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

The following statement was issued by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy on Wednesday 116th August 2017 (see Link here).  Statement to follow:

“What happened in Grenfell was a tragedy. We do not have any Grenfell-type towers in Ireland, in terms of height or density of occupation, but the state does have a duty of care when it comes to fire and life safety, particularly to those who are housed by the state. I take that responsibility very seriously, hence my decision to establish a Fire Safety Task Force following the Grenfell tragedy, to make sure that our citizens are safe from similar risks.

That Task Force is working on a number of areas, two of which are probably of greatest importance – an inspection by local authorities of fire detection, alarm and escape measures in all multi-storey social housing, and a programme of identification by fire authorities of all buildings of more than 18m in height with cladding systems (this includes residential buildings, as well as hospitals, schools and other buildings) and overseeing of fire safety assessments of these buildings.

The Task Force has met on a number of occasions and will continue to meet, with an initial report on its work due by the end of September. However, I wanted to provide an update as to what that work has achieved to date seeing as the initial inspection and assessment work has been conducted, with some work still to be concluded.

Good progress has been made and I want to thank the local authorities and the fire authorities for their cooperation. The initial work of the Task Force and the inspections of buildings, systems and cladding materials will be reported in full in September. Some deficiencies relating to adequacy of  fire alarm systems have been identified, thankfully in only a very small number of buildings, and work has commenced to address these. Insofar as cladding systems is concerned, regular updates from the UK’s own testing programme are also being monitored by the Task Force. Our own assessments will be concluded by the middle of November. Work that has been done to date does not give rise to any immediate concerns because of fire protection measures.”

Inventory and Inspection of Local Authority Multi Storey Social Housing Buildings- Initial Findings

Local Authorities were asked to assess multi storey social housing buildings’ fire detection and alarm systems, emergency lighting systems and common escape routes, including corridors, stairways and emergency exits.  Multi storey buildings are those with two storeys or more containing multiple dwelling units.  This assessment is to include both establishing the presence of systems and routes and also testing their functionality.  There has been a strong response from local authorities to the request for identification of Multi Storey social housing buildings and inspection of their early warning systems

  • 1250 multi storey residential buildings have been identified. (65% of buildings are in the four Dublin local authority areas
  • 526 of these buildings have external common escape routes and have been assessed as not requiring early warning systems. (This assessment will be reviewed by the Task Force)
  • For the remaining 724 buildings Local Authorities have confirmed that for 571 buildings inspected, early warning systems are in place and fully functional.
  • The remaining 153 inspections are scheduled for the remainder of August, including a small number of buildings where deficiencies have already been identified and works to address them are in progress.

Multi Storey Buildings with Cladding – Initial Findings

The Department issued circular FIRE 05-17 on the 4th of July, 2017 to fire authorities, requesting details of buildings of more than six storeys, or more than 18m in height.  Replies have been received from all 31 fire authorities.  Preliminary replies have identified 847 buildings in Ireland, of more than six storeys, or more than 18m in height – 372 are residential, and 475 non-residential.

Residential Buildings

  • Residential buildings include flats or maisonettes, residential institutional uses (hospitals, nursing homes, homes for old people or children, school or other similar establishment providing accommodation), and other residential uses (including hotels, hostels, guest buildings, residential colleges, halls of residence).
  • Local Authorities have identified 91 residential buildings at this height fitted with cladding systems.
  • Fire authorities have required fire safety assessments in 91 cases – to be provided by mid-November.
  • Non Residential Buildings
  • There are 171 non-residential buildings at this height fitted with cladding systems
  • Fire authorities have required fire safety assessments in 111 cases – to be provided by mid-November.

Next Steps

The task force continues to meet, and is assessing  the initial survey findings, as well as the results from the outstanding 172 multi storey residential inspections due for completion in August.  It will also provide an overview on issues arising from the fire safety assessments for the 202 higher buildings (6 storeys or more or 18m height or more) once these have been completed later this year.

As part of its ongoing work the task force will also develop other aspect s of the  response to the Grenfell tragedy.

ENDS

Note to Editors

Other Actions Taken

  • Local authorities were requested to review fire safety in the multi-storey social housing sector and to report back to the Minister’s Department by 19th July 2017;
  • The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) have been requested to notify all landlords of their responsibilities and obligations as landlords in terms of ensuring that their properties fully comply with fire safety requirements. An information notice on fire safety has gone up on the RTB’s website and a further fire safety information leaflet will issue to all landlords in  the coming days;

A Building Control Management System (BCMS) alert was issued to all 57,000 registered users of the BCMS to remind those involved in works to existing or new buildings of the need to remain vigilant in relation to compliance with the Building Regulations and in particular to Part B Fire Safety.

