Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 11 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Housing Standards: Discussion
At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and those in the Visitors Gallery are asked to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the broadcasting and transmission of the proceedings. It is not sufficient merely to leave them in silent mode as it will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting and recording systems.
No. 5 on the agenda is a discussion of housing standards, with specific reference to fire safety and damp. I welcome from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Mr. Paul Lemass, Ms Sarah Neary, Mr. John Barry and Mr. Conor O'Sullivan. From UCD I welcome Ms Paula Hegarty. From the Royal Institute of Architects I welcome Mr. John O'Mahony and Mr. Peter Bluett. From Dublin Fire Brigade I welcome Mr. Dennis Keeley and Ms Mary O'Brien. Many of the delegates are regular visitors to the joint committee and I thank them very much for attending yet again.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Mr. Paul Lemass:
I thank the joint committee for its invitation to attend the hearing. I am happy to respond to it to address the committee on the topic of housing standards, with specific reference to fire safety and damp. I am joined by colleagues Mr. John Barry, Mr. Conor O’Sullivan and Ms Sarah Neary from the Department's national directorate for fire and emergency management and the building standards unit. The national directorate for fire and emergency management, NDFEM, was established in 2009 and operates under a management board structure within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It has a mandate to develop consistent, effective, quality and value for money fire services to protect communities from fire. It includes developing national policies and standards and supporting and overseeing their implementation at local level. Additionally, the directorate has a role in developing arrangements for co-ordinating emergency responses across government services and has led national level responses as the lead government body in the case of severe weather events such as Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma. In the nine years since its inception the management board of the NDFEM has made significant progress in aligning national and local efforts around common public safety objectives.
I will focus on recent work undertaken by the NDFEM, following the tragic fire in Grenfell Tower in London. On 27 June last year, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy and in recognition of concerns arising about fire safety in Ireland, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, tasked the NDFEM with convening and co-ordinating a high level task force to lead a reappraisal of fire safety in Ireland. Earlier this year the Government approved the publication of the fire safety task force report and a summary of conclusions and recommendations. As well as making a range of recommendations to improve provisions for fire safety, the task force found, following a country-wide review of medium to high rise buildings, that the combination of contributory factors which appeared to have existed in Grenfell Tower did not seem to be present in medium to high rise buildings in Ireland. However, fire safety improvement works are ongoing in 35 buildings where assessments were required.
The report also found that the experience of actual fires gave confidence that the fire safety strategy was appropriate and effective in protecting the lives of persons living in medium to high rise buildings. The activation of fire detection and alarm systems, the effective evacuation of premises, the success of compartmentation and construction in containing fire and the efficacy of the fire service response are all part of the current recommended approach to life safety in medium to high rise buildings. The task force also found that the assessment by local authorities of fire safety measures in their existing multi-storey, multi-unit social housing provided considerable reassurance of the standard of fire safety within this profile of social housing building stock. At the time of publication of the report, almost 95% of units had been found to have appropriate facilities and the assessment process had resulted in improvements works in the remaining units, where necessary. The task force has recommended that national oversight be maintained of the fire safety assessment process under way in 219 medium to high rise buildings and that emergent issues be dealt with and an oversight report provided for the Minister at the end of the process.
A further recommendation of the task force concerns the statutory responsibilities of the person having control of premises, as set out in section 18 of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003. This emerged as a key focus for the task force which proposes a number of amendments to the current regulatory system to enhance and ensure fire safety in certain categories of buildings, in particular, in residential and sleeping accommodation, which is identified as a priority area for fire safety efforts. The legislative amendments proposed by the task force seek to clarify and strengthen the statutory obligations imposed on the person having control and introduce new reporting mechanisms through which the fire safety arrangements in place in premises will be brought to the attention of the public. To ensure persons having control of premises take action to fulfil their statutory obligations, the task force also recommends that a revised focus on enforcement be put in place in parallel to address any disregard for fire safety considerations.
The Minister has accepted the recommendations made in the task force's report and mandated the management board of the NDFEM to carry through on the recommendations within his direct ambit and oversee and report on the implementation of other recommendations. At its meeting on 13 September the management board of the NDFEM agreed to establish a fire safety sub-committee and working structure which would undertake the work arising from the report of the task force. Progress will be reported to the Minister by the NDFEM management board. I note that the report concludes that the overall composition of Ireland’s fire safety system is appropriate and generally fit for purpose.
I turn to housing standards and fire safety. Part B, fire safety, of the second schedule to the building regulations sets out the legal requirements in respect of fire safety in new buildings, including dwellings, as well as existing buildings which are undergoing works which involve an extension, material alteration or certain material changes of use. The Part B technical guidance document B, TGD B, on fire safety is under review. In the interests of clarity, I note that the technical guidance document has been split into separate volumes. Volume 1 deals with all buildings, other than dwelling houses, while volume 2 deals exclusively with dwelling houses. On 1 July 2017 the Building Regulations (Part B Amendment) Regulations 2017, SI 57/2017, and Technical Guidance Document B Fire Safety – Volume 2 – Dwelling Houses (2017) were published and came into force. Work is still ongoing on buildings, other than dwelling houses, and the next step in the process will be to issue draft amendments to Part B and a draft version of Technical Guidance Document B Fire Safety – Volume 1 – Buildings other than Dwelling Houses for public consultation. Until the full review is complete, however, the current requirements and guidance for all buildings, other than dwelling houses, including apartment buildings, are set out in the Building Regulations (Amendment) Regulations 2006, SI 115/2006, and the relevant parts of Technical Guidance Document B Fire Safety (2006), respectively.
Building control regulations require a fire safety certificate to be obtained for new buildings, with some exceptions, and certain works to existing buildings. The fire safety certificate ensures that the building or works, if constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications submitted, comply with the requirements of Part B. As such, an application is examined technically by the chief fire officer or building control authority for compliance with Part B. This may be on the basis of technical guidance document B or through alternative approaches to providing fire safety.
Regarding damp, Part C on site preparation and resistance to moisture, Part F on ventilation and Part L on conservation of fuel and energy of the Second Schedule to the building regulations set performance requirements to prevent the passage of moisture into the building, ensure adequate ventilation and limit heat loss. The associated technical guidance provides practical advice on limiting thermal bridging, ensuring adequate ventilation and avoiding rising damp.
I look forward to hearing the views of committee members and I am happy to answer whatever questions they may have on our areas of work.
Ms Orla Hegarty:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to attend this session. Concerns about fire safety are real. The legacy of the Stardust fire in Dublin in 1981 was the Building Control Act 1990 and the introduction of fire safety certificates. These regulations have undoubtedly saved many lives since. We are again discussing regulatory change in the aftermath of another tragedy, that being the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. Both of these events were foreseeable and preventable. It should not take a tragedy to act when the risks are evident and preventable, but warnings frequently go unheeded. Events of this scale do not happen regularly and we can become complacent about the risks.
Fire safety is one of the most visible types of building failure. Other building failures that are damaging to health and the environment often go unreported because they are not so visible and play out in private. They need the same attention in public policy, particularly where there are new and emerging risks. The next pyrite will not be pyrite and the next Grenfell Tower will not be about cladding.
It is evident that Grenfell is part of a very complex failure, in that it is as much a procurement failure as a regulatory one. Combustible cladding was a factor, but it was only part of a bigger story. We can learn much from such events because they point to weaknesses across the sector, including flaws in industry practices, poor procurement policies, inadequate regulatory systems, inadequate controls on how buildings are designed, procured and managed, and a failure to keep pace with rapid changes in technology and materials. In the 28 years since the 1990 Act, buildings have become larger and more complex, housing is being built more densely, and the materials being used have become lighter, more combustible, more toxic and less forgiving of poor design, unskilled workers and inadequate testing and control systems.
I would first like to address some fire safety issues specifically, after which I will briefly mention more general concerns about the risk of other potential building failures. Fire Safety in Ireland, the report of the fire safety task force, follows closely behind two 2017 reports into fire safety failings, one on schools and another on timber-framed housing. There needs to be a follow-through so that the findings of these reports are widely disseminated and actively addressed.
