Paul McNeive: Regulation still flawed
THERE is great controversy around the Building Control Regulations 2013 which will apply to all commercial and residential construction projects from the 1st of March next.
The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and The Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland (SCSI) see the regulations as a step forward, but see gaps in the proposals.
Meanwhile, a group of seven past presidents of the RIAI are campaigning against the new system, which they see as badly flawed. So what are the issues?
The new regulations set out to prevent the reoccurrence of poor construction, pyrite damage and breaches of fire regulations. "Assigned certifiers", who can be registered architects, chartered engineers or building surveyors will inspect building works at key stages of construction and will certify that a finished building complies with building regulations.
The new system places a sharper legal responsibility on the certifying professionals and their professional indemnity insurance will be required to pay for losses if their work is negligent -- especially important in the event that the builder has disappeared or doesn't have insurance.
It's hard to see where there are any great improvements in the proposed regulations. The historic system is flawed in that certificates of compliance with planning permission and building control regulations are generally most needed for conveyance purposes because the standard contract of sale warrants such compliance. Thus the builder's solicitor needs those certificates to start completing sales and the certificates form part of the properties title documents.
Therefore, an architect/engineer, who may have had no involvement in the construction process, is suddenly asked to certify that a completed building meets the regulations.
Crucially however, he/she can only certify what they can see -- they actually don't know what went on during construction -- so they must heavily qualify their certificates and that has led to many problems.
Whilst the new system will see more inspections during construction, the assigned certifier simply has to submit an inspection framework to the local authority and does not have to agree same. Few people believe that the local authorities have the manpower to do a significant number of inspections. A real flaw is that the assigned certifier can be the actual designer of the scheme, so he is certifying that his/her own designs are in compliance and that they have been properly built out.
RIAI President Robin Mandal told me that they support the intentions of the regulations but believe they will not deliver what's required without a statutory latent defects insurance scheme, a national registration scheme for contractors (which is coming) and independent inspections.
Kevin Hollingsworth, chair of the SCSI Building Surveying Group sees the regulations as a big step forward but says that the biggest problem is that there is still a financial connection between the developer and the "assigned certifier."
Eoin O'Cofaigh, a past president of the RIAI said the new system will not improve the quality of construction or design and that during the "boom years" local authorities inspected only 1-2pc of developments. He too calls for independent inspections and an insurance scheme for latent defects, paid for upfront by the developer and overseen by the State.
In my view, the best system would be a return to the old building bye-law process with building work inspected and certified by a fully independent local authority.
The costs could be charged to the developer and the slight drop in site values resulting would be good value for a "belt and braces" system.
INSPIRATION IN DOCKLANDS
It was thrilling to be a speaker at the Laya Healthcare Pendulum Summit in the Convention Centre Dublin last week and to share the stage with space station commander, Colonel Chris Hadfield.
The event was the brainchild of Irish rugby international Frankie Sheahan and aimed to start 2014 with a day of "diverse inspirational speakers", each bringing their own views on positivity, motivation and maximising potential.
Minister Simon Coveney was one of the surprise packages on the day, delivering a raw and "human" speech which had leadership written all over it.
At the after event dinner in the Marker Hotel, Colonel Hadfield joined enthusiastically into a late night singsong.
Charlie Sheil, General Manager of the Marker Hotel told me that business is very good and that the adjacent Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is producing great demand for their rooms, restaurants and bars.
There is a new level of activity in docklands and in my view both commercial and residential values will continue to rise there throughout 2014.