for example, was that unregulated development in neighbouring local authorities undermined plans for the timely delivery of schools, transport links, and other amenities in tandem with the phased delivery of housing.

Following the crash, there was little legislative change introduced to the planning system. And while the development sector has been significantly affected by the financial and housing crash, this has been the impact of external factors rather than designed through government policy.

The current housing and homelessness crisis is a direct outcome of the series of systemic problems created throughout the boom and the policy responses to the crash that ignored issues like mortgage debt, the decline in social housing provision, and the changing character of the rental sector, and continued to support existing and new development interests.

 

More than supply

The Housing Bill aims to solve a series of complex problems in the housing system through a short-term intervention to increase supply.  While this might be what vested interests in the sector need to get building in the short term, it will only exacerbate conditions for most of us with regard to our access to secure and affordable housing.

It foolish to assume that focusing on the needs of the same vested interests will remedy these problems.  Firstly, because they have never solved these problems in the past and indeed created many of them. Secondly, because the housing market has changed since the crash.

For financial actors, the rental market has become more profitable in recent years as a form of investment.  For international funds, in particular consistent rising rents is essential for them to return growing profits on their investments.  As such, a greater supply of rental stock will not mean more affordability – there will still be pressure to push up rents.  In combination with the incentives for first time buyers, measures supporting developers, landlords, and investors will only serve to further inflate the housing market.

In the meantime, the clear and modest demands to increase the supply of social housing, or improve tenants’ rights are being side-lined.  For example, the Secure Rents campaign asks for three things:  to regulate increases in rent by linking rents to the Consumer Price Index; to revoke the right of landlords to evict tenants for the purpose of sale; and to move from current 4 year leases to indefinite lease terms. These provisions are not radical by any means, but rather start to address some of the imbalances between the rights of tenants and those of landlords.  Indeed, tenant rights are particularly poor in Ireland in comparison to the rest of Europe. These provisions would not unnecessarily penalise developers, landlords, or investors. But they would slow down some of the crisis conditions.

More starkly, within the context of a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions, the Irish Housing Network have made a call for a complete ban on evictions.  It is worth remembering here that the number of homeless people in Dublin has risen by 35 per cent in a year.

In sum, the Housing Bill is unlikely to change the current system to any great extent – in terms of tenants, the new amendments will not make much of a dent, while in terms of development interests, the changes are just the latest iteration in a long-standing state support for this sector.  But in the context of the current housing crisis, this response is inadequate at best and has the potential to worsen the problem.

The assumption of supply being the most significant factor is highly problematic, as we can see from historical evidence.  The evidence suggests that relying on the logic of supply (without considering issues of affordability and security of tenure) will create increasingly dysfunctional housing systems.  It is time that we finally took stock and addressed the bigger housing problems that repeat themselves.

This is an emergency. And an emergency requires new thinking.

Cian O’Callaghan

Millfield Manor homes fire report altered over State legal fears | Irish Times

The following article “Millfield Manor homes fire report altered over State legal fears” by Jack Power in the Irish Times confirmed the full case study into the Millfield Manor fire in Kildare was not published following legal advice from the Attorney General, according to briefing notes prepared for Mr Murphy. Full article here, extract to follow:

A report providing guidelines for homes with fire-safety defects was altered by the Department of Housing, following advice from the Attorney General.
The first unpublished version of the report, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said homeowners could bring their property up to an “acceptable” standard of fire safety by following a series of guidelines set out in the review.
A review into fire-safety defects was launched in July 2015 by then minister for housing Alan Kelly, following a fire in the Millfield Manor estate, Newbridge, Co Kildare, where six homes burnt to the ground in under 30 minutes.
The review was to provide a report into the Kildare fire, and draw up a set of guidelines for homeowners whose properties were identified as not meeting fire-safety standards.
Prepared by fire-safety consultants Eamon O’Boyle and Associates, it was scheduled to be published at the end of January 2016.
The published version of the review, Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings, was released in August 2017 by the Department of Housing.
The report was delayed due to the changes made following legal advice from the Attorney General.
Series of precautions
The unpublished original report stated homeowners could “reduce the level of risk associated with the deficiencies to an acceptable level” by following a series of fire-safety precautions set out in the report.
It is understood the review was amended following legal advice from the State’s Attorney General over fears the term “acceptable level” of fire safety could leave the State liable in the case of a fire in a home with identified defects.
The published version of the report instead said the framework of safety guidelines “sets out a priority of action to reduce the level of risk associated with the deficiencies”.
The guidelines included closing doors, keeping fire hazards such as cigarettes away from furniture and testing fire alarms each week.

