Sunday 23 October 2016

The right moves: Building regs in the spotlight

Paul McNeive

Published 14/05/2015 | 02:30

Housing Minister Alan Kelly
Housing Minister Alan Kelly

The controversial Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 have now applied to all commercial and residential development for a year or so and minister for the environment Alan Kelly is carrying out a review of their effectiveness.

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Minister Kelly is in Killarney today addressing the annual conference of Engineers Ireland (EI) and the Building Regulations will be a hot topic of discussion. Over 6,000 developments have commenced under the new rules, so how is the new system bedding down and what changes are proposed?

Earlier this week I met Cormac Bradley, a chartered engineer with RPS Group, who represented EI during the consultation process leading to the new regime. The new regulations set out to prevent the recurrence of poor construction standards under the previous "self-compliance" scheme. EI support the new code which relies on self certification and regulation by "assigned certifiers," and which was seen as the next best option to certification by local authorities who did not have sufficient resources.

Under the new system, a developer must advise the local authority of his appointment of "assigned certifiers", "design certifiers" and sometimes an "ancillary certifier", as well as his contractor. These certifiers must be chartered engineers, registered architects or chartered building surveyors. The system places a high level of responsibility on those professionals (and their insurance policies) for the inspection and certification of the quality of the design and construction of buildings. One objective is to establish a much clearer paper trail and make it easier to establish who is at fault in the event that anything goes wrong.

The chief criticisms of the scheme include concerns about the independence of the certifying professionals. An assigned certifier can be the designer of the scheme, so they are certifying their own work, and they can also be an employee of the developer. Cormac Bradley told me that EI's submission to the minister will probably return to the absence of an insurance scheme for latent defects. A statutory scheme paid for by the developer is needed to allow remedial works to be carried out immediately, alongside an investigation into who is at fault, to avoid years of delays in court.

The department has made a number of suggestions to the consultation process and these are also controversial. Concerns have been raised about the extra cost of "assigned certifiers" and their work in the case of single dwellings, of which over 1,000 have been built. In an effort to reduce costs, bizarrely to my mind, the Department is suggesting making complying with the regulations "advisory" and not "mandatory" for single dwellings. This reminds me of the infamous "Irish solution to an Irish problem" years ago when the gvernment solved year long driving licence waiting lists by just giving everyone a full licence. Not surprisingly, EI will be opposing that suggestion and Robin Mandal, president at The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) told me that they will oppose that too as "dumbing down quality is not on our agenda". The RIAI's submission will include recommendations that "assigned certifiers" should be independent of the developer, a restatement of the need for a latent defects insurance scheme and a suggested reduction of the vat rate on certifiers fees from 23pc to 13.5pc. Kevin Sheridan, past president of the European Association of Building Surveyors said on behalf of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland that "there is an inordinate focus on cost, and not the added value of a quality control system".

Most professional bodies will also be opposing the department's suggestion that the register of approximately 8,500 professionals who can carry out the role of "assigned certifier" could be expanded to include other professional groups. The common view is that the register should be driven by competency and not an effort to reduce costs.

The new system is a badly needed improvement on the previous situation but should be reinforced with stricter independence and a statutory insurance scheme. The very best system would be a return to independent inspections by local authorities and the political party that puts that on its manifesto will win a lot of support.

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