I have been following the UK response to the Grenfell fire very closely. By comparison, the response in Ireland has been limited. No regulatory change has been signalled and no guidance has been issued to building designers. Public safety concerns around this matter are legitimate. The remit of the task force's report was narrow, being limited to buildings of more than six storeys or more than 18 m with external cladding or rainscreen systems. It did not include buildings under six storeys, including apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and other buildings that could be high risk. The technical failings in Grenfell were much wider than the cladding specification.
The task force identified 226 buildings by contacting 31 local authorities to provide statistics. Using freedom of information requests, I have undertaken some research into the data provided. There is no national listing of these buildings - the 31 authorities acted independently and just provided statistics. Each of the local authorities acts as a separate building control authority, meaning that there was not a consistent response. While there was an ongoing issue with monitoring, the report asserted that there was no concern about a Grenfell situation. At the time of the report's production, however, fewer than half of the 226 buildings identified had undergone fire risk assessments. It was premature to say there were no issues or concerns.
The departmental circular on this matter does not address the fundamental issue, that being public safety. The direction to local authorities is cautious and defers all responsibility to building owners on the assumption that they can be identified, which is still not the case in some instances, that they will act promptly and responsibly, that they will have resources to deal with the problem and that remedial works will be carried out correctly. There is no requirement for anyone living in the buildings to be notified.
The Irish building regulations - the technical standards - rely heavily on UK regulations, research, testing and codes. The Grenfell fire is subject to a number of reviews and inquiries in the UK and regulatory reform is being implemented there. It is not clear how the Irish regulatory authorities intend to act in response. Brexit will compound some of these issues, particularly as regards building materials.
The implication of the catastrophic "systems failure" at Grenfell warrants a much broader review and risk assessment. Many issues are technical and evolving and are beyond the remit of this committee or ad hoccommittees. There is an urgent need to re-establish the statutory Building Regulations Advisory Board, which was disbanded in 2012. Following Grenfell, the UK Government established an independent expert advisory panel, and that group has been reporting as the issues emerge.
Policymakers, the construction industry and owners need support. They also need transparency. The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, BCAR, are not a robust system or entail what is described in the Hackett report. Producing technical building regulations and standards is not enough. They will not be rolled out without addressing the weaknesses across the system, including skills shortages, an absence of technical information, poor procurement practices, a lack of independent inspections and controls, poorly structured and resourced systems for building management, a lack of public information, and a lack of technical support.
There needs to be a system of active market surveillance of dangerous, illegal and fraudulent construction products, as required under the EU construction products regulations, and more active dissemination of alerts for building materials. The State authorities need to be resourced to ensure that public safety is protected. This is not just about high-rise buildings or apartments. It is also about our hospitals, schools, airports, shopping centres, student housing and hotels. The Stardust inquiry was unequivocal about the responsibilities of State authorities to protect the public. We cannot conclude that our systems are appropriate and fit for purpose when people are living in dangerous buildings that have been constructed since BCAR came into effect in 2014.
I will briefly address the issues of damp, mould, condensation and ventilation. Mould should not be singled out. It can serve as a visible indicator of wider indoor air quality problems that can be damaging to the occupants' health and the fabric of the building over time. Modern building regulation standards require buildings to be tested for air tightness to achieve high levels of energy efficiency. Issues of damp, condensation and mould are the result of a failure in the building physics, which can be a consequence of poor design, poor construction, inappropriate materials, inadequate ventilation, conflicting regulatory requirements or a combination of these factors.
The technical issues are beyond the scope of this committee, but this is an area of serious concern, particularly given that some recent research indicates that there are significant levels of non-compliance in recently built homes.
Mr. John O'Mahony:
I am the RIAI's spokesperson on housing and I thank the committee for the invitation to address it. I would like to introduce my colleague, Mr. Peter Bluett, an architect and fire engineer who sat on the fire safety task force.
Founded in 1839 and now comprising 3,380 members, the RIAI is the support and registration body for architects in Ireland and the membership body for architectural technologists. The RIAI works to ensure the safety of the public through the efficient and effective administration of the register of architects and the maintenance of standards within architectural education.
Since the introduction and ongoing implementation of BCAR, the RIAI considers this legislation to be far-reaching in improving the standards of design and construction of building, particularly the building of houses and apartments. BCAR, SI 9 of 2014, ensures that all parties involved in the design and construction are aware of their responsibilities. These responsibilities are confirmed by documentation, inspection plans, certification and ancillary certification, enabling houses and apartments to be registered on the local authority register.
The RIAI acknowledges the annual reviews of SI 9 of 2014 by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the construction industry and has proposed a number of amendments to the legislation which we believe will further improve the purpose of the legislation. First, putting the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, on a statutory footing would help to ensure appropriate competencies in building, which is the principal way of ensuring compliant and good quality building. The requirements that such developments are carried out by members of a statutory CIRI register should be seriously considered in the legislation.
Second, the introduction of the requirement for latent defects insurance, LDI, for all new housing and apartments should be executed by the developer during the conveyancing process to ensure consumer protection. LDI, when invoked, enables the insurer to immediately rectify the construction defects without recourse to law and at no cost to the consumer of the property, usually up to a ten-year period.
Third, we propose the repeal of Statutory Instrument 365 of 2015. The RIAI considers SI 365 is not in the consumer interest, either in short or long term, as the rigours of this statutory instrument are diluted to such an extent that it could permit bad construction practice without recourse for the consumer and subsequent consumers.
The RIAI, in conjunction with Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland, ACEI, Engineers Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, made technical recommendations for amendment to the Vacant Housing Bill 2017. I will briefly outline our 11 recommendations.
We identified that there is no need for a second layer of building regulation technical documents as proposed in the Bill. A single suite of technical guidance documents relating to the vacant homes legislation should be specific and sufficient. Documentation required at application stage should demonstrate compliance with the building regulations and the documentation should be described in the Bill.
Any existing vacant building being considered for occupancy must be structurally assessed by a qualified structural engineer and a condition survey executed by a qualified architect or building surveyor, all of whom must be covered by professional indemnity insurance.
Applications for the use of vacant properties should include proposals for dealing with specific risks, including radon, avoiding cold bridging and mould growth, timber rot and pests and access and facilities, particularly for people with compromised mobility.
The provisions of the Bill are not capable of coming into immediate effect as the local authorities' level of resources and competencies need to be put in place with the assistance of central government. Therefore, the Bill should not proceed to have force until these resources are carefully evaluated and demonstrably provided. Further focus on utilising the existing framework under the Building Control (Amendment) Regulation, BCAR, system should be considered.
The competency of authorised persons both at assessment of technical submission and inspection of works stages should be defined. These competencies must align with those of design certifier and assigned certifier as set out in Statutory Instrument 9 of 2014.
The proposed inspection plan must align in compliance and complexity with the SI 9 risk based inspection plan and be executed in accordance with the code of practice for inspecting and certifying buildings and works.
The employment of the project supervisor design process, PSDP, and project supervisor construction stage, PSCS, will still be required as per SI 9. Issues relating to co-owned party walls require particular attention. The provision of a fast-track appeals process must also be considered.
We have concerns regarding the replacement of the BCAR model with the permit approval process as we consider it is impracticable to enforce and will undermine the current regulation procedure.
I will now address fire safety in houses and apartments. The code of practice for fire safety in flats of July 1994 could be reconsidered and updated to deal with change of use of existing buildings to apartments and flats, rather than a new full technical guidance document. The current 1994 document is valid for existing buildings containing flats and existing mixed use, but does not cover change of use.
The RIAI would welcome the publication for consultation of an updated technical guidance document, Part B, which will include provisions for apartments and other buildings.
There are practicability issues for upgrading of existing buildings, in particular in relation to change of use of existing building stock. Current technical guidance documents are more appropriate for new builds.
Concerns relating to the construction stage and quality of workmanship and training, certification of quality of work in timber frame and stud partition systems, fire stopping, etc., could be addressed by the introduction of the CIRI legislation.
Mr. Dennis Keeley:
I thank the Chairman and committee for the invitation and I welcome the opportunity to attend and discuss fire safety issues. I am the acting chief fire officer for Dublin Fire Brigade. I am accompanied my colleague, Ms Mary O’Brien, senior executive fire prevention officer.