The original report said a risk assessment of a property would “enable professional advisers to provide specific fire-safety practices which will reduce fire risk in the interim”.
This line was altered to state practices which “could reduce fire risk” for homeowners.
The full case study into the Millfield Manor fire in Kildare was not published by the department following legal advice from the AG, according to briefing notes prepared for Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.
The case study was subsequently released under the Freedom of Information Act to Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin.

• NOTE: The Framework is available on the Department’s website HERE
• PDF: Framework for enhancing fire safety in dwellings

Other posts of Interest:
Lessons learned from the Millfield Manor fire? Broadsheet.ie
Fire safety issues ‘whitewashed’ in long awaited review (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)
Fire safety report an ‘insult’ to Millfield Manor residents | Irish Examiner
Dept. of Housing withhold Fire Review into timber frame housing | Irish Examiner
Minister Murphy has “no plans” for new Safety Advisory Board
Officials refuse publication of Fire Safety Strategy for Defective Housing
Kildare Fire: Safety concerns arise from Celtic Tiger ashes | Irish Examiner
‘Does our Housing Minister know how many homes are at risk of rapid fire spread?’ Cian O’Callaghan
“How many more Irish homes are in breach of Fire Regulations?
Defective schools | Are our children safe?
Fianna Fail Bill to replace self-certification with independent inspectors for existing vacant buildings
Minister Murphy has “no plans” for new Safety Advisory Board

17 January 2017

The following article in Uk Construction online outlines some of the risks involved on construction sites pertaining to timber framed construction. For full article click here.


UK Construction Online talk to Mike Burroughs, member of the Chief Fire Officers Association, on the dangers of timber frame construction sites.

Mike has been a member of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) Structural Timber Working Group since 2010. He left Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service in 2015 having enjoyed a career of over 30 years.  He is now a forensic fire investigator with Fire Investigations (UK) LLPwww.fireinvestigationsuk.com , and is fire consultant to the Structural Timber Association; he continues to sit on the CFOA Working Group.

 How common are construction site fires in the UK?

Recent statistics for England show that fires in dwellings under construction have declined from 27

4 in the year 2009/2010 to 171 in 2014/2015 -a reduction of 38%. These figures are for all methods of construction. However, it is worth noting that it coincides with the recession which started in 2008 and subsequent increase/revival in construction projects in the last few years, as well as an increasing market share for timber frame in England.

Provisional figures show that housing starts in the UK have risen by 6% to 175,000 in the last 12 months and Timber Frame has a 27% share of that market.

What are the main causes of fire on construction sites?

I believe the biggest causes are deliberate fires and ‘hot works’.

What are the positives of timber frame building sites against their vulnerability to fire?

Advantages I am aware of include, sustainability, low carbon footprint, speed of build, and speed to making it weather tight. Various construction techniques are possible including prefabricated panels which are made in factory controlled conditions and assembled on site. Fires in cavities and voids are an issue in all construction types.

Are there any safety features on buildings to make them more resistant to the possibility of fire?

There are many different methods of construction that fall under the title ‘timber frame’. Standard Category A is vulnerable during construction but is appropriate in many circumstances. Once completed there is standard fire resistance within rooms.

Category B has increased fire resistance and Category C is clad with non-combustible boards.  Different features apply to other structural timber such as Cross Laminated Timber and GluLam.

How is safety maintained throughout the project?

Fire safety starts at the design stage and must be maintained throughout the project. In addition, as a condition of membership, members of the Structural Timber Association are required to adhere to the SiteSafe Policy http://structuraltimber.co.uk/get-download/1682 as well as the 16 Steps to Fire Safety  http://structuraltimber.co.uk/get-download/1681.

The requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 apply to construction sites and are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive. Once the building is complete the Fire Safety Order is enforced by the local Fire and Rescue Authority.

What is done to promote a “fire safe” working environment to all workers / members of public?

Once the building is complete, the Fire Safety Order is enforced by the local Fire and Rescue Authority.  In addition, the Health and Safety Executive has published guidance HSG 168 Fire Safety in Construction. The Structural Timber Association has published guidance for members on ‘Design of Escape Routes During The Construction Process’. http://structuraltimber.co.uk/get-download/1683

What measures are in place for if a fire does occur on a timber frame construction site?

This very much depends on the size and complexity of the site as well as the construction method. As mentioned earlier, the Fire Safety Order applies to construction sites. This requires the ‘responsible person’ to take ‘general fire precautions’. This is defined as measures to reduce the risk of fire and spread of fire, providing sufficient means of escape and ensuring they can be effectively used, measures for fighting fire, measures for detecting and giving warning in case of fire and measures for training employees and mitigating the effects of fire.

