I INHERITED an appalling mess of shoddily built homes, pyrite problems and dangerous breaches of fire regulations. The interests of speculators and developers were allowed to take precedence over the interests of families and individuals who purchased homes in good faith during the building boom years.
For most the purchase of a new home is the most significant investment they will make during their lifetime.
While regulations were in place, the problem is they were widely ignored. I am acutely aware of the difficult and distressing situation faced by many homeowners who, through no fault of their own, are now living with the consequences of the poor practices that prevailed.
Last month I signed into law Building Control Regulations to tackle this terrible legacy and to provide the consumer with better protection.
The new regulations are to ensure that the mistakes of the past are never allowed to happen again and that there is legal compliance with the minimum requirements, which must be achieved in bringing a building to completion.
The new regulations, which will come into force from March 1 next year, aim to protect consumers and restore confidence in the construction industry. In summary, they require:
• Submission of compliance drawings to local authorities.
• Development of an inspection plan by an assigned certifier, who can be a registered architect, engineer or building surveyor.
• Signing of mandatory certificates of compliance by the designer prior to construction and by the assigned certifier and the builder when a building is complete.
The assigned certifier will be contracted by the owner or developer and will inspect building works at key stages during construction.
While this is likely to add a relatively small amount to the overall cost of a project, the consumer will ultimately benefit as at every stage they will have a rolling set of guarantees from those who can be held responsible for any issues that might subsequently arise. The assigned certifier will be the single point of contact to co-ordinate the compliance documentation and, along with the builder, he or she will certify that a building complies with the requirements of the law.
This will undoubtedly lead to a better culture of compliance, more protection for people buying new homes and a better standard of service and workmanship for consumers.
The new regulations will also facilitate and support local authorities in enhancing their oversight role. At present, local authorities must meet an annual inspection target of 12-15pc of all building activity within their area.
Under the new arrangements, each local authority will be required to take a more practical risk-based approach to inspection.
Given the serious failures we have seen in relation to apartment blocks in particular, I would expect that local authorities will use their powers to prioritise compliance checking in relation to this category of buildings in future.
The local authority will retain all drawings and particulars relevant to building works and include the final Certificate of Completion on its statutory register.
This documentation will be available to any person who subsequently acquires an interest in the building concerned.
The new approach establishes a clear chain of responsibility for building works prior to commencement through to completion, in a system where lack of such a chain led to the disastrous failures that have had such a dire impact on homeowners and families.
Under these regulations, homeowners who encounter a problem with a building will be in a radically better place. They'll be able to immediately access information which can lead them towards a solution to the problem.
This is the first time we have had such protection in this area.
I accept these new regulations are by no means the complete solution. I am aware that other related issues also need to be addressed. In this regard, I am keen that the issue of insurance cover for construction projects is addressed before the new regulations come into effect next year.
I am therefore undertaking a review of construction-related insurance cover in conjunction with my ministerial colleague Richard Bruton.
I have also asked the Construction Industry Federation to bring forward proposals on a scheme of registration for builders and contractors with the intention of transitioning this to a statutory scheme over time.
Furthermore, in response to concerns about the registration of architects – in particular the limited number of applications to date from those that are practically trained – I have commissioned an independent review to report on how the process can be improved.
The new regulations will for the first time give homeowners real protection, traceability and accountability at all stages of the building process. I firmly believe they will provide for an integrated system of design, inspection and construction that will help deliver to consumers the high-quality homes and buildings they expect and deserve.
Phil Hogan TD is Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government