In 2017, Dublin Fire Brigade processed in excess of 160,000 emergency fire and ambulance 999 or 112 calls. There were 39,427 mobilisations to fire and rescue calls and 86,405 mobilisations to ambulance calls.
In addition, our objective is to promote fire safety through education and advice, help ensure fire safety standards are being adhered to in existing buildings and ensure the compliance with building regulations is achieved through good building design practice by competent professional designers. Consequently, our role is to ensure best practice in terms of fire safety in new and existing buildings.
In 2017, Dublin Fire Brigade issued 14 fire safety notices, three closure notices and 12 prosecutions and two High Court orders. In 2018, we have served 20 fire safety notices.
The building regulations are not prescriptive but are performance-based. The DFB administers Part B of the building regulations within Dublin City Council and supports the administration of Part B in the other three Dublin counties. Each Part is accompanied with a technical guidance document, TGD, and the DFB primarily deals with TGDB. Works carried out in accordance with TGDB are assumed to demonstrate prima facieevidence of compliance with building regulations.
The Building Control Regulations, 1997 to 2015, set out procedures and controls that require owners, builders, and registered construction professionals to demonstrate through the statutory register of building control activity that the works or buildings concerned have been designed and constructed in compliance with building regulations. The regulations apply to the construction of new buildings and to existing buildings which undergo an extension, a material alteration or a material change of use, with some exceptions. It is a statutory requirement under the regulations that a fire safety certificate must be sought and obtained for the construction, material alteration, and material change of use or extension to a building. The DFB, working in conjunction with the building control authorities of the four Dublin councils, process approximately 1,500 fire safety certificate applications per annum. A fire safety certificate, once granted, indicates that a building, if built in accordance with the design submitted, will be in accordance with building regulations. It is the responsibility of the designer, the builder and the owner to ensure that the building is built in accordance with the fire safety certificate and the building regulations. With the advent of the building control amendment regulations, BCAR, in 2014 there is now greater oversight and accountability of the construction of building and works.
I will now refer to challenges in respect of housing standards and fire safety. The DFB has no power of inspection or enforcement in a single dwelling. We can only advise about fire safety. Tragically, most fatalities due to fire occur in a single dwelling, and, to address that, we undertake community fire safety initiatives throughout the community to give advice and create awareness of fire safety best practice, in essence, to help people keep themselves safe from fire. All other buildings used for housing, including apartments and hostels, should comply with building regulations, if new or if materially changed or extended. Additionally, the Fire Services Act places responsibility on persons in control of a building for fire safety in that building in terms of the operation and management of the building, apartment or hostel. However, it is important that persons in control of buildings are aware of their responsibilities. That is especially important in the context of apartments.
The Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 provided for the setting up of an owners management company, OMC, for each apartment complex. It Is important that a formal OMC is created for each apartment complex, complete with sufficient funds to operate. Under the Fire Services Act, with regard to apartment buildings, the OMC is considered to be the person in control of the building and, therefore, responsible for fire safely in the apartment building. Any enforcement action carried out would be directed against the OMC or persons in control of an apartment building. Unless an OMC is adequately funded, it will be impeded in its capacity to manage fire safety in the apartment building. The OMC should ensure that active systems are maintained and passive fire safety elements are kept in good repair to ensure the fire safety design strategy of the apartment building is in place.
I would like to highlight the challenges and issues we have noted through our inspection programme, and, in particular, the deficiencies identified based on legacy building defects that occurred in that decade. We have found both construction defects and management inadequacies. While we have extensive powers, as explained under the aforementioned legislation, we are mindful of the impact of our actions and cost to homeowners. Our focus is on safety, risk mitigation and improving the safety of buildings. The DFB continues to work and engage with stakeholders in that regard. We will, however, use our powers to full effect, if warranted, to minimise risk to owners and occupiers.
At the fire safety certificate application design stage, the DFB is being presented with new building techniques and complex fire safety engineering design innovations. That poses challenges for us in terms of ensuring the design is in compliance with building regulations and will be built correctly. It is vital that there be good education and handover to the owner or eventual users in terms of the fire safety strategy of the building once the building is complete to ensure it will be operated within the fire safety strategy design parameters. We also consider the effect of the design innovations on our firefighting capabilities and the health and safety and training of firefighters. That is particularly pertinent in both high rise and complex building design. Those types of buildings are designed with a myriad fire safety features, both passive and active systems, to ensure compliance with building regulations, and the safety of occupants and firefighters.
In May 2018, the report of the fire safety task force, Fire Safety in Ireland, was published by Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The report addresses the public concerns and fears that were generated on foot of the Grenfell Tower fire and makes a number of recommendations to guide fire safety in Ireland. I welcome this report and its recommendations. It highlights the "engineer, educate and enforce" approach to fire safety in Ireland. I also welcome the recommendation of a more targeted inspection and enforcement approach based on risk assessment prioritisation. I further welcome the emphasis on education of persons in control and OMCs on their responsibilities under the Fire Services Act. I recommend that advice be given to apartment owners and representative bodies on their fire safety responsibilities and the importance of an adequately funded OMC. The continued emphasis towards community fire safety and helping citizens stay safe from fire is important and should be supported. We have a high prevalence of smoke alarms in homes but more could be done to ensure they are working correctly. More targeted campaigns and programmes should be developed based on operational intelligence. The leveraging and increased use of social media platforms should also be developed.
Dublin Fire Brigade is at the coalface in ensuring that building design is in compliance with building regulations and in responding to fires in buildings. As our building regulations are performance-based, we rely on fire safety engineering and also current codes of practice and guidance to check compliance of designs. It is important that standards referenced in guidance are kept current. It is also important that compliance with building regulations is demonstrated in respect of new building techniques and designs. The DFB will continue to support the national directive for fire and emergency management and the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government in the review of new codes of practice and standards with the purpose of improving fire safety in Ireland. I recommend that the review of TGDB be brought to a conclusion and published. In that regard, it will be important to take account of the findings in the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
DFB is committed to ensuring that Dublin is best prepared against the risk of fire. We will continue to promote fire safety best practice in all buildings and to help people stay safe in their homes.
Vice Chairman:I thank Mr. Keeley. I call Deputy Ó Broin.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I commend the men and women of the DFB and our fire services generally for often putting themselves at risk of harm to keep us safe. Everybody on the committee will agree with me on that.
Part of the purpose of today's session is to look specifically at the Fire Safety in Ireland report and its recommendations. I am mindful that it is important that members of this committee be responsible how we deal with this issue and that we do not engage in scaremongering or frightening people but we have a responsibility to scrutinise the report and the outworking of it. That is the spirit in which I will put questions.
I am interested in both the view of the Department and DFB on Ms Hegarty's suggestion that the terms of reference of the report may have been too limited at the outset, in particular in terms of height and the scope of the issues being addressed. I would welcome information on the rationale as to why those terms of reference were chosen and why, for example, other lower rise multiple unit developments were not included in the original decision because that is important.
I am also interested to hear the view of both fire brigade and the Department on the issues beyond the Grenfell Tower cladding in terms of other systems failures or regulatory failures that have been identified across the water, and some of the changes that have been implemented there as well.
I would like the Department to be explicit with the committee about how many buildings with fire safety risks were identified. What works were required to be done on those buildings and has the work been carried out? A report in The Irish Timesa few weeks ago identified 19 buildings where none of the required works had been done at that point, which is a concern given the report was published early this year. Could they also comment on the progress of the works?
There is a broader issue in terms of whether the existing regulations have been fully complied with. The second is whether the review throws up the need for regulatory change.
Could positive regulatory changes be made learning from the investigations into the Grenfell Tower fire and how the British authorities are dealing with that, as well as the Fire Safety in Ireland report?
The DFB presentation stated it is important that the standards referencing guidance be kept up to date. Is that a soft way of saying some of the standards referenced are not necessarily as current as the fire service would like them? Do the witnesses believe more updating needs to be done with some of those standards to ensure they are as current as needs be?