In addition they are required to consider the ‘off site’ risk. This is where the Separating distance guidance published by the STA and recommended by HSE comes in http://structuraltimber.co.uk/get-download/1391

Finally, again as a condition of membership, members of the Structural Timber Association are required to register all sites over 600 square metres total floor area. This is via a database that is maintained by the Chief Fire Officers Association; entries are forwarded to the relevant fire and rescue service based on postcode. This makes the Fire and Rescue Service aware of the site and allows them to pre plan.

Timber Framers and contractors who are not Structural Timber Association members are encouraged, but not required, to notify the local fire service.

What is the 35 metre rule?

Referring to guidance from the Structural Timber Association (previously the UKTFA) http://structuraltimber.co.uk/get-download/1683 , this recommends a maximum travel distance of 35 m (or 15 m if in a dead end) to a fire exit or protected route on structural timber construction sites, provided that enhanced fire warning systems have been installed, and they include strategically placed automatic fire detection to give the earliest warning of fire to occupants. The earlier warning gives slightly more time for escape and to cover the additional travel distance. If the enhanced fire protection is not in place then the standard distance of 25 m (12m in dead end) applies.

Other posts of interest:

Dáil debates | ‘Rapid’ build

Could Rapid Build Housing mean Rapid Fire Spread? | Michael Tweed B.A. B.Arch RIBA MRIAI

Is ‘Rapid’ housing too little, too late (again)?

Breaking the Mould | Joseph Little Architects

All you need to know about ‘modular’ housing | ‘Rapid Answers’ Broadsheet.ie

Modular Housing: ‘Rapid’ solutions or expensive technical problems?

UK Architects response to the Independent Review of Building Regulations & Fire Safety

26 October 2017

The Royal Institute of British Architects have submitted their response and recommendations to the call for evidence from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt (see here). The response has been developed by the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, established by RIBA Council following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. Summary as follows:

_________

RIBA submits evidence and recommendations to the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety

The RIBA has submitted its response and recommendations to the call for evidence from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt.

The Institute’s response has been developed by the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, established by RIBA Council following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

The full RIBA response to the call for evidence can be downloaded here.

The RIBA has also set out a series of initial recommendations for changes to Building Regulations and Fire Safety systems, regulations and guidance.

Speaking today Jane Duncan, Chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, said:

“The RIBA welcomes Dame Judith Hackitt’s review but we believe it must be more comprehensive, addressing the details of Building Regulations guidance as well as the broader regulatory system. The Review should cover all building types and construction methods not just those relating to high-rise, multiple occupancy residential buildings. In addition to submitting evidence, the RIBA has also proposed a number of significant recommendations to the Review, to enhance the future fire safety of buildings for all residents and users.”

The RIBA proposes the following initial detailed recommendations to the Review:

R1 Repeal of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, under which building owners undertake their own fire risk assessment, and the re-introduction of mandatory Fire Certificates for designated premises, based on independent inspections by the fire brigades, with statutory powers of entry to individual dwellings where necessary.

R2 An enhanced role for the fire brigades in assisting Building Control authorities in the fire risk assessment of Building Regulations Full Plans Applications for works involving higher risk buildings that will require mandatory fire certificates.

R3 Review of the “stay put” policy in high-rise, multiple occupancy residential buildings, first introduced in British Standard Code of Practice CP3: Chapter IV (1962) Part 1: Fire Precautions in flats and maisonettes over 80ft in height. For new buildings, the RIBA has a preference for simultaneous evacuation, or phased/staged fire alarm systems, alternative means of escape options, and increased escape stair widths.

R4 Introduction of a Building Regulations requirement for central fire alarm systems, with phased /staged capabilities, in multiple occupancy residential buildings.

R5 Removal of the “desk-top” study approach to demonstrating compliance with Regulation B4.

R6 Introduction of requirements for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residential buildings, as currently required under Regulations 37A and 37B of the Building Regulations for Wales, or at least for residential buildings over three storeys in height.

R7 Introduction of a requirement for more than one means of vertical escape from new multiple occupancy residential buildings of more than three storeys in height, and no use of compensatory features for omission of a staircase or alternative means of escape.

R8 Review of the requirements for natural and mechanical smoke vent/exhaust provisions to corridors, lobbies and stairs to ensure current performance capacities are sufficient.

R9 Development of clearer, prescriptive and design process driven guidance in Approved Document B, written in plain language with straight forward diagrams. Any test based solutions to be based on full scale fire testing and not use desktop studies.