Other posts of interest:

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

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

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 

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?

Defective schools | Are our children safe?

BRegs Weekly | 11 August 2017

11 August 2017 –  BRegs Weekly Edition 117

Edition 117 of BRegs Weekly is out now.

Fallout form the Grenfell Tower fire in London continues. In the Architects’ Journal article “How architects could face prosecution over Grenfell Tower fire, legal experts examine the issues prosecutors should consider in deciding whether to press charges of manslaughter over the high-rise tragedy. They note that  all the construction professionals contracted with the council who knew that the cladding was not fireproof are likely to have had a “duty to warn”. Simply warning an employer, for example, of a risk of catastrophic fire is not enough- One must warn vigorously or, where the risk is high, simply refuse to proceed with the works; perhaps even take steps to prevent others from proceeding. They note “As enquiries continue, it remains unclear who may find themselves standing in the dock, but it could well be any of the designers, contractors or even the local authority that commissioned the works…Whether a breach of a duty to warn in this instance constitutes gross negligence manslaughter or corporate manslaughter will ultimately be a matter for the jury to decide”

Continued deterioration in Ireland’s housing sector again occupies the media this week. In Vacant property owners turn down €32m grant scheme The Irish Times reported on the ‘Repair and Leasing scheme’, which was established 10 months ago under the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan to tackle the housing and homelessness crises. A fund of €32 million was allocated to the scheme with a target of bringing 800 homes into use by the end of this year. However, to date no homes have been secured in Dublin. Contracts for just 7 houses have been signed nationally and none have yet been completed and handed over to local authorities. According to the latest census, over 180,000 homes, excluding holiday homes, are vacant, more than 20,000 of which are in Dublin city.

In “Builders refusing to commit to affordable homes as prices rise” Paul Melia reported on the Government’s ‘Planning Rebate Scheme’. It was launched in November 2015 and allowed builders to reclaim local authority levies in return for providing new homes for €300,000 or less in Dublin and €250,000 in Cork. The rebate scheme applies to homes completed and sold between January 2016 and December 2017 and must be located in developments of 50 units or more. Minister Eoghan Murphy has conformed that no applications were made to Cork City Council, Cork County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, and one application to Dublin City Council was not be processed as the number of units in the scheme was less than 50. The Department of Housing said that applications were expressions of interest and it was not possible to indicate how many housing units, out of 1,300 potential affordable units identified, might be delivered by year’s end. Eoin O’Broin TD said “There’s no reason why the State, in a mixed tenure development on public land, couldn’t provide social and affordable housing. If you can produce a house for €191,000, you could sell it for €200,000 or €210,000”.

Finally, in the Independent article Taxpayer to fund developers- with no guarantees on prices”, major developers are in line to receive millions of euro in taxpayers’ money to help offset the cost of building homes – but there are no guarantees they will be affordable. The Government has committed to providing millions in state aid to offset costs for global firms including Lone Star, Starwood Capital, Cairn Homes and Hines which jointly control assets worth billions of euro in Ireland and across the globe to help build roads and other infrastructure needed to open up land for housing. Under the terms of a €225m Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) announced last September, developers and local authorities were required to broker deals where it was agreed 40% of all new homes would be ‘affordable’. However it would appear that this requirement has subsequently been removed when funding was awarded this year. In many cases, developers refused to set out concrete proposals to ensure homes were delivered at affordable prices. The Department of Housing confirmed no agreements have been finalised, who said: “The department currently has a number of both draft and provisional final agreements from a number of local authorities, which we are in the process of examining to ensure that they ascribe to the criteria set down in the terms of the fund.”

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 117

How to insulate against materials shortages | CIF

09 August 2017

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) recently published a post by Jason Martin, Specification Manager, Quinn Building Products on the industry shortage of PIR insulation. As required under BC(A)R SI.9 design certifiers should satisfy themselves regarding compliance of any proposed specification changes (Part L, fRSi compliance, BER implications etc). Link here to post here. Article to follow:


The construction sector across Ireland and the UK is currently experiencing a severe shortage of PIR insulation as a result of insufficient supply of Methylene Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI).
The shortage was caused primarily by disruption to the raw materials supply chain, with upgrades to major manufacturing plants scheduled and a fire in a Norwegian Nitric Acid plant, which happened at the same time as the industry began to experience the significant upturn in demand for insulating materials…
But what is available to those companies unwilling to pay soaring the costs of PIR or those who cannot wait around for normal supply to return?
In the short term, builders could look at other viable options to replace PIR insulation with alternatives such as polystyrene for sub-floor insulation. This would allow the early stages of construction to proceed and hopefully get contractors past the current impasse. It is important that any changes are considered with the BER rating as a whole.
Quinn Building Products can offer house builders a simple solution to help overcome the current PIR supply issues, that can save you up to €1200 on a typical semi-detached as an added bonus.
By introducing Quinn Lite thermal blocks at a number of key junctions in the structure, we can calculate a thermal bridging factor, which is significantly lower than the default value typically used in BER calculations. By applying this lower value to the original BER calculation we can generally do a direct swap from PIR insulation to EPS insulation in the floor, without increasing the thickness of the insulation, which results in an automatic €400 saving.
In addition, up to €800 can be saved elsewhere in the build by using a combination of reduced levels of insulation in the walls and the roof and a reduced level of renewable technology.
Quinn building products have an experienced technical team on hand, who can provide you with all of the necessary calculations and demonstrate how any proposed changes from the original specification will still be Part L compliant.
If the PIR shortage is causing issues for your company, get in touch and our team will guide you through your options.

Jason Martin, Specification Manager, Quinn Building Products.

Other posts of interest:

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

The Curse of Condensation, Mould & Mildew | Michael Tweed

Nearly Zero Energy – Ireland’s Next Construction Scandal | Mike Morris

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

Nearly Zero Energy – Ireland’s Next Construction Scandal | Mike Morris

nZeb are Homes of the Future | Minister Damien English

Alert | Near Zero Energy Building (NZEB)

Irish government in row over passivhaus eco building regulations | The Guardian

Building Regulations Part ‘L’ – Made Easy | Mike Morris

Design risks to comfort and health of occupiers | Architects Journal

Breaking the Mould | Joseph Little Architects

Building industry objections to passive house are deeply flawed | Passive House +

Fire Safety in Green, PassivHaus and Energy Smart Housing | CJ Walsh

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

Part L compliance – Who wants a building control service provided by cowboys?

One ‘L’ of a battle looming over DECLG Building Regulations | Michael Tweed

Part L compliance issues – S.I.9 (1 of 2)

Part L- is compliance worth the paper its written on?

Design Certifiers – 3 things about certifying Part L… 

Why the design certifier and architect need third party building fabric assessments

Opinion piece: new building regulations and materials risk analysis

SI.9 and Part L | Specialist ancillary certifiers Part 2

SI.9 and Part L | Are specialist ancillary certifiers needed? Part 1 

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

02 August 2017

In the Irish Times article “Government’s ‘rapid-build’ schedule in realms of fantasy Irish Times” from 1st August 2017, Olivia Kelly reports on the slow pace of the Department of Housing’s ‘Rapid’ housing action plan initiative to tackle the homeless crisis.  The ‘Rapid’ initiative was analysed in detail in a Broadsheet.ie article back in April 2016 (see article “Rapid Answers”).  Just 22 so-called ‘Rapid’ prefab homes have been completed to date.  Extract from Olivia Kelly article to follow:


In a fit of excitement a year ago the Government launched its Rebuilding Ireland plan to sort out the housing and homelessness crisis, and deliver 47,000 social homes by 2021.

The “rapid-build” element of this was to deliver 1,500 by the end of 2018. It would work like this: 200 homes would be in place by the end of 2016, 800 by the end of 2017, and another 500 to finish the job by the end of 2018.

From day one this was clearly a fantasy…

The then minister for the environment, Alan Kelly, announced 500 modular houses would be provided as emergency housing for homeless families, with 22 to be in place before Christmas [2015] at a site in Poppintree, Ballymun.

By the time Rebuilding Ireland was published a good year-and-a-half later, those 22 had been occupied for about two months, and no other modular homes had been finished…

Well, in addition to the 22, Dublin City Council had issued tenders for 130 houses at sites in Finglas, Darndale, Cherry Orchard and Drimnagh with a completion date of June 2016. However, it cancelled the tender in March 2016 because the response from the potential housing providers was that this deadline was unrealistic.

The council issued fresh tenders for each of the sites, with completion deadlines from October to December 2016. Work on these four sites began in October 2016.

At around this time the council tried to inject a bit of realism into the situation. Its executive manager, Tony Flynn, said there was “no point” in seeking to complete projects in a timescale which suppliers could not meet, and that it would be 2017 before the housing at the four sites was finished.