One of my concerns regarding the regulatory framework is this issue of dwelling houses occupied as single dwellings. I do not know the legislation as well as those on the panel. However, will they explain as clearly as possible the exclusions under the legislation for dwelling houses occupied as single dwellings? Given that these were defined in the 1980s, we are now in a period where even semi-detached or terraced houses are much more interlinked in terms of the construction mechanisms. Can we talk about any dwelling, bar a stand-alone house or bungalow, which is occupied in that way? I am thinking of Millfield Manor in Kildare in that what happens in one house or one apartment is automatically interlinked with others. Is the interpretation of that a problem? Is that an area in which we need legislative change? When I talk to people who live in multi-unit developments, they often express a concern that this particular statutory provision is used by either developers or owners to limit the application of the regulatory framework to protect their interests as inhabitants of single-use dwellings, but they are fundamentally interconnected with their neighbouring dwellings.
Whatever about the inspection regime and SI No. 9/2014, the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, for multiple use developments, whether residential or commercial, or those kinds of developments that have higher fire safety risks, should we not move to a stage where those buildings are all subject to mandatory fire risk inspections during the construction process, whether it be local authority fire safety inspectors, etc? Given the issues we are dealing with, surely that type of building should be subject to those mandatory inspections.
What is the Department's response to the four recommendations made by Ms Orla Hegarty? When we as politicians talk to residents affected by these matters, the one point they make is that nobody shares information with them. Millfield Manor is a good case in point. The families who owned the homes surrounding the block in Millfield Manor that went on fire were the last to know the outcome of the fire safety inspections. That is the wrong way to do this. How can we improve the communication between people who occupy, or live adjacent to, affected buildings that have fire safety risks in order that they are fully informed at all times of the risks to themselves? The idea that residents in Millfield Manor or Belmayne, for example, have to wait 18 months before they get information that many other people, including departmental, local authority officials and fire safety experts have at an earlier stage, is wrong. We need to think about this can be improved.
We are increasingly encountering constituents in local authority and in private multi-unit developments built at the height of the boom where damp and mould are becoming a significant problem. It is not just in the big urban areas but in rural towns. The standard response in a local authority setting, for example, is that this is a lifestyle issue. My local authority has a wonderful booklet which tells one should not put one’s clothes hanging on dryers and so forth. While all of that is true, it is clear that failure to comply with building standards, certainly pre-2014, has created structural problems in many of these buildings. We need to have an informed discussion on Government and local authority policy to deal with that issue. Simply throwing it back on the residents telling them to use their dryer less, even if they are not doing that, is not an adequate response. We have a structural problem we need to discuss. If the panel could briefly comment on this, we might return to it at a later stage.
Mr. Paul Lemass:
I welcome the Deputy’s characterisation as the outworking of the report. The report very much sets a blueprint of where we need to get to. It also underlines existing good practice. Many of the measures in the report are happening. We want to document and endorse them through the report. In my opening statement, I referred to the group that has been set up to take this forward as part of the subgroup. There is a significant work in progress.
The report deals in detail with buildings over six storeys and multi-occupancy social housing but it goes way beyond that. The terms of reference referred to identifying and considering urgent issues of fire safety in Ireland in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. They also referred to appraising existing arrangements for fire safety and preparing a report thereon for the Minister. If one looks at the report, we have embraced those second terms of reference actively and we address a range of issues, not just those associated with high rise buildings.
On the fourth point which Ms Orla Hegarty identified regarding the State authorities and resourcing, during the downturn, local authorities shed staff in many areas. The total of 37,000 whole-time equivalents was reduced to 27,000, which was a significant retrenchment. In all of that time, the one area that was ring-fenced was the fire service and the capacity to respond operationally to fires. When everyone was taking pain, fire services were not cut. That is a fair reflection of the priority that has been given to that area. It has not suffered from the retrenchment in the ways other sectors have. It is an important point in the context of adequately resourcing State agencies.
Mr. John Barry:
Starting last summer, the Department asked fire services to identify taller buildings throughout the country, particularly those fitted with cladding. Then the Department requested local authorities to consider in the case of buildings fitted with cladding whether it would be warranted for fire services to use their powers under section 18(6) of the Fire Services Act to require the person having control over the building to carry out a fire safety assessment. That assessment can then give further information as to whether there is a need for remedial works for the general building or to the cladding insulation.
Some 838 buildings above 18 m or six storeys were identified. Of those, 373 of those were residential buildings and 465 non-residential. Of the 838 buildings identified, 287 were fitted with a cladding insulation which was of interest. Of those, 104 were residential and 183 non-residential.
Fire safety assessments were required by fire services in 219 cases. That is an adjustment to the figure of 226 that we have heard. The current figure is 219. Of these, 102 were residential and 117 non-residential buildings. According to the most recent figures we have received from local authorities, 138 fire safety assessments have been received, 61 of which are for residential and 77 for non-residential buildings. That leaves 81 fire safety assessments outstanding, 41 for residential and 40 for non-residential buildings. Some 67 of the 81 are in process, that is, the fire safety assessments are being made and prepared, of which 34 are for residential and 33 for non-residential buildings. That leaves 14 where fire safety assessments have not yet been started, of which seven are for residential and seven for non-residential buildings.
Mr. John Barry:
It involves a number of local authorities. There is a range of issues. When I say assessments have not been started, it is not in all cases necessarily due to an owner not co-operating. There are cases where the ownership is not necessarily clear such as where ownership of a building is transferring and who the owner is has to be established.
Mr. John Barry:
Staying with the numbers across the country arising from the assessment process, in the assessments the fire services have received they have identified issues of concern in 35 buildings, 28 of which are residential and seven are non-residential. In a very small number of cases the concerns identified relate to cladding. Most of the issues relate to matters that arise in buildings generally. Before the Grenfell Tower fire, we were hearing about issues arising in buildings. There are management or procedural issues in buildings such as the management of fire safety measures, the maintenance of fire detection alarm systems, the maintenance of emergency lighting systems and the keeping of maintenance records, including the maintenance of fire resistant doors in working order. Then there are matters such as fire stopping in compartmentation within buildings, issues about which we have heard in recent years. They have arisen in some of these cases. In a very small number of buildings - I have been informed of two cases - it has been found necessary to consider the replacement of cladding. That work is under way in one building and about to start in another. They are more significant works.
In December, as part of the work of the fire safety task force, we developed and issued guidance for fire services and professionals involved in fire safety assessment work. The guidance is on the assessment of cladding systems and factors that could be taken into account. There is a great deal of technical detail in the guidance, but one of the important points is that if an issue is found where a concern about rapid fire spread in the building is considered to be very serious, consideration should be given to the building ceasing to be occupied, pending the completion of remedial works to cladding systems. No case has yet been brought forward where the fire service has considered this to be necessary.
Of the buildings I have mentioned where fire safety assessments are outstanding, in process and expected, fire officers have been in all of them. They have confirmed, or the person having control has confirmed, the existence of life safety systems, fire detection alarm systems and emergency lighting systems and that there are adequate means of escape for people in the premises. These are the basic things that are examined first to ensure they are in place in buildings within this category. While remedial work needs to be done to bring the buildings and cladding insulation on the buildings up to standard, in the meantime, if the basic provisions for life safety are in place, fire services generally do not see the need to cease the occupation of buildings.
On the time being taken to complete this work throughout the country, the fire safety assessment, particularly of cladding insulation on buildings, is work that should be done by persons with a high degree of specialist knowledge. There are only a certain number of people in the country who have that expertise and they are already busy working in the fire safety certification process about which we heard in the opening statements. They tend to be quite engaged in that work on an ongoing basis; therefore, finding the capacity within the fire safety consultancy industry to carry out this work has been an issue. That explains why it is an ongoing process. While it is an ongoing process, in general, fire services have not reported to us on issues that are causing them such immediate concern that buildings should cease to be occupied. We will continue to oversee this work and intend to report to the Minister at the end of the process.
Mr. Paul Lemass:
Before Ms Neary responds, I wish to endorse one thing Mr. Barry said. He went through a complex set of numbers, which leaves two sets of seven where assessments have not yet started. In all of these cases chief fire officers or assistant chief fire officers have visited the buildings and are satisfied that alarms, emergency lighting systems and escape routes are in place. Combining this with the policy to evacuate the building in the event of a fire and the strong awareness at local level of where the buildings are gives us comfort that there is no life safety issue.