R10 External walls of buildings over 18m in height to be constructed of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only. (The Independent Review should also give detailed consideration to much greater restriction on the use of combustible materials and materials of limited combustibility in external wall construction more generally.)

The RIBA believes that the Independent Review should also make recommendations in regard to ensuring the fire safety of the UK’s existing stock of high-rise, multiple occupancy residential buildings, and recommends:

R11 Retro-fitting of central fire alarm systems in existing residential buildings over 18m in height.

R12 Retro-fitting of sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems to existing residential buildings over 18m in height, and perhaps extended to all existing residential buildings above three storeys in height.

R13 Consideration of the construction of alternative vertical means of escape, or escape safe havens/refuges, for residential buildings over 18m in height when there is currently only one staircase.

R14 For new refurbishment projects involving “material alterations” to high-rise, multiple occupancy residential buildings, the retro-fitting of central fire alarm systems and sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems should be mandatory. This could be structured on a similar basis to the “consequential improvements” required under Part L of the Building Regulations to the energy performance of existing buildings where they are subject to renovation and/or extension.

The development of new materials and methods of construction and constantly evolving knowledge about the fire performance of buildings means that fire regulation needs to be regularly updated. The lack of a periodic timetable for updating of the Building Regulations Approved Documents, which has allowed review of Approved Document B to be almost indefinitely delayed, is highly problematic.

R15 The RIBA proposes that a formal, predetermined programme for review of key Approved Documents should be adopted, as is the case with the Australian National Building Code. The CDM Regulations (Health and Safety) are reviewed every 5 years.

The RIBA believes that in addition to making recommendations for changes to Building Regulations, enhancement of the Building Control and enforcement regime, and repeal of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety should also give significant consideration to the impact of procurement decisions and allocation of project responsibilities on project quality and safety, and the role of clients in ensuring independent scrutiny of construction work. The public sector has an important national role to play in demonstrating best practice in procurement and construction oversight.

Consideration should be given to the adoption of the “Principal Designer” and “Principal Contractor” roles set out in the CDM Regulations 2015, with regard to ensuring so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare, including fire safety, of those constructing, maintaining and demolishing buildings, within new regulation to also encompass ensuring the fire safety of building users. The “Principal Designer” should have powers during the design and any “contractor design” periods of projects to enable safe design and construction. This will need greater level of approvals and inspection by Building Control officers and independent clerks of works/site architects. The “Principal Contractor” role should have a greater responsibility to work collaboratively with the fire brigades, client and “Principal Designer” to achieve these fire safety objectives. Such a regulatory framework could include:

  • During construction: Building Inspections conducted formally by the Principal Designer, Principal Contractor and the Building Control Officer, and recorded in writing by the Principal Contractor that the building is constructed in accordance with the approved plans, relevant Building Regulations and Codes of Practice.
  • Before the issue of the Final Certificate: The Principal Contractor confirms, in writing to the Principal Designer, that the works to any building have been built in accordance with the approved plans, relevant Building Regulations, Codes of Practice, Fire and HSE legislation.
  • The Final Certificate: Cannot be issued until this written confirmation has been received by the Principal Designer.
  • Regulation 38: The Principal Designer shall give all the fire safety information critical to life safety in and around the building.
  • H&S File: These statements are to be recorded in the H&S File for the life of the building until its demolition.

RIBA members with queries about the submission and recommendations should contact the RIBA Practice Team: practice@riba.org

PDF of full report: 171017 RIBA submission Independent Review of Building Regs and Fire Safety Call for Evidence web ver

Other Posts of Interest:

Update by Minister Eoghan Murphy on Task Force in response to Grenfell

Possibility of Grenfell Tower-type fire exists in Ireland | CJ Walsh

Lessons learned from the Millfield Manor fire? Broadsheet.ie

Officials refuse publication of Fire Safety Strategy for Defective Housing

Minister Murphy has “no plans” for new Safety Advisory Board

‘Does our Housing Minister know how many homes are at risk of rapid fire spread?’ Cian O’Callaghan

Dept. of Housing withhold Fire Review into timber frame housing | Irish Examiner 

Kildare Fire: Safety concerns arise from Celtic Tiger ashes | Irish Examiner

Local Authority knew of estate fire fears for 12 years | Sunday Business Post

“More dog wardens than Building Inspectors” | Look Back 18 

The Price Of Allowing Developers To Self-Certify | Broadsheet.ie

Donegal Mica + Render | “State Fails to Protect Family Homes” Seanad

Cracking up: the legacy of Celtic Tiger Ireland | Independent

“How many more Irish homes are in breach of Fire Regulations?

