Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Private Members' Business. Building Control Regulations: Motion
Niall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
I am referring to the majorities. By the way, all of this is documented by the Oireachtas Library and research service. The point is that the Government parties can point the fingers in any direction they wish. Everyone has been responsible for it but it is now mainly Fine Gael and the Labour Party at local government level. I simply wish to make that point. I am not making it to the Deputies opposite because they know it and understand it is a fact. However, many other people do not seem to understand that Fine Gael and the Labour Party have had significant control, input and influence at local authority level in recent years.
Another issue compounds the responsibility of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. There have been calls for several planning inquiries in several local authority areas throughout the country, including one in Waterford recently. Where are they? What is the problem with these? Why can we not hold these planning inquiries? Some of the complaints made to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government come from the Local Government Audit Service and the Ombudsman. These are not coming from cranks on the street who want to waste public funds. They come from credible State agencies and legitimate organisations which have a problem. Why can we not have these planning inquiries? Many low cost models could be adapted for this purpose.
The proof of the pudding with the failure of self-certification and regulation has been the issue of taking estates in charge. We all know that throughout the country there is a serious problem with the taking of estates in charge. This is where the chickens are coming home to roost with the local authorities. A Bill has been published in the name of a Deputy from the Labour Party and he is on the right track. I had intended to publish such a Bill myself and, fair play to him, I believe we will support the recommendation he is getting to. We must have a legislative timeframe for the taking of estates in charge throughout the local authority sector.
I am keen to see a new regulatory and inspection regime and for a national building inspectorate to be established which would inspect the majority of properties under construction in the country. We need to have a system of licensing and the registration of builders. We need to have full prosecutions for any of the designers or contractors who are negligent in their duties. We are all aware that there has been a deficiency in this regard. We should have an open register of inspections, prosecutions and reports of inspections made from the public. A robust inspection regime should be implemented to ensure the people of Priory Hall and Belmayne never experience this again. Information on builders, including rogue builders and those letting down the system, must be shared among local authorities. This is not the case at present.
We need to go further. Where a builder has been granted permission for a major housing development we need to provide for a system whereby another permission will not be granted until the existing permission has been built out and completed to a satisfactory standard. There was a rush to get on to the next development and to bag the profit that would come with it. Article 10 of the proposed changes states that local authorities will be required to enter details of the certificates into a register but there is no reference to the local authority being required to carry out due diligence on the certificates. At a minimum they should certify that the person carrying out the inspection is suitably qualified and properly indemnified. All of us have had experience of such cases during the years of the building boom in the country. A great many of those who were involved in lodging planning applications and acted as agents were not qualified. This created a problem because many of those who were not qualified, albeit not all of them, were not up to the job. This matter must be addressed.
The provision under which a bond is lodged by the developer with the local authority must be regularised and made mandatory. Discretion must be removed from local authorities in this regard and in pursuing enforcement they must act swiftly and call in bonds. In the past they were not prepared to do so and take estates in charge.
I welcome this debate as it allows me to record, for those who are less informed than Members of the Oireachtas, a fact relating to the involvement of the Fianna Fáil Party in planning since the period covered by the Mahon tribunal. I commissioned research on this matter from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The findings show that my party has not controlled the majority of local authorities since the mid-1990s. One hears glib remarks about builders in the Fianna Fáil Party and the Galway tent. Since my election to Limerick County Council in 2004, I have not once visited the Galway tent. One would swear that some of the Deputies in the Technical Group have never been involved in a fund-raising event. According to them, everything runs on fresh air, yet they receive unvouched leaders' allowances, which is worse.