Simon Coveney, the minister for housing at the time, wasn’t having that talk, saying 320 rapid-build homes would be under construction or completed by the end of the year. They were not.

Today it remains the case that no other rapid-build estates have been completed outside Ballymun… The city council is nearing completion on the 130 houses, and hopes to have them done by the end of next month.

The other three Dublin local authorities, Dún Laoghaire, Fingal and South Dublin, currently have plans for a combined total of 170 rapid-build homes. Tenders have been issued for some of these houses, and a small number have builders on site, but most are not scheduled to be completed until next year.

The head of housing of Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny, says the current turnaround time on modular housing is 17 months.

“I fully agree that’s not rapid, but a traditional build on a housing estate of the same size from going to tender to occupation is about three years.”… However, Mr Kenny said “there is no such thing as rapid procurement, and this is where the delays lie”… The council does, however, hope to reduce the timeframe for future projects… “We would hope we could get the whole process down to about nine months.”

Which still leaves the Government’s schedule in the realms of fantasy… It is extremely unlikely that even the first 200, due at the end of 2016, will be in place at the end of this year, when 1,000 rapid-build homes should be finished. It is even more unlikely still that 1,500 rapid-build homes will be delivered by 2018.

Other related articles:

Other posts of Interest:

Rapid Answers – Broadsheet.ie

Dáil debates | ‘Rapid’ build

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

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

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

Defective schools | Are our children safe?

An ‘affordable’ family home for less than €250,000 | Comparing costs North and South

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

PREFAB PROBLEMS | Is Minister Kelly hoping for a white Christmas?

230,000 Vacant Homes | Tackling the Regulatory Burden

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

27 July 2017

The Grenfell Tower fire has brought UK Fire Regulations into sharp focus.  A BBC report today says that large scale tests on cladding materials have failed even in laboratory conditions (see here).  The implications are staggering for both Government who wrote the regulations and designers who followed them.  Root and branch changes are likely to follow the Grenfell inquiry.

Meanwhile in Ireland Minister Eoghan Murphy disappointed industry commentators when he confirmed his intention not to re-establish the Building Regulations Advisory Board (BRAB).  This comes soon after it was revealed that his Department has refused publication of a long-awaited report into Millfield Manor Fire of March 2015 and a separate report with wide-ranging recommendations for improving fire safety in existing defective developments.

The Building Regulations Advisory Board was set up under Section 14 of the Building Control Act, 1990 to advise the Minister on matters relating to building regulations.  More than 20 separate groups had a board presence including consumer bodies (list provided at end of post) and for twenty years it was an invaluable source of expertise to successive Ministers.  The Board was not re-convened at the end of its 5 year term in 2012 under controversial circumstances (see post here).  BRAB Board Member Denise Germaine said:

“…we examined in detail the Northern Ireland system as part of our research. This type of Local Authority operated Building Control system was the first choice of BRAB but we were advised by the DECLG officials that there was no point in recommending this to the Minister as it ‘was not going to happen’ in Ireland.

Since the previous Minister [Phil Hogan] brought BRAB to an end in 2012, there has been no such semi-autonomous advisory body, with members drawn from all sectors of the construction industry, to advise the Minister and the Department on matters pertaining to Building Regulations and Building Control.

This is to be deplored.”

Since May 2012 most of these organisations have no longer had any input into building control.  The Department of Housing engage with just four key industry stakeholders- the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland (SCSI), Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland (ACEI) and the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI).  Former Minister Phil Hogan’s BC(A)R SI.9 ‘reinforced self-certification’ amendments were subsequently introduced in 2014 and continue to receive widespread criticism by consumer groups and industry legal experts as adding little in the way of enhanced consumer protection.

Dáil exchange to follow (see link: Building Regulations: 12 Jul 2017):

________________

Maureen O’Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)

466. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans to set up a building regulations advisory authority to allow broader input from industry experts (details supplied) that wish to have input into the area of planning control; his views on whether this would be beneficial in improving an imperfect system. [33252/17]

Eoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)

I understand the body referred to in the Deputy’s question is the Building Regulations Advisory Body (BRAB). Section 14 of the Building Control Act 1990 provides for the establishment, at the Minister’s discretion, of a BRAB to advise the Minister on matters relating to building regulations.

The term of office of the last BRAB expired on 1 October 2012.  The members of that BRAB were appointed for a term of office of five years from 14 June 2007 to 13 June 2012.  A temporary extension to 1 October 2012 was granted to the existing members in light of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations which were at an advanced stage of development at that time.