Ms Sarah Neary:
To deal with some of the recommendations made in Ms Hegarty's report, the Building Regulations Advisory Board, BRAB, was finished in 2012. It was part of a wider programme of reducing the numbers of agencies and independent bodies. From 2012 we were working on the new building control regulations that were introduced in 2014. There was extensive public consultation on them; there were high level working groups both in the Department and the local authorities and extensive consultation with the industry. Much of that work has continued in the review and implementation of the BCAR. Yesterday there was a meeting with industry representatives. Even a year after the BCAR was introduced in 2015, there was another public consultation process. We consider that there is good communication between various sectors in how building control legislation is evolving.
On market surveillance, the building control authorities are the market surveillance authorities. There is a framework in place that explains the roles and responsibilities and processes involved. Ms Hegarty mentioned the RAPEX notices, a number of which have been issued. We liaise with our European counterparts and anything of relevance is disseminated through building control authorities. Our market surveillance is largely on a reactive basis, but in the past few years we have carried out market surveillance projects each year on a number of products.
Regarding the building regulations and standards not being sufficient, a huge amount of work goes into developing the technical guidance documents on the regulations in order that they can be communicated across the industry. Since 2014 we have seen an increasing number of queries about the interpretation of the technical guidance documents. They are being read and used probably more than ever before.
On the training of building control officers and training across the industry - the RIAI might explain what it is doing in that regard - there is a huge amount of training being carried out on various aspects of the building regulations and inspections. Competency is ensured through the three regulated professions.
As regards the building control management project, the lead local authority has been established in Dublin City Council. It provides a central governance and oversight structure for building control officers across the country.
The lead local authority is embedded in Dublin City Council. Three regional committees have been established and meetings are taking place on a quarterly basis. It is a very important opportunity to disseminate the national position and provide upward feedback from building control officers relating to what they are finding on the ground. This is all in the interest of increasing consistency across the country and establishing a better understanding of the detail in the guidance documents and how to achieve compliance.
Deputy Ó Broin referred to inspections of residential and commercial buildings, the more risky buildings, if you like. The task force recommended that fire safety inspections should be carried out by competent people from the local authority. That is very much embedded in the building control management project. I will not go into the policy around the inspections process but our goal is risk-based targeted inspections. We have several measures in place and much work has been undertaken this year to set methodologies and policies around identifying the risk. We have discussed some of those previously. That creates a situation where one can identify risk and target the buildings that are most at risk.
I would be happy to deal with the matter of mould on another occasion. As Mr. Lemass noted in his opening statement, there are three parts to the regulations that deal with preventing mould occurring in buildings. If one looks at the underlying causes of mould growth, it is either one of two things. It can be ingressive water from the outside or from the ground and cold areas in buildings. The ingressive water is dealt with under part C of the regulations which are designed to prevent ground water rising into a building or rain water getting into a building. Part L deals with limiting thermal bridging which are cold spots in buildings which, given certain conditions, would facilitate the growth of mould or condensation on a surface. Proper ventilation in the building is also fundamental to preventing these. We often see situations where vents are blocked up or not used properly or mechanical systems not being maintained properly. These are all contributory factors. Occupant behaviour is a huge aspect. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss it in more detail later.
Ms Orla Hegarty:
The point and purpose of the building regulations advisory board is that it is independent and transparent. I was not aware until just now that there an annual review of Building Control Amendment Regulations, BCAR, has been undertaken. Those reports have not been published.
There is also a risk, to which I alluded earlier, about new methods of construction in lighter buildings. There needs to be transparency about this because new products are coming on stream and they are different to traditional construction where a small pallet of materials we re put together on a site. There are now very sophisticated constructions and we need to know there regulatory process and approval process for them because they are evolving very quickly. One recommendation is that there is a broader participation and that the reporting is published.
I wanted to make a point about the Hackitt report which was the UK response to the Grenfell fire. The headline issue on the Hackitt report is that the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose. The Irish system is modelled on the UK system, although one could argue that the UK system has more controls and more independence than the Irish system. If the UK system is not fit for purpose and the Irish system is modelled on it, but weaker, then we should take that very seriously. Some specific recommendations in the Hackitt report point to the fact that the BCAR system is inadequate. The Hackitt report addresses issues specifically where BCAR would be inadequate and I will name just a couple.
One is that, "It should not be possible for a client to choose their own regulator or for a regulator to be unable to apply sanctions against a dutyholder where such action is warranted". That does not happen under BCAR. There should not be any conflicts of interest, where we have conflicts of interest right through our system. It says that "The sanctions and enforcement regime should be reinforced so that penalties are an effective deterrent." We do not have a system beyond a soft approach towards enforcement. It also recommends a regulator and a mandatory reporting system, as happens in the aviation industry and in good practice quality assurance in other sectors, and a requirement to report on a no-blame basis. If someone is involved in a building management or construction process there should to be mandatory reporting on a no-blame basis. The thing that has improved standards in the aviation industry and many other sectors is having a culture of transparency about mistakes and errors and a constant feedback loop on information for improvement. We do not have a feedback loop in our system of construction and building regulation, we do not have transparency about any of that, and if anything, because of the litigation culture, we have a system of closing down information which means that mistakes are being repeated everywhere and there is no learning coming back. It is proliferating the problem rather than solving it.
Mr. John O'Mahoney:
I will make a few comments before handing over to Mr. Bluett who is more versed in relation to fire.
In relation to mould, the way we seal buildings these days means that they are completely airtight. The problem with new buildings is that one can still put vents in a wall which means that the air does not circulate around the building. As practitioners we are starting to insist that there is a handling system within apartments and houses that actually extracts the air. There are methods of doing this and it is important that, perhaps through the regulations, they become a requirement. Otherwise one is dealing with stale, bad air which in turn leads to all problems that we are dealing with.
Just observing the Millfield Manor fire as an architect, it seemed clear that the fire prevention methodologies on the party walls were not in place so the fire spread at a very fast rate. That leads to the problem of how we supervise and how fire safety regulations are applied on site. As practitioners, for us as architects, making sure that the fire elements are in place would be our top priority for inspection. Within the building construction industry now, particularly in more complicated buildings, there is a management construction system which means that effectively the contractor is managing a whole series of subcontractors. We are now starting to find, because of the inspection plans that BCAR has put in place, that when it comes to the builder inspecting the works, subcontractors works are all done independently and the inspections by the contractors fall between two stools. We, as professionals, are constantly coming back and inspecting subcontractors work and condemning it which is really not our job. Therefore, things can fall between the cracks. The institute is starting to consider the idea of a supervision plan. While we have an inspection plan at the moment which identifies responsibilities for professions and so on in inspection, we think the introduction of a supervision plan which puts a much stronger onus on the contractor signing off on his or her inspection responsibilities may help to reduce this potential for falling between the cracks. Mr. Bluett may care to comment more specifically on the issue of fire.
Mr. Peter Bluett:
We are trying to paint a whole industry with one brush but there are so many different segments. For clarity, we must distinguish between older buildings and the newer buildings which were built under the building control. There is a whole different set of items that must be looked at in relation to fire safety between those two. I will first focus on the older buildings. Older buildings do not have the same issues that one has with the building regulations but, for instance, with mould, one must open the window and let the air through. There are issues with fire safety.
These issues relate to the fact the building regulations may not be appropriate for those buildings and one may need to use guidance that is more appropriate for existing buildings. There are also issues with change of use in these buildings, which I have noted in the report.
With regard to the technical guidance document, we have two types of buildings. The technical guidance document is excellent and as an architect I have found the whole process very useful and helpful because it helps to guide us in the right direction. I call part B of the technical guidance document a 95% document because it has been designed to try to assist architects, designers and the building industry to build 95% of the building types we produce. These are the non-innovative type products. For most of our building types the technical guidance document is suitable and useful. The issue with specialist materials becomes the problem. We need to study these and work out whether they are suitable for purpose before they are used because they are not in the technical guidance document.
To go on to the Hackitt report, and the comparison between the UK and Ireland, there is another forum for this. We have a system here that is quite robust from the point of view of the technical guidance document. The fire safety certificate process is robust and very rigorous. One gets a fire safety certificate, which identifies as safe a building that is built in line with it. It then goes on site. The issues I find as a practitioner are down to quality control, trying to get the right products, not having replacement of products and ensuring the people building it understand what they are building. There are training processes that need to be put in place with regard to the people applying all of these products. This comes back to the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, the qualification of the building contractor and CIRI's processes and controls with regard to the construction.
