Sunday 23 October 2016

Architects say Longboat Quay scandal could be one of many

Ronald Quinlan Special Correspondent

Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30

All told, the cost of bringing Longboat Quay up to an acceptable safety standard is set to surpass €4m
All told, the cost of bringing Longboat Quay up to an acceptable safety standard is set to surpass €4m

The fire safety scandal of Longboat Quay could be repeated owing to the Government's failure to introduce sufficiently robust building regulations and protections for consumers, the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI) has warned.

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"It is unacceptable that the issues we have seen this week can still occur under the current building control legislative framework," RIAI president Robin Mandal said.

Mr Mandal's comments came at the end of a week in which the owners of the 299 apartments in Longboat Quay faced bills of up to €18,000 each to fix the fire safety deficiencies in the development, as well as the more immediate prospect of being evacuated for their own protection.

All told, the cost of bringing Longboat Quay up to an acceptable safety standard is set to surpass €4m.

Contacted by the Sunday Independent yesterday, Longboat Quay's developer Bernard McNamara said simply: "I'm sorry I can't talk to you."

While Mr McNamara may have been reluctant to address the matter of the deficiencies identified in the development which is located in Dublin's docklands, the RIAI for its part is set to use its annual conference which is being held today and tomorrow to launch its new housing policy.

Included in this are five key measures aimed at preventing a repetition of the issues with fire safety and building controls identified at Longboat Quay, Priory Hall and other boom-era developments.

Among the proposals being mooted by the RIAI are the increased resourcing of local authorities to allow them to properly police building standards and the introduction of mandatory independent inspections, which would be outside the control or influence of developers and builders.

The institute is also recommending the establishment of a consumer redress scheme to protect property owners when things go wrong, and without the need for legal action to be pursued.

Commenting on the proposals, Mr Mandal said: "While implementing them will not specifically address the current plight of Longboat Quay residents, it must act as a wake-up call for the Government to take the necessary action to improve building standards and put in place appropriate oversight by the building control authorities to protect consumers."

Mr Mandal said one particular recommendation - Latent Defects Insurance - would provide reassurance to consumers of an easy form of redress as well as an added layer of oversight for insurance companies underwriting building schemes.

Insurers would have to satisfy themselves that buildings were being put up in compliance with best practice before providing cover for a development.

The RIAI is now calling on Environment Minister Alan Kelly to act "swiftly and decisively" to implement changes to building legislation to ensure the issues faced by the residents of Longboat Quay cannot happen again.

The criticisms now being levelled at Mr McNamara in relation to the shoddy and dangerous standard of construction at Longboat Quay represent a new and altogether unwelcome departure for the developer.

Having established a reputation for quality construction, Mr McNamara was hugely successful in securing the tenders for, and delivering on, major infrastructural projects for the State.

With the onset of the boom, he became involved in more speculative property plays financed with massive bank borrowings.

Among the assets he acquired with a view to redeveloping them into mixed use office and residential developments were the Burlington Hotel and the former Dublin headquarters of Allianz Insurance, for which he paid a combined €400m in 2007.

He also played a lead role in the Becbay consortium, which paid €412m for the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend in 2006.

With the collapse of the economy, his companies' loans were transferred to Nama. He declared bankruptcy in the UK in November 2012. Since emerging from insolvency, he has been involved in several projects including the rebuilding of the Denis O'Brien-owned Canada House on Dublin's St Stephen's Green and the expansion of Michael Smurfit's K Club in Kildare.

Sunday Independent

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