In accordance with Appendix IIb of the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan, published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in November 2011, the BRAB was listed as one of the forty six “Candidate Bodies for Critical Review by end June 2012”.  The outcome of that review process was that the work of the BRAB was to be absorbed into my Department.

I have no plans to establish a new BRAB at this time.

(NOTE: An identical answer was give by Minister of State Damien English to a similar question by Barry Cowen TD in May 2017 – see Building Regulations: 12 Jul 2017 9 May 2017)

________________

2012 Members of the BRAB as follows (see link here):

Mr. Jay Stuart, Chairperson, Integrated Sustainable Design Const.
Mr. Michael Brown, National Standards Authority of Ireland.
Mr. Brian McKeon, Construction Industry Federation.
Dr. Eugene Farrell, Home Bond.
Mr. Mark McAuley, Building Materials Federation.
Ms. Denise Germaine, Chartered Inst. of Architectural Technologists.
Mr. Gerard Grogan, Tánaiste’s nomimee
Mr. Jim Keogh, Electro-Technical Council of Ireland.
Mr. Jack Callanan  National Disability Authority.
Ms. Emer O’Siochru, An Taisce.
Ms. Maria Melia, Chief Fire Officers Associations.
Ms. Ann Mills, City & County Engineers Association.
Mr. Johnny McGettigan, Irish Building Control Institute.
Ms. Minka Louise McInerney, Royal Inst. of the Architects of Ireland.
Mr. Jimmy Keogan, City & County Managers Association.
Ms. Krystyna Rawicz, Society of Chartered Surveyors.
Mr. Gary Treanor, Irish Timber Frame Manufacturers’ Association Ltd.
Mr Sean Balfe, National Standards Authority of Ireland.
Ms. Sarah Neary, Senior Building Adviser, Building Standards, DEHLG.
Mr. Noel Carroll, Senior Housing Adviser, DEHLG.
Ms. Jacqui Donnelly, Architect, Heritage Policy & Architectural Protection, DEHLG.
Ms. Terry Prendergast, National Consumer Agency
Mr Cian O’Lionáin, Principal Officer, Private Housing Sector & Building Standards, DEHLG
Ms Edel Collins, Office of Public Works
Mr Kevin O’Rourke, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Other posts of interest:

SI.9 | Irish solutions to Irish problems only!

Officials refuse publication of Fire Safety Strategy for Defective Housing

Everything you wanted to know about “Approved Inspectors”

BRAB and BC(A)R SI.9- Look Back 3

Government Reports + Professional Opinion Ignored in SI.9 | look back 5

Collins & O’Cofaigh | “the 38 steps” and the complexity of our regulations 

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

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

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

“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

BRegs Weekly | 21 July 2017

Pictured: Grenfell Tower, London, England June 16

21 July 2017 –  BRegs Weekly Edition 115

Edition 115 of BRegs Weekly is out now.

As many as 70% of apartments built between 2002 and 2008 are fire deficient, fire experts have revealed (see Independent article here).  Dublin City Council has served 11 fire safety notices relating to fire safety deficiencies to owners or occupiers of seven premises in the city this year alone.  Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy had a “frank discussion” with Dublin’s Chief Fire Officer last month to discuss fire and life safety issues in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and is due to meet with other chief fire officers.  The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland says there are “major concerns” over fire safety in multi-unit dwellings in Ireland.  Chartered building surveyor Kevin Hollingsworth has remediated 29 developments throughout the country for fire safety issues over the last four years.  Director general of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland Áine Myler said “…a significant proportion of the buildings constructed during the Celtic Tiger era may not be in compliance with building regulations in force at the time of construction… Two months ago, the society called on the Government to commission a high-level study into these properties.”

An article by Dublin County Councillor Cian O’Callaghan (SD) in Journal.ie ‘Does our Housing Minister know how many homes are at risk of rapid fire spread?’ highlighted the lack of assistance from official bodies in providing accurate information to homeowners of properties with fire safety concerns. Councillor O’Callaghan said the following “five crucial questions that the New Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy TD should answer as a matter of urgency if he is to show that he is serious about tackling fire safety defects in housing developments in Ireland”:

  1. Will he publish the Fire Safety Review [Into Millfield Manor Fire in 2015] that his Department has sat on for the last 15 months?
  2. Is he aware of the extent of the problem in Ireland and that a larger number of estates built during the last housing boom have fire safety defects?
  3. Will he abolish self-certification and replace it with independent inspection of buildings to ensure compliance with building control regulations and fire safety regulations?
  4. Will he investigate the failure of councils to use their building control powers to pursue developers that were found to be in breach of fire safety regulations?
  5. Will he abolish the 5-year statute of limitations that lets rogue developers off the hook?