Defective schools | Are our children safe?

‘The Cloud’ Bytes Back – how Data Centres will cost Ireland dearly | Look Back 19

19 October 2017

The Irish Times article “IDA to seek advance planning permission for future data centres” noted that in February, the IDA hired Jacobs Engineering to identify up to 24 potential sites for data centres and to report back to it by the end of this year. IDA Ireland may seek advance planning permission for future data centres to avoid disputes like the one that delayed Apple’s proposal for Athenry, Co Galway, in the news this week.

Two years ago architect David Hughes asked if a cost-benefit analysis had been completed and the increased energy use on our 2020 renewable targets been assessed? Data centres could add 37% to overall electricity demand and will make our renewable targets proportionally harder to reach, the fines even higher again and last but not least will undo all of the CO2 savings to date. Post from November 2015 as follows:

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David Hughes B. Arch – 29th November 2015

Cloud computing is now part of everyday life. From streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix to search engines and email from companies like Google and Yahoo to online storage services like DropBox… ‘The Cloud’ is both everywhere and yet seemingly invisible.

However in spite of its name, ‘The Cloud’ has some very earth bound needs and truly massive energy requirements. In fact, somewhat aptly, ‘The Cloud’ has overtaken world aviation in terms of its overall energy demand.

These days Ireland seems to be a preferred location for the cloud’s physical footprint – data centres. These data centres will not simply serve Ireland’s data needs but the needs of all of Europe and beyond. This multiplies their energy impact on Ireland enormously and when you analyse the consequences, it is hard to see any silver lining.

To give an example Apple are seeking permission for a 240MW data centre in Athenry Co. Galway, which will create up to 215 jobs. The electricity consumption of this data centre will be the same as 420,000 Irish homes. This is ¼ of all Irish homes or every single house in Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire, Fingal and South County Dublin combined. Basically, the electricity needs of 1 Million people.

Electricity is a very expensive and capital-intensive form of energy. For every kWh coming out of a socket 2.7 kWh of Primary energy needs to be inputted at source. The transmission and distribution infrastructure or ‘grid’ is also massively expensive. This cost is ‘socialised’ and can account for 75% of a domestic electricity bill.

Cost Benefit Analysis?

As a society we may accept such costs to provide a benefit to 420,000 homes but is it really justifiable to socialise the same demand again for only 215 jobs? And Apple is only but one data centre.

Facebook’s 108MW centre will only create 40 jobs and use the energy of 180,000 homes.

In fact in total 1,000MW of data centres are projected for Ireland so on a pro rata basis will use the same energy demand as every home in Ireland.

40% Renewable Commitment.

In 2009 Ireland made a commitment to generate 40% of electricity from renewables. If we add this level of extra demand this makes that target much harder to achieve.

Last year the EPA stated that in relation to our 20:20:20 targets, we are only likely to achieve reductions of between 5% and 12% instead of the full 20% required. The SEAI calculates that the fine for this could be €1.6 Billion per annum.

The full 1,000MW of data centres could add 37% to overall electricity demand and will make our renewable targets proportionally harder to reach, the fines even higher again and last but not least will undo all of the CO2 savings to date.

In the end, trying to chase this growing demand from data centres, will spawn further Wind Farms, Pylons and Transmission lines and will leave the Irish with a second  ‘Universal Social Charge’ this time for either paying an EU fine or paying for the ‘grid’ or both.

Time for a Debate.

Given these figures it’s time for a debate on ‘The Cloud’ in Ireland. Are the numbers of jobs created in anyway justified in terms of its energy demands?

The responsibility seems to fall between a myriad of different agencies and departments pursuing different agendas but each with a focus too narrow to look at the bigger picture. As a result to date, data centres have slipped through the net unchallenged.

We are at a cross roads in terms of whether we follow a route of demand reduction or increase, however ‘The Cloud’ could create the perfect storm and sink Ireland into decades of legacy costs for very expensive and unnecessary electrical infrastructure, which could be just as painful as paying back the inflated property prices that lead to the bank bailout.

David Hughes is a specialist low energy and historic conservation architect with over 25 years experience. He  has designed the first non residential ‘passivhaus’ for the Irish State or Semi State Sector. He has won many national and international awards with two international awards for low energy and environmental design and has spoken and written both nationally and internationally on energy issues and in particular the opportunities from a deep retrofit and how to finance it. Since 2014 he has been serving as secretary of the PHAI and sits on the National Scientific Committee for Energy and Sustainability of ICOMOS Ireland.

