Sunday 26 March 2017

Priory Hall architects get abusive calls

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

The architects who designed Priory Hall -- but were unaware that fire protections had not been installed by the builders -- have made a complaint to gardai about receiving threatening and abusive calls and emails.

No comment was available from Oppermann Associates on Friday. But on Thursday Stephen Oppermann and his solicitor told gardai that the practice had received calls and emails which they deemed to be threatening. The complaint is being investigated.

Oppermann's design for Priory Hall included fire protections which met statutory safety regulations, but in the past three years of legal proceedings it emerged that these had not been installed during the building of the 187-apartment complex.

Oppermann carried out a "visual" inspection of Priory Hall in 2008 and signed off on the complex. Mr Oppermann subsequently said he was shocked when he learned of the fire threat caused by an almost complete lack of fire or smoke stopping between apartments and on the outer walls of the building. The top two floors of the building are of timber frame construction and highly flammable.

Fire protection professionals who have spoken to the Sunday Independent say the problems in Priory Hall are repeated throughout the country and affect thousands of buildings. One major complex -- five times bigger than Priory Hall -- is said to be of major concern with extensive voids and cavities which would allow fire to spread rapidly.

The problem, professionals say, arises from the fact that while architects' plans contain fire protections to meet statutory regulations, builders like Tom McFeely, ignored these and avoided installing fire protection measures to cut construction costs.

The State introduced a system of "self-certification" for builders by which they merely had to say their completed buildings contained the fire-protection measures.

There is a limited system in place for the inspection of buildings after construction to ensure that the plans have been complied with. There have been dozens of fires in new buildings in recent years but there is no system in place for investigating causes -- which fire protection professionals say are nearly always due to negligence in construction. The only investigation by gardai if there is a death or suspicion of foul play.

Sunday Independent

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