In “Help-to-buy scheme a disaster – as predicted” the Independent confirmed that the Government’s ‘Help-to-Buy’ scheme has accelerated house price inflation and noted the ‘brutal reality’ that homebuyers are paying €19,000 more for their homes compared with one year ago.  The ‘Help-to-Buy’ scheme is a rebranded version of the older “First time buyers grant”, abolished in 2002 by former Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen (FF).  At the time he said the grants had helped to push up house prices, had “returned little benefit to consumers” and been “simply been absorbed in the increased profits of builders” (see here).  Government think-tank the National Economic and Social Council had called for its abolition in 1993.  Following intensive lobbying by the construction industry the current measure was introduced last year but was widely criticsed by EU watchdogs, commentators and senior government figures.  It has been subsequently confirmed that no cost benefit analysis or regulatory impact assessment was undertaken in advance of implementation by the Department of Housing.

In other news Housing Agency boss John O’Connor issued a sobering prediction and said it would take up to 3 years for house prices and rents to stabilise (see here).  He highlighted the importance of the re-use of existing vacant buildings in addressing immediate housing needs and suggested that the recovery in the sector will come only when the banks deal with bad debts.  The vacant site tax, due to come into force from 2019, also needs to be amended to encourage development- currently, if a loan is equal or greater than the value of the land, an exemption can be secured.  Local authorities must also take a more pro-active role in building communities.  He said “We can’t underestimate sorting out our loan problems. That’s having a huge effect on housing, and we need to just bite the bullet. The vacant site levy is a good thing. It’s worked in other countries.  Land needs to be used if there’s a need for housing in the area”.

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 115

Officials refuse publication of Fire Safety Strategy for Defective Housing

Pictured: Millfield Manor in 2015

25 July 2017

The long awaited Department of Housing report into the Millfield Manor in Newbridge, Co Kildare fire in March 2015, where 6 homes burnt down in less than a half an hour, has been further delayed.  A recent Freedom of Information request requesting the report, submitted by Eoin O’Broin TD (SF) was refused.  The request related to two documents, a 28 page case study on Millfield Manor and a second 23 page report “Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings where Concerns Arise”, a document intended to report on broader measures  and give recommendations for other similar defective schemes.

The grounds for the refusal were that the reports “contain information relating to the Deliberative process of the Department” and consequently the “release of the record is considered contrary to the public interest at this point in time”. The refusal is signed by David Hannigan, Assistant Principal, Housing Advisors and Building Standards.

The FOI refusal is below:

Other posts of interest:

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

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?

Defective schools | Are our children safe?

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

 

The following article by Dublin County Councillor Cian O’Callaghan appeared in The Journal.ie on 20 June 2017


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

In Ireland, the concerns of residents about fire safety in several housing developments constructed hastily during the Celtic Tiger boom have fallen on deaf ears, writes Cian O’Callaghan.

THE DEVASTATING FIRE at Grenfell Tower could have been avoided if the legitimate concerns of residents had been listened to. In Ireland, the concerns of residents about fire safety in several housing developments constructed hastily during the Celtic Tiger boom have fallen on deaf ears.

As a local councillor I’ve worked with residents in developments affected by fire safety concerns. Due to a lack of assistance from official bodies in providing accurate information to homeowners, I’ve had to make extensive use of Freedom of Information requests to get to the bottom of what is known by the fire brigade, local authorities and the Department of Housing about fire safety defects.

Here are five crucial questions that the New Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy TD should answer as a matter of urgency if he is to show that he is serious about tackling fire safety defects in housing developments in Ireland.

Will he publish the Fire Safety Review that his Department has sat on for the last 15 months?

On March 31 2015, a fire spread rapidly destroying a terrace of six new build houses in half an hour in Millfield Manor, a timber frame estate.  An investigation was launched by the local authority which found major fire safety deficiencies.

In September 2015, the then Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, announced a review to “develop a framework for general application” in homes where concerns had been raised about fire safety. A full 15 months after the review was completed, the government has still not published it.

Will the Minister publish this as review as a matter of urgency and start the important work of implementing its recommendations to address fire safety defects?

