Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Building Regulations Application
2. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government if he will halt the implementation of the new building regulation to allow a distinction to be made between self-built homes and multi-unit developments; and if he will allow local authorities to have designated qualified personnel provide the final decision on buildings. [12004/14]
My question deals with the new building regulations for the construction of both one-off houses and multi-unit complexes. In those regulations, the Minister has not differentiated between the two, which is the problem and the nub of my question. The regulation process is causing enormous concern. I have heard that professionals are looking for between €20,000 and €50,000 to sign off on construction and I ask the Minister to comment on that, given that he gave estimates of between €1,000 and €3,000 previously. I have a quotation here for €18,012.35 for a modest house in County Laois, for example.
I wish to state clearly and unequivocally that self-build and building by direct labour arrangements continue to be possible under the new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, which came into operation on 1 March 2014.
The Building Control Act 1990 places a statutory obligation on owners, designers and builders to design and construct buildings in compliance with the requirements of the building regulations. These statutory obligations apply to all sectors of the housing and construction market, including the self-build sector.
In a self-build, the legal responsibilities of both the owner and the builder rest with the self-builder. Under the new regulations, an owner who intends to self-build will, therefore, notify the building control authority prior to commencement that he or she is the builder and will sign and lodge the new form of undertaking by the builder. By signing the notice and the undertaking, the self-builder declares that he or she will construct the dwelling in accordance with the design as certified; that he or she and any persons employed or engaged to undertake any part of the works will be competent to undertake such works; that he or she will co-operate with the inspection plan prepared by the assigned certifier, who is the registered construction professional required to be engaged during construction to inspect and certify the building; and that he or she will take all reasonable steps to ensure he or she will certify the works in conjunction with the assigned certifier on completion.
In regard to allowing local authorities to have designated, qualified personnel provide the final decision on buildings, the new regulations do not involve local authority approval of buildings. The regulations seek to make those legally