Relaxed building standards to leave owners 'vulnerable'
The Government relaxed building standards for one-off homes and extensions despite being warned by officials it would create a "two-tier" housing system and put homeowners at risk.
Officials told Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Housing Minister Paudie Coffey that easing standards aimed at preventing shoddy building work could leave consumers "vulnerable" in a sector where "risks to public safety are known to occur", the Irish Independent has learned.
The move is widely seen as an attempt by the Coalition to secure rural votes, and comes despite widespread opposition from building professionals.
Despite warnings about a legacy of problems resulting from shoddy workmanship, including fire safety issues at Priory Hall in Dublin and pyrite contamination, the Government insisted they were designed to "level the playing field" for people seeking to build their own homes, who were being "held to ransom" by professionals providing "excessive quotes" for completing inspections.
But a report written by officials in the Department of the Environment, says that costs quoted were within expected norms.
Despite claims that homeowners were being charged as much as €16,000 per inspection, the report said that certificates were being provided at a cost of €3,000-€4,000 per dwelling, which "accords well with the department's estimates".
In March last year, new rules were introduced requiring each home under construction to be inspected by an "assigned certifier" such as an architect, engineer or quantity surveyor, to ensure that building regulations were complied with at each stage of construction. They were aimed at preventing poor workmanship and protecting consumers, and meant that if a problem arose at a later date, or when the property was sold, the certifier was held legally responsible.
Last month, following a review, the Government announced changes which mean that from September, one-off homes and extensions will not be subject to the same inspection regime.
The changes came despite the official report referencing a legacy of problems in the housing market, noting that "many incidences of building failure or severe non-compliance concerns" had followed the collapse of the construction sector.
Officials also make it abundantly clear that the measures as introduced were working, noting that building inspectors in local authorities had "strongly emphasised" the fact that the regulations had brought a "new order and discipline" on the construction sector.
"Some industry stakeholders who were previously sceptical and opposed to particular features . . . have seen the benefit of its operation to date and have sent a strong message in their submissions that the Government should not unravel or undermine the reforms introduced," it added.
"It is clear that the reforms are bringing a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects of all levels. Building control authorities who are uniquely placed to observe such developments have strongly emphasised this aspect of the reforms.
"Overall, the evidence suggests that (the regulations) are clearly having the desired effect in changing the prevailing culture of the construction industry in Ireland to one of compliance and quality."
The report goes on to say that the regulations "effectively represent a badge of approval" which reassures owners that their home is a "quality, compliant" structure, safe and healthy to live in, structurally sound and fire-resistant, energy efficient and durable, "having used properly certified materials combined with good construction practice".
In a statement, the Department of the Environment said the decision was made following "careful consideration" of a "wide range of factors", adding that homeowners would still have to comply with the building regulations.