Is he aware of the extent of the problem in Ireland and that a larger number of estates built during the last housing boom have fire safety defects?

While about 30 Celtic Tiger era developments that have been reported in the media to have fire safety defects, it is widely understood that a much larger number of developments are at risk.

Is the Minister aware how many homes built during the last boom are at risk of rapid fire spread? Documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act show that his department has been aware of this problem over the last 10 years. Will he ask his officials why they haven’t been acting on this knowledge over the last decade?

Will he abolish self-certification and replace it with independent inspection of buildings to ensure compliance with building control regulations and fire safety regulations?

The abolition in 1990 by Fianna Fáil of rigorous independent building control inspections carried out by local councils and its replacement with a system of self-certification by builders has proved disastrous. This system which has been reformed in recent years now involves sign off by an architect or qualified professional hired by the developer.

Certification is issued based on an opinion that the buildings are constructed in compliance with the building regulations rather than an actual independent verification that the regulations are adhered to.

Will he restore the system of rigorous independent building control inspections that were in place before 1990?

Will he investigate the failure of councils to use their building control powers to pursue developers that were found to be in breach of fire safety regulations?

In several documented cases, local authorities have failed to use their extensive powers to hold developers to account and ensure that they fix fire safety defects and pay for these works.

For example, in January 2007 fire spread rapidly to four units in a newly constructed timber frame estate in North County Dublin. The blaze broke out during remedial works after a small piece of fiberglass ignited and fell onto a balcony damaging the timber frame structure and spreading into the party wall and then the wall cavity. Luckily this fire started during the daytime and a workman on the scene alerted the fire brigade immediately. Had this fire occurred at night when residents were sleeping the consequences could have been much more serious.

The local authority commissioned two separate reports which confirmed that there were more than 10 separate types of fire safety defects present in units on the estate. The council failed to take effective building control action against the developer to ensure the problems were rectified, and neglected to inform residents and local councillors about the defects uncovered.

Will the Minister investigate the failure of local authorities to pursue developers despite their statutory fire safety, planning and building control functions?

Will he abolish the 5-year statute of limitations that lets rogue developers off the hook?

If a local authority fails to take effective building control action against a developer within 5 years of the completion of construction, a 5-year statute of limitations kicks in. Often it takes years for defects to be discovered – fire safety defects might only emerge after the rapid spread of a fire which demonstrates that fire stopping measures were not put in properly during construction.

This statute of limitations lets the developer off the hook and transfers the responsibility for bringing the housing up to standard on the unsuspecting homeowner. There is no accountability for the developer who has sold a substandard and unsafe home. Will the Minister introduce legislation to abolish the 5-year statute of limitations for developers?

Cian O’Callaghan is a Social Democrats Councillor for Dublin Bay North.

Other posts by author:

Other posts of Interest:

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

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?

Defective schools | Are our children safe?

BRegs Weekly | 14 July 2017

Pictured: Stardust fire 14 February 1981

14 July 2017 –  BRegs Weekly Edition 114

Edition 114 of BRegs Weekly is out now.

In the Sunday Business Post (see here), Hugh O’Connell reported that Finian McGrath TD has helped break a major impasse in exploring new evidence from the 1981 Stardust disaster where 48 people died.  Judge Pat McCartan had threatened to quit the process after victims’ families refused to handover a large cache of new evidence-  given their decades-long fight for justice, they are deeply suspicious and sceptical of the state’s institutions. Last week McGrath warned the families that without agreeing to handover the file, McCartan would quit- then there would then be little or no hope of a new statutory inquiry into the fire. After several hours of talks, it was agreed that the families would handover the new evidence to be assessed by McCartan who will determine not only if there is grounds for a new state investigation, but also how much in legal fees and other associated costs are owed. The families will settle for nothing less than a full inquiry to determine, once and for all, what caused the horrendous nightclub fire nearly four decades ago. “This is a major step forward in the process. It’s up to the judge to make the decision now, independent of politicians and the families,” McGrath said.

In “Minister to visit Donegal to meet MICA action group” the Donegal Daily discussed a recent report published by Minister Damien English into the wide-ranging affects of Mica on concrete blocks in many homes right across County Donegal which affects up to 4,800 homes in Donegal built between 2000 and 2006.  The report was critical of quality controls and building control regulations which were in place at that time but stopped short of recommending any aid to families.  Minister English that he is travelling to the Donegal next week to meet the Mica action group. Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh has welcomed the visit and says he is lobbying for a redress scheme for homeowners, who said “Minister English will visit Donegal next Wednesday to meet the Mica action group which represents many of the private homeowners affected by this issue”. At present there is no Government commitment to establish a redress scheme to help owners affected.