Original post: ‘The Cloud’ Bytes Back – how Data Centres will cost Ireland dearly

Other posts in “Look-Back” series

“More dog wardens than Building Inspectors” | Look Back 18

Defective “Celtic Tiger” projects : The Cubes | Look Back 17 

Building Regulations add to Vacancy Rates | Look Back 16

Here’s How to Avoid Another Longboat Quay: Dublin Inquirer | Look Back 15

Notes from the (thermal) edge: Part L Compliance (2 of 2) | Look Back 14

Building Surveyor’s Inspection Plan + Form | Look Back 13

Murray letter to Senators: BC(A)R SI.9 (SI.105) | Look Back 12 

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

Simon Carswell: Politicians, Construction industry lobbying and banking | Look Back 10

Legal perspective: consumer benefit? BC(A)R SI.9 | Look Back 9

Minister Hogan defends BC(A)R SI.9 | Look Back 8

Christmas Past – What did you hope for from Santa in 2013? Look Back 7

Ghost estates and public housing: BC(A)R SI.9 | Look Back 6 

Government Reports + Professional Opinion Ignored in SI.9 | Look Back 5

SCSI | “Highly unlikely Priory Hall would happen in Britain”- Look Back 4

BRAB and BC(A)R SI.9- Look Back 3 

Inadequate Regulatory Impact Assessment for S.I.9- Look Back 2

World Bank Rankings, Ireland & SI.9 – Look Back 1

BRegs Weekly | 17 October 2017

17 October 2017 –  BRegs Weekly Edition 125

Edition 125 of BRegs Weekly is out now.

In “Budget 2018: State continues reliance on private sector for social housing” Olivia Kelly reports on Budget 2018 which was announced last week “..for the fourth year running the Government is relying on the private rental sector to solve the social housing crisis, a policy which has yet to succeed. Almost €1.9 billion is being provided for social housing next year. However, only 3,800 of those “new” homes will be built by local authorities or voluntary housing bodies. The majority – about 20,000 – will be rented from private landlords, largely using the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap), where rent is paid directly to landlords by local authorities on behalf of tenants.”

In “Mick Wallace calls for €33m sale of Dublin Docklands apartments to be halted” Ronald Quinn noted that the Independent TD  has called on the Government to suspend a NAMA sale of 124 Dublin docklands apartments. Commenting on Nama’s move, Mr Wallace said: “We are in the middle of a housing crisis, and Nama are now buying apartments, in order to sell them on to vulture funds. Nama have now become property speculators. It beggars belief that Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour, and now even Sinn Fein, believe that Nama have the expertise to solve our housing crisis. Nama are part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

In other housing (see here) news a review of the Government’s ‘help-to-buy scheme’, carried out by independent consultants Indecon an international economic consultancy company, found that the scheme had yet to make any impact on the market. The VAT rebate incentive  allows first-time buyers to claim up to €20,000 back in tax will remain in place next year. The scheme was criticised as being inflationary by analysts and opposition parties. No Cost-Benefit analysis of the measure had been undertaken in advance of implementation by the Department of Housing.

The BRegs Weekly e-zine gathers all recent social media discussions relating to Building Control Regulations into one weekly digest. It is published every Friday and gives a round-up of news highlights for the week.  We recommend signing up for an automatic subscription to keep up with the discussion surrounding the current annual review of the BC(A)R, and more recent media articles and stories about building control and the impacts on the consumer and construction industry.

Click Here to read: BRegs Weekly Edition 125

“Budget 2018: More for housing… if developers get up early” Irish Times

11 October 2017

Reaction to Budget 21018 has been mixed, particularly in relation to housing. Two notable omissions from proposals noted by opposition parties yesterday were the lack of any affordable housing scheme and no measures to address the country’s 183,000 existing vacant properties. The following Irish Times article “Budget 2018: State continues reliance on private sector for social housing” rendered some background to the current budget proposals.

Extracts:

“…for the fourth year running the Government is relying on the private rental sector to solve the social housing crisis, a policy which has yet to succeed.

Almost €1.9 billion is being provided for social housing next year, an increase of 46 per cent on 2017, which Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said will provide homes for 25,000 people currently on waiting lists.

However, only 3,800 of those “new” homes will be built by local authorities or voluntary housing bodies. The majority – about 20,000 – will be rented from private landlords, largely using the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap), where rent is paid directly to landlords by local authorities on behalf of tenants.