People think building is simple but it is not. The building process is complex. It needs a lot of learning and study. We cannot just send in someone to build a wall and hope it works. The person must understand what is being built. The example of the fire in Kildare was given. Someone putting in a panel must understand fire stopping needs to be put in place to stop a fire going from one side to another. What we find in the industry are people who understand what they are doing themselves but they do not understand the big picture. As has been mentioned, we need to understand the overall process. The master builder, who has put himself or herself forward to construct the building, needs to understand what he or she is doing, understand that the safety of people is what is being achieved and he or she needs to get these details right. We should not be coming on site as an architect to pick up all of these basic issues that should be understood in the construction process.
Going through the building control (amendment) regulations, BCAR, and conflicts of interest, these are areas that would take a whole day to speak about. A mandatory reporting process was mentioned. I do not have the qualifications to discuss these.
The design process generally is very good if it is done by people who are qualified. The fire safety certificate process is robust. People get a final safety certificate. The drawings are prepared and checked. It is important the process is implemented on site. The transfer of information to building owners is very important and there is a process for this. The taskforce has brought up items to try to make it stronger. I was on the taskforce and I raised many of these issues. Some of them were taken on board. It is important that building owners understand their responsibilities and what they need to do to keep the building up to standard. Buildings are technical units and they need to be provided with proper maintenance as the building goes on.
Mr. Dennis Keeley:
To go back to inspections in the greater Dublin area, it is important to state that during our research we found no building in the Dublin area at Grenfell level. There is no building like Grenfell in the Dublin area and this should give people some comfort.
We visually inspected 650 residential tall buildings and 285 commercial tall buildings. They included apartments, hotels, hostels and airports. It was a fairly broad spectrum of building types. Following this, we wrote to 63 of those identified buildings, 21 of which were residential and 42 were commercial. We engaged with all of them and we received a response from all of them. Seven of them merited further discussion and investigation. The cladding of one building is in the process of being removed but this is more because of the integrity of the cladding itself as opposed to fire safety aspects. These are the facts and figures on the greater Dublin area.
With regard to Deputy Ó Broin's question on standards, it was more with regard to technical guidance document B, which we use for compliance, and the importance of having it completed, taking account of the Grenfell inquiry.
Another issue related to mandatory inspections. There were 1,000 inspections in Dublin city last year and to date we are at 1,500. Some of this is due to additional personnel over that time, which allowed us to increase our inspection capacity.
Ms Sarah Neary:
To clarify, it is not that we have an annual review of BCAR, it is that a review took place in March 2015, a year after implementation of the BCAR system. With regard to new products on the market, if products do not fall within European or Irish standards the way to demonstrate compliance with the building regulations is through third-party certification. This is the only way we can ensure products are suitable for their intended specific use and the conditions in which they are being used.
I do not agree that Dame Hackitt's report undermines BCAR. It finds many of the same problems as were identified in the Irish system by the high level group in 2011, such as the lack of professional involvement throughout the construction process and the lack of accountability. Dame Hackitt's report deals with clarity of roles and responsibilities, on which we have an entire document. We have identified people and their responsibilities in the design and construction stages. This is her point on the golden thread of responsibility. Another item she raised was on change controls. Where people change products or designs during construction it is a major risk to a project. This is explicitly referenced in our 2014 code of practice Significant changes on issues that relate to compliance with building regulations must be notified. Dame Hackitt refers to health and safety legislation and, in many ways, BCAR is based on a similar model, whereby the people involved in construction and design are directly responsible for their work. There is effective oversight inspection and a risk-based approach through the control authorities. I am happy to discuss this in more detail on another occasion.
I have learned a lot. Most of all, I have had reassurance from the fire officer that neither he nor the Department is aware of any buildings which have the potential to cause a fire such as happened at Grenfell Tower. He said fire officers had inspected the 14 remaining buildings and found no issues regarding cladding. He said there was sometimes no clarity as to who owned a building and often no management company. Do local authorities or statutory agencies have powers to go in and get these things done themselves? Are these bodies ultimately responsible? If there are fire hazards it is important they are dealt with immediately.
During the boom, many fine housing estates were built and there was some appalling and disgraceful construction. The difficulty was that the local authority did not have the capacity to keep an eye on everything, notwithstanding the huge fees it got and the expansion in staff it had. That was entirely unacceptable. I recognise the professionalism of the architects present but when one buys a house or rents an apartment one assumes everything is right. I agree with Ms Hegarty that transparency and accountability go to the heart of this. Everybody believes the statutory agencies are doing their job and that professional people have done their job but when they have not, how do we know? Where are the oversight, the vigilance and the analysis?
I do not have professional knowledge but I have listened to the professionals' recommendations. I am very concerned about what they said about the Hackitt report. More transparency and accountability are needed and there should be action if people are not doing their job. If the Hackitt report is as critical as they say, what should we do now? What do we have to change?
I agree with Deputy O'Dowd that the presentations were very informative. My first question is to the Department. What happens now with the fire safety report? Will there be further research to confirm the extent to which fire safety measures are in place and will this research be ongoing?
In light of the necessity for new buildings, does the fire department have the necessary resources to scale up its work? I ask the same question of the architectural department. Does it have the resources to conduct the necessary inspections?
Ms Hegarty spoke of a feedback loop. What does she mean by that in regard to the Department and how will it happen? She spoke of the physics of buildings and of dampness. Mr. O'Mahony said residents will now have to come up with a piece of equipment to suck air out. What is happening there? We have always been aware of dampness in buildings but is it a growing problem as a result of changes in temperatures? Is there more moisture as a result of climate change? Is it related to the way buildings are designed?
We spoke to Ms Neary at the meeting of the Committee on Climate Action yesterday. We spoke about renovating older housing stock and the deep retrofitting of buildings. Does she expect this will help mitigate the problem of dampness? Could it contribute to dampness if the physics is not properly dealt with?
Two of my original questions were not answered, one of which was on the single dwelling house and the 1981 Act. What exclusions pertain to that? Can the witnesses give their view on whether that bit of the legislation is outdated, given the changes in building technology? Only Ms Hegarty responded to the question on the failure of authorities to give information at the earliest possible opportunity to residents who were affected by this. I am thinking of the fire safety report for Millfield Manor and the fact that it took 18 months for people to get it from when the report was commissioned.
The information about the inspections which have been carried out was very helpful and reassuring but are there any buildings where works are required but not progressing, causing concerns for the taskforce or the fire services?
Mr. Paul Lemass:
The Minister has accepted the report and has tasked the national director for fire and emergency management to take forward the actions contained in it which are directly within his ambit, and to oversee the implementation of the other recommendations. A subcommittee has been set up to take that work forward. It is a charter for the future development of fire services and it will be led by the national directorate for fire and emergency management. It will involve a significant increase in resourcing for the directorate and we are in the process of putting additional resources in place for that purpose. It will also involve the implementation of the 63 recommendations and will not, therefore, only apply to multi-unit or multi-storey properties.
It was stated earlier that no regulatory change had been signalled and I wish to correct that. There will be significant regulatory change as part of the process including, but not limited to, the question of a person having control of a building, which is what Mr. Bluett referenced. Mr. Barry will talk about single dwellings and Ms Neary will talk about the provision of information.
Mr. John Barry:
I will deal with Deputy Ó Broin's question about whether any of the 28 residential and seven non-residential buildings was causing concern.
A minority of those relate to cladding. Most of the others relate to building features or fire safety issues in buildings that were found before Grenfell Tower and are the sorts of things that can arise in buildings. If the Deputy is asking me if there is a concern that no building has been reported that is of such serious concern that the fire service has taken the view that occupation of that building should cease, it is perhaps worth saying that from the reports I hear from fire services, as far as we can tell, while I am not able to say that there is none in the country, I have no report of the specific type of cladding that caused concern with Grenfell Tower being present. I am not able to say there is none in the country but people do not seem to be finding it as part of this exercise. That is worth noting. While there is fire safety work to be done, there is no building that is the sort of concern the Deputy is asking me about.