In “Ongoing problems in our housing sector were prominent this week”  the Irish Times reported on a Maynooth university  study, Investing in the Right to a Home: Housing, HAPs and Hubs, written by Dr Rory Hearne and Dr Mary Murphy of the university’s sociology and social sciences institute. The study warned that the housing crisis has not yet peaked and is likely to escalate over the next five years.  It was conducted as part of a Europe-wide examination of how to strengthen social investment. The study says the newly established “family hubs” could become the next “direct provision” for distressed families and says the “major reliance” of successive governments on the private sector to provide social housing has contributed to the problems now facing the State. “Absence of [State] investment in social housing negates the housing rights of the most vulnerable,” it says. “We are not at the peak of the housing crisis and we expect [it] to escalate over the next five years.”

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 114

Is Bogus Self-Employment the Construction Industry’s ‘biggest con’?

11 July 2017

The following Independent article by Rebecca Lumley “‘The biggest con going’ – spotlight falls on ‘bogus self employment’ amid fears it is costing the state €80m per year ” examines ‘bogus self-employment’,  a method by some contractors of driving down employee costs.

Extract:

“Bogus self-employment is a term coined by labour activists which refers to workers being forced to name themselves as sole-traders in order to be hired. They are then still treated as employees despite their sole trader status.

They are then stripped of employment benefits such as sick or holiday pay, while employers do not have to pay these workers’ PRSI contributions.

A Government report on the practise has not yet been published, leading to mounting opposition pressure not to let the report “gather dust on a shelf”… Meanwhile, a Dublin City councillor who has also worked as a carpenter for 30 years, described the practise as “pure abuse” and “the biggest con going.”

People Before Profit councillor Andrew Keegan said the practice is often painted as a way for construction workers to pay less tax and earn more money, but in reality its effects can be detrimental.

He said: “It’s corruption as far as I’m concerned. It’s massive exploitation…By the time you were finished, somebody in McDonalds was earning more than you were and no way would they put themselves at the same level of risk or endurance as you would working in the construction industry.”

The practice has also come under scrutiny by trade unions.  At the beginning of 2016, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions estimated that bogus self-employment has cost the State €80 million a year since 2007… They said that around 27,600 sole traders are operating in the construction sector alone, with no adequate controls to check that these arrangements were legitimate.

The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) have long fought against the practice, arguing that both employees and the State are losing out. National Construction Official of the TEEU, Brian Nolan said:

“As a Union we believe that we have a duty to all our members and society as a whole to raise this as something where we’re striving to get people to work in good jobs that pay good money and then we have unscrupulous employers who are trying to engage in the biggest tax avoidance scheme that you can.”

Recently Labour TD and former Tanaiste, Joan Burton, called for a fast-track of the report and urged then then Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and then Finance Minister Michael Noonan to stop “letting this report gather dust on a shelf.”

“Please publish it now and help protect low paid workers,” she said.

The Construction Industry Federation was approached for comment on the subject of bogus self-employment on numerous occasions, but failed to respond. They represent employers in the construction industry.

Full article here: ‘The biggest con going’ – spotlight falls on ‘bogus self employment’ amid fears it is costing the state €80m per year

Related article: Pickets placed on school building site in Dublin – Irish Times 19 Sep 2015

Other posts of interest:

CIF Approved Ancillary Certificates for Sub-Contractors: AncillaryCertificatesComplete_November2014

Builders may soon be forced to join a register to prove they’re competent | Journal

Complaint Procedures & Construction Industry Register? | Look Back 19

Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) to be made mandatory

Opinion: Are builders + developers off the hook with BCAR?

‘Onerous’ Building Regulations must be amended – Minister Kelly

Imminent changes to SI.9 announced | Minister Alan Kelly T.D.

SI.9 causing major delays to school projects

Iaosb letter to Minister Kelly – Revoke or Revise S.I.9

RIAI Past Presidents Paper #1 | The Building Regulations and Consumer protection

S.I.9 – Where are we now? 27 October 2014

UK + Ireland | take a quick trip to Holyhead with Breg Blog…

How much would 100% independent inspections by Local Authorities cost?

€ 5 billion | The extraordinary cost of S.I.9 self-certification by 2020

5 Posts every builder must read- BC(A)R SI.9

Opinion: Are builders + developers off the hook with BCAR?

Press article: Government promotes developers over self-builders?