The remaining homes will be built by private developers, returned to the system through refurbishment, or bought on the private market…

Defending the 3,800 figure, Mr Murphy said it was about 1,800 more than would be built by the end of this year. This year’s total of about 2,000 is not quite the 2,400 promised in last year’s budget but if it is achieved, it would not be dire. It is, however, very small compared to the 15,000 Hap tenancies expected to be provided by the end of this year.

Housing targets

It will be next year before the figures achieved in 2017 will be known, but the promises and outcomes for the first two post-austerity budgets of 2015 and 2016 can be measured.

In budget 2015, just under 1,000 social homes were to be built, and 8,000 families were to be housed using the recently established Hap. In addition, public-private partnerships (PPPs) were to deliver 1,500 social homes by the end of 2017.

The 2015 reality? A miserable 75 homes were built by local authorities and just over 400 by voluntary bodies. The Hap scheme resulted in 5,680 new tenancies.

Budget 2016 was more ambitious with a target of 1,500 social housing units. Another 10,000 families would be accommodated using Hap, with its funding going from €24.5 million to €47.7 million. The PPP scheme, which did not get off the ground in 2015, was to have its first 500 homes under way in 2016.

Of the 17,365 homes the Department of Housing lists as having been provided in 2016, 12,075 were Hap rentals. About 600 houses were built. No houses were provided through the PPP scheme in 2016.

Rental scheme

However, in recent weeks city and county councillors have approved the construction of the first 259 of these homes…

Other measures designed to bring more homes to the market seem to have fallen by the wayside. The Living City Initiative, designed to encourage the renovation and reuse of pre-1915 city centre properties, announced in budget 2015 and revamped in budget 2016, has had fewer than 50 applications.

While an affordable rental scheme, using €10 million from the proceeds of the sale of Bord Gáis, aimed at people whose incomes are above the threshold for State rental assistance but who cannot afford private rents, disappeared altogether.

A new affordable house-purchase scheme had been expected ahead of this year’s budget. It will be announced in the coming weeks, Mr Murphy said.

Almost 100,000 households remain on social housing waiting lists.

Other posts of interest:

Budget 2018: Part 2 – Voluntary & Not-for-Profit Organisations

Budget 2018: Part 1 – Industry Submissions

Rebuilding Ireland Review | John McCarthy

Government’s ‘rapid-build’ schedule in realms of fantasy | Irish Times

“More dog wardens than Building Inspectors” | Look Back 18 

Government Plans won’t fix the affordable-housing crisis  | Engineers Journal

UK Architects reject ‘bonkers’ micro-housing rules | RIBA

Eurostat findings are a “wake-up call” | Housing Europe

State Housing is Key to Solving Crisis | London School of Economics

BRegs Weekly | 9 October 2017

9 October 2017 –  BRegs Weekly Edition 124

Edition 124 of BRegs Weekly is out now.

Last week Fianna Fail proposed a Bill which contained provisions for fire safety checks by independent inspectors to replace the system of self-certification currently in place. Barry Cowan TD outlined proposals to speed up the planning approval and building control processes to allow the speedy conversion of vacant properties into habitable units. He said they exist in large numbers, and pointed out that Dublin City Council recently estimated there were as many as 4,000 vacant spaces above commercial units: “With the right policy instruments in place this could translate into over 20,000 additional residential units in a short space of time,” said Mr Cowen.

Further relevations emerged last week about defetcive schools built  under the so-called ‘rapid’ build programme. The company that built dozens of schools now under investigation due to fire safety concerns is currently building six more schools for the Department of Education and was given the contracts after the fears emerged. Last Tuesday, Education Minister Richard Bruton confirmed that his department has launched a full review of all 37 schools built by the company since 2003.

In housing news Goodbody confirmed the housing crisis is in even worse than previously thought and said 5,377 houses were completed last year, only about one third of the 14,932 indicated by official completions data calculated by electricity connections. “..On current trends, completions will total less than 10,000 units [for 2017] — roughly half the estimates suggested by the alternative electricity connections data,” Goodbody said.

The BRegs Weekly e-zine gathers all recent social media discussions relating to Building Control Regulations into one weekly digest. It is published every Friday and gives a round-up of news highlights for the week.  We recommend signing up for an automatic subscription to keep up with the discussion surrounding the current annual review of the BC(A)R, and more recent media articles and stories about building control and the impacts on the consumer and construction industry.

Click Here to read: BRegs Weekly Edition 124

Fianna Fail Bill to replace self-certification with independent inspectors for existing vacant buildings

5 October 2017

This week Fianna Fail proposed a Bill which contained provisions for fire safety checks by independent inspectors to replace the system of self-certification currently in place. In “Fianna Fáil publishes Bill to speed up access to vacant homes” Irish Times, Barry Cowan TD outlined proposals to speed up the planning approval and building control processes to allow the speedy conversion of vacant properties into habitable units.