On single dwellings and the exclusion in legislation, it is worth clarifying the particulars. I could characterise the legislation dealing with fire safety in buildings in two ways. The Building Control Act and the provisions under building regulations deal with the construction of buildings and their preparation for occupation. The Fire Services Act deals with the management of that building, its operation and provisions for fire safety during the occupation of that building. That second Act has an exclusion for houses occupied as single dwellings from those requirements and the powers of inspection and enforcement of fire services. There is not an exclusion, however, to construct dwelling houses to meet the requirements of building regulations in the first place.
With regard to fire safety in buildings, fire services do not have powers to require people to manage fire safety in their own homes. However, we have a significant communications exercise. Members will be aware that last week was fire safety week when we promote fire safety, fire safety awareness and fire safe behaviours in homes. We kick off a campaign at this time every year in which we emphasise the importance of installing and testing smoke alarms; dealing with obvious dangers in the home, including sources of ignition and smokers' materials; switching off electrical appliances and unplugging them at night; having a night-time routine; and having in place a plan in case of fire or alarm during the night or any time during the day to get family members safely out of a home, including those who may need assistance, such young, old and vulnerable members of the household. That is the sort of advice we give to householders about fire safety in houses and homes across the country. Given that last week was fire safety week, I am glad to have the opportunity to bring that forward. We constantly emphasise that the most important action householders can take for fire safety for families is to install a smoke alarm.
Ms Sarah Neary:
With regard to the fire safety report, in 2015, the Minister directed that a review be undertaken by a fire expert to develop a framework for general application which would provide support to owners and residents living in developments where there were concerns about fire safety. A steering group was convened by Kildare County Council in conjunction with the Department and during that process, the chair met the residents on a number of occasions to explain what the committee was doing and seeking volunteers to inspect the house. The terms of reference included carrying out a case study based on the housing estate in question. The residents were communicated with throughout that process.
Ms Sarah Neary:
On the issue of retrofitting the housing stock in 2014 or 2015, the Department and a number of different stakeholders worked with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, to produce a code of practice for retrofitting. The document was the first of its kind. Something similar was done in Canada a number of years before that but this brought together all available advice on how to retrofit individual houses in the right way to the right standards. A large part of the code of practice deals with the requirement to put in ventilation when one is increasing airtightness through insulation, whether external or internal. Specific offline studies were done on particular aspects on which we needed further information. That is a core document in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant scheme. The SEAI refers to it with regard to compliance with the standard recommendation. It is the SR 54 code of practice for retrofitting existing buildings.
Ms Orla Hegarty:
Deputy O'Dowd raised the issue of who pays for outstanding buildings. It is important to point out that this is a global issue. The issue with combustible cladding did not start at Grenfell. Major fires were happening approximately every four months globally before Grenfell. It would misrepresent the position to argue that the issue is one of one rogue material finding its way onto a building. The issue with Grenfell is not just the cladding but the way it was assembled, the location of windows, the failure of compartmentation, the inadequacy of escape routes and the fact that ventilation and lighting on alarms did not work. There are myriad reasons which go to the root of how construction industry procurement is happening, including how the regulatory systems have been deregulated and outsourced. I emphasise that this needs to be very broadly considered and not in some narrow way.
The way in which this would be paid for and resourced and the way in which enforcement will work with regard to requiring buildings to be evacuated or works to be done are live issues in many countries. We need a broader forum where this can be actively done. My personal view is that having invited stakeholder groups does not open up the process to the rest of the industry to enable it to know what is happening and anticipate what is coming next. This affects how people are designing buildings. We need a much more open system to signal what the issues are, who is providing input and what likely future paths through this will be. I do not believe we have that at the moment.
What happens next is all part of it. There will definitely be an issue with resources for these buildings. It would be remiss of me not to mention the large number of defective buildings we already have. We have an enormous legacy issue of defective buildings that will need to be resourced and funded in some way. There is an information loop for the designers, the people doing remedial work and those who live in or use these buildings. There is a broader context.
Ms Orla Hegarty:
No. I sought that from the Department because I wanted a list compiled. Numbers were sought from local authorities.
I will address the issue of dampness. Building regulations are clear about ventilation, insulation and building physics. Perhaps the committee will return to this issue. The building energy register compiles all of the data for building energy for buildings that have grant-funded upgrades or new buildings. It captures a large amount of data on building physics. Two issues have become clear from the initial research done on that building energy register. First, there is substantial non-compliance in BER certificates and this issue needs to be addressed. Perhaps the Joint Committee on Climate Action will address that. Second, there is an indication that there are issues with ventilation and insulation, which will have an impact on indoor air quality and people's health. This is a substantial issue which needs to be actively addressed. There are issues with conflicting regulations, on which work is under way. There is also the broader issue that not much has been built, particularly houses, for the past ten years. There has been a rapid change in regulations and a lack of upskilling, public information and technical details about these changes that people can use. As the details that are publicly available are not up to date, people are using out-of-date information on how to put together materials on building. It is a significant issue.
Will Mr. O'Mahony or Mr. Bluett comment please?
Mr. John O'Mahony:
We were asked whether the industry has the capacity to conduct the inspections. Until the introduction of the building control amendment regulations, as professionals, we did one inspection on a building on completion. We signed a certificate that, from a visible inspection on a single visit, the building complied with the building regulations. That was clearly totally inadequate at the time. Since the introduction of BCARs, I remember taking a look at the minimum number of inspections the professionals were carrying out on a very simple house, which was 36 inspections through the construction process. In our practice, the number would be higher than that and the inspections would be based not only on the inspection plan requirement but also on paying regular drop-in visits to the site.
As a professional practice with a large housing element, we deal with many dwelling houses. At the last count, it was 26,000 dwellings. We have specific inspection teams set up whose sole purpose is inspection. This involves not only inspecting projects but also informing the rest of the practice as to how regulations are changing. The bigger practitioners do this across the board. As a profession, building inspectors are stepping up, but there are still gaps, probably in the construction side.
Ventilation was raised and Ms Orla Hegarty spoke about it. In very simple terms, old buildings were leaky and cold and new buildings are sealed and warm and when one has a sealed, warm building with people breathing, cooking and so on, air must be extracted. Our regulations should be more specific about extracting and changing the air. Again from personal practice I find that introducing fresh air using modern system means the internal environment is amazingly different from the normal environment that we experience in old leaky houses.
One of the major issues is the retrofitting. We have 2 million dwellings in the country. While the regulations are terrific for the small but increasing number of new buildings since 2014, we then have all of the housing supply that must be retrofitted over time. That issue must be addressed but I am not sure how that will be done, whether one offers a carrot or uses the stick. Houses do not get built and knocked down, they last for centuries. Commercial buildings get knocked down and replaced, but houses do not. The next step is to look at a retrofitting system. My colleague, Mr. Bluett, wishes to comment.
Mr. Peter Bluett:
Most of the queries raised have been addressed the queries. Transparency was mentioned. At the end of a job, the process is to have a safety file and the chain, the golden thread, of getting that to the end user is important. There is training required, in particular in larger developments, to ensure management companies meet the requirement to have somebody who understands the process of what the building is and is able to implement the safety element.
As to what happens next with the Fire Safety in Ireland report, the report made a number of recommendations. When proposals have been prepared on these recommendations, in particular on matters such as notices on buildings and the responsible person, the RIAI will want to be able to make comments on, add to and make recommendations on them.
I alluded to existing buildings and the fire regulations. The upgrading of existing buildings can be complex and difficult. There is technical guidance on fire in place, namely, the 1994 guide to fire safety in flats, bedsits and apartments in respect of existing apartments. That could be a basis for change of use as well in the same type of building. Trying to implement the full rigours of the technical guidelines on older buildings is difficult, if not impossible, and very costly. To be able to use this guidance for change of use would be important.
Mr. Dennis Keeley:
I will respond to Deputy O'Sullivan's query on resources. Dublin Fire Brigade has 35 members of staff in the fire prevention section. It is a challenging area in terms of staff retention, as a number of people move on because of external promotions. There is ongoing recruitment to maintain that number and we try our best to keep the number at that level. We have a targeted risk-based inspection programme based on our resources. We profile on a risk basis approach and under that, a high level of risk would be assigned to buildings where people are sleeping, such as hostels, hotels and hospitals. We are in discussions with Dublin City Council on the issue of staffing and that process is ongoing.
