Regulations now in place to prevent Priory Hall repeat
Earlier this year, I signed the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013 into law. All new building projects commencing on and from March 1, 2014, will require design drawings and particulars to be lodged with the local building control authority; inspections during construction must be overseen by a registered construction professional (known as the assigned certifier); and certificates of compliance must be signed by the lead designer, the builder and the assigned certifier.
The new regulations are designed to ensure that competence and professionalism become part and parcel of building projects generally.
The Building Control Act 1990 firmly places the statutory responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations on designers, builders and owners. The new regulations do not and cannot change the legal responsibilities set out in the Act of 1990. They merely activate a provision in the Act of 1990 enabling certificates of compliance as a means by which those responsible can demonstrate how their statutory obligations have been fulfilled.
An architect by undertaking the design of a building must necessarily ensure that their design complies with the requirements of the building regulations.
Consumers have every right to expect that professional services they pay for will comply with statutory requirements and the Government must and will stand firm on this.
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has continued to liaise with key industry stakeholders with a view to ensuring the new statutory requirements are fully understood and will work well in practice.
In this context the RIAI and other professional bodies have raised valid concerns about the insurability and legal consequences of the statutory certificates. The Department is dealing openly with industry on this matter.
The executive and the Council of the RIAI, in common with the other professional bodies and the CIF, has actively engaged with the department at all stages of the reform process to date and, I understand, continues to support the reform process.
In a letter to members the president of the RIAI noted that "Architects providing a full service . . . should have nothing to fear from the new system" and that "better architecture results from greater control by architects over the building process". These sentiments very much accord with government policy.
Other reforms currently being progressed include:
* Development of an electronic administration system for building control for use by all building control authorities.
* Regionalised and shared service approaches to building control administration which will provide for greater nation-wide consistency in building control administration and an enhanced risk-based approach to inspections by local building control authorities.
* Consideration of the potential for latent defects insurance as an ultimate form of redress for consumers.
* Registration of builders and contractors to be in place on a voluntary basis from early 2014 followed by a statutory register from 2015.
The Government and the construction industry have a responsibility to work together to ensure that the appalling vista of building failures that have been visited on Irish consumers in recent years cannot recur.
Priory Hall was one of the worst examples of the failures of the Celtic Tiger years, and I am pleased that we now have an approach in place to resolve it.
New building regulations and building control reforms will also ensure that a situation like Priory Hall can never happen again.