The Bill focused in on “above the shop” units around the country which are currently vacant and it envisages a “one-stop-shop” for approving the refurbishment process. Under this plan an owner can apply to be included in the process and if accepted, the owner will receive a “works permit” that will replace a fire safety certificate and will verify compliance with building regulations.

He said they exist in large numbers, and pointed out that Dublin City Council recently estimated there were as many as 4,000 vacant spaces above commercial units. “With the right policy instruments in place this could translate into over 20,000 additional residential units in a short space of time,” said Mr Cowen.

The Bill is a timely piece of legislation given continuing health and safety issues associated with existing buildings and fire safety. In  Times Ireland “Evacuation warning to hostel over fire safety”, a recent high court ruling on a hostel described as a “fire trap” must be vacated unless it is brought up to code.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said that he would have ordered the immediate evacuation of the Dublin building yesterday but it would have left more than 20 residents seeking alternative accommodation.

The property on Old County Road in Crumlin was one of a number of properties being investigated by RTÉ as part of an upcoming documentary on breaches in the private rental sector.

“In the course of our investigation, a property in Crumlin came to our attention. We believed this property posed an immediate danger to the tenants residing there. Ahead of the programme to be broadcast, RTÉ Investigates reported the property and the concerns for the safety of the tenants to Dublin city council,” a statement from the broadcaster said yesterday.

The Dublin city fire officer found that there were no escape routes or fire alarms, and there were a number of other safety issues. John and Yvonne McEleney, the owners, could not be contacted, the court was told. Mr Justice Noonan said that he wanted to grant the order ending the building’s use as a residence but was concerned about putting people out on the street last night.

Dublin Region Homeless Executive could not find any alternative accommodation for the residents last night so Mr Justice Noonan imposed the order on the premises that fire regulations must be adhered to. He ordered the case to come before him tomorrow.

The programme, which has been in production for six months, will be shown on RTÉ One later this month. Link to RTE here.

Other posts of interest:

Lessons learned from the Millfield Manor fire? Broadsheet.ie

Second audit over school fire safety concerns launched | Irish Examiner

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

Fire safety issues ‘whitewashed’ in long awaited review (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)

Fire safety report an ‘insult’ to Millfield Manor residents | Irish Examiner

Dept. of Housing withhold Fire Review into timber frame housing | Irish Examiner 

Minister Murphy has “no plans” for new Safety Advisory Board

Officials refuse publication of Fire Safety Strategy for Defective Housing

Kildare Fire: Safety concerns arise from Celtic Tiger ashes | Irish Examiner

‘Does our Housing Minister know how many homes are at risk of rapid fire spread?’ Cian O’Callaghan

Local Authority knew of estate fire fears for 12 years | Sunday Business Post

“More dog wardens than Building Inspectors” | Look Back 18 

Possibility of Grenfell Tower-type fire exists in Ireland | CJ Walsh

The Price Of Allowing Developers To Self-Certify | Broadsheet.ie

Donegal Mica + Render | “State Fails to Protect Family Homes” Seanad

Cracking up: the legacy of Celtic Tiger Ireland | Independent

“How many more Irish homes are in breach of Fire Regulations?

 

BRegs Weekly | 30 September 2017

30 September 2017 –  BRegs Weekly Edition 123

Edition 123 of BRegs Weekly is out now.

It emerged last month that inspection reports from 2015 found fire safety concerns with five schools built by Western Building Systems (WBS). A total of 60 schools will now undergo fresh fire safety audits in the wake of concerns identified in a number of schools built by WBS since 2003.  Donegal Senator Padraig Mac Lochlainn is claiming that three months after the publication of the Mica Expert Panel’s report, there has been no movement by Minister Damien English on a redress scheme, despite the recommendations of the group. And finally at their conference last week the Irish Council for Social Housing says the cabinet needs to provide significant capital spending in next month’s Budget to deal with the 90,000 people on housing waiting lists. Donal McManus CEO said “The problem with social housing is probably [at] the highest level in our generation and really the key thing is to keep the focus by Government into providing finance for social housing.”

The BRegs Weekly e-zine gathers all recent social media discussions relating to Building Control Regulations into one weekly digest. It is published every Friday and gives a round-up of news highlights for the week.  We recommend signing up for an automatic subscription to keep up with the discussion surrounding the current annual review of the BC(A)R, and more recent media articles and stories about building control and the impacts on the consumer and construction industry.

Click Here to read: BRegs Weekly Edition 123