Deputy Ó Broin asked about the position when works are not progressing. In such circumstances, we try to engage with the owner occupiers. We have found the need, unfortunately, to go to court to ensure that people are safe in buildings and make the buildings safe. In the past year, we served 14 fire safety notices and there were two High Court actions and 12 prosecutions. Our ultimate idea is to engage with the stakeholders and ensure that people work with us. Unfortunately, as the figures show, there are occasions where we have to use our powers.
On the question of the non-notifying of householders when action is taking place, when dealing with apartment complexes where we discover faults or fire safety issues, our procedures provide that we will deal with the owners' management companies and inform them of the type of action that will take place. As part of that process, we try to ensure a leaflet drop for every resident is provided, outlining the action that is taking place and a range of fire safety features that should be considered both generally and while the work is being done. The remaining issues have been addressed.
Ms Orla Hegarty:
Mr. O'Mahony would be working in the very compliant end of the sector. It is important to point out that inspection opt-outs are being sought for a substantial number of new houses. Another substantial sector of new build housing is in the zone where the industry rate for an inspection regime is about €2,000. This certainly would not deliver the number of inspections that Mr. O'Mahony referenced in his company.
There is a skills shortage across the industry. If it is anticipated that housing output will increase from 14,500 new homes last year to 25,000 new homes in the next year or two, sufficient resources to inspect these homes will not be available, unless there is some strategic approach to using resources in a targeted way. We will be back to where we were ten or 15 years ago when inspections were visual. It will just mean there is more paperwork attached. The resources are not available to do eight, ten or 20 inspections on every new house. The regime has to be rethought.
In the light of the demand for housing, the need to build houses and the lack of skilled personnel in the construction industry and the point made by Ms Hegarty on the personnel required for inspections and fire safety, what is the Department doing to ensure we can scale up in the construction sector?
Mr. Paul Lemass:
I will outline the role of the Department and the sanctioning role for recruiting new staff. I do not have the exact figures to hand but I believe the Department has sanctioned in the order of 700 to 800 staff in the area of housing in the past three to four years. Any requests that come in for additional staffing in these areas have been processed very quickly. We have very few on hand so that if a local authority identifies a resource gap, we do what we can to plug it and to accommodate it in that way. We are sanctioning staff.
In regard to the skills shortage, is the Department working with the other Departments in terms of education and training and the acquisition of skills to ensure there will be sufficient skilled people in the industry? There is a significant shortage of skilled staff.
Ms Sarah Neary:
There are two elements to the staff shortage. There is a shortage of skilled staff in the construction industry and in the professional resources needed to carry out the inspections.
Mr. O'Mahony mentioned the 3,380 professional members in the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, RIAI, who are all available to do the assigned certifier role. We do not see that there is a significant skills shortage, or at least we have not been made aware of that in terms of the assigned certifier role or the building control amendment regulations, BCAR, role, whatever about the skills shortage on the labouring side of the industry. We are working with the Department of Education and Skills on that. There is an entire policy around that and the efficiencies within the industry and the move towards greater off-site construction. I am not saying that it is perfect but there is work going on this, even though it is not our direct responsibility.
Even in the social housing realm we have been very actively promoting off-site construction. We have developed, in conjunction with the Office of Government Procurement, a framework of design-build contractors using off-site construction and social housing projects are pulling off that framework now. Dublin County Council went earlier in the summer to the industry looking for expressions of interest to do off-site construction apartment building, whether it is a volumetric-type programme. There is a significant move towards that and that is less labour intensive.
In the code of practice for inspecting and certifying buildings, which we produced as a guidance document to the introduction of BCAR back in 2014, and revised in 2016, there is a sample inspection plan for housing. It goes through the risk assessment of how to assess the risk associated with the building, or in this case a house, by identifying the risk and the most appropriate times for inspection. It gives an example for a non-complex dwelling. There is guidance out there and we have been working very closely with the industry to develop that and support the process of inspection.
I will ask a few questions.
On multi-unit developments and the owners' management companies referred to by Mr. Keeley, the apartment owners attended the committee before the summer, and they equally have a concern that they do not have the funds in place to carry out the works necessary. What can we do on this or is there any solution to try to help them to deal with latent defects and, indeed, to try to keep fire standards up to the mark?
On the individual buildings, regrettably and tragically, as Mr. Keeley has said, most of the tragedies occur in single buildings. When an individual property is sold, does it at that stage have to have any certification that it is fire certified? Is there any process at that point?
We are now inspecting HAP properties. As part of that inspection process, are individual houses inspected for fire certification? Could the Department give us a quick update on the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, Bill and where that is at the moment.
Ms Sarah Neary:
We received a Government decision in May 2016 to proceed with the general scheme of the CIRI Bill. It went to pre-legislative scrutiny in the summer of last year. This committee came back with comments and recommendations which have been reviewed with our legal advisers. We now have a parliamentary counsel assigned to it in the Attorney General's office. We are working with the parliamentary counsel on the drafting and we hope to bring it forward in the first half of next year.
On HAP properties, it is not my particular area. Perhaps we could come back to the committee on that.
Ms Sarah Neary:
The benchmark there would be the rental standards and they have a number of provisions on fire safety measures. On units changing hands or being bought and sold, the introduction of the certificate of compliance on completion, CCC, will now be sought in the initial stage when a new property is being purchased. This is certainly an aspect of conveyancing practice. Into the future, as those new buildings start changing hands, that CCC should travel with the building.
Ms Sarah Neary:
Due diligence when making a major purchase like that might dictate that one would get one's professional advisers to look at the building to see if it has changed in any way. Building regulations do not apply retrospectively so it would be a good practice to have an inspection done by a professional.
Mr. Paul Lemass:
On the management companies for multi-unit dwellings, the task force report recognises the fact that it is essential the operating management companies need to be able to raise the funds to provide the facilities. It endorses the issue and that is far as it can go with it at this point.
Ms Orla Hegarty:
There is an opportunity to streamline these inspections. There are a lot of different things going on and as to being efficient with resources, there is a HAP regime for inspections, there is a Residential Tenancies Board regime to be ramped up for inspections and there are the BCAR inspections. Effectively, the three of them are all looking after public safety. There is a great opportunity here for some alignment to strategically do a standardised checklist for housing that is safe for occupation and does not necessarily need to be done by registered professionals. A cohort of trained people could maybe pass it on if they run into difficult situations or complex issues. The only way that this whole market can be rectified is to have a new system that looks across the board at safe housing and has an inspection regime that can be done, usually in quite a light touch way, by people who would be trained up to do that.
Mr. John O'Mahony:
What we can do about defence was mentioned. We would wholeheartedly recommend latent defects insurance, LDI, for new builds, as being a part of the system. There is a no fault approach, it is fixed and it is sorted for the consumer. It is sorted out separately from a legal point of view. The consumer's interests are protected. We would strongly support that.
SI 9 should apply to all new buildings. It is a very simple fix. What I am hearing here is that there are two cohorts. There is a cohort of new build, which is really well regulated. There is now a necessity to look at current buildings and try to see how we can deal with those in terms of all regulation, legally, practically and in terms of conveyancing and safety. That is a huge ask. That is something that needs attention as we start to press vacant buildings back into use. There is a terrific document which the Department is about to issue called, Bringing Back Homes, which as a piece of work is very good to notify the public as to how they do this. Within it is a whole cohort of regulation that can be quite daunting. Addressing these sorts of issues separately from new build is important.
Mr. Dennis Keeley:
There has been some discussion on the difficulties on funding. It is not within my remit to comment on some of that. We are dealing with this practically on the ground by identifying phased approaches to remediation work. Some of this work can take a considerable amount of time, but it allows people to develop the funding over that period of time and addressing the more safety-critical issues upfront, which is one way to approach it.
We have established a private rental unit within Dublin City Council to co-ordinate inspections across the environmental health unit and the fire service. Thus far, 216 referrals have come from that unit relating to fire safety issues which were identified. That is how resources are supposed to be maximised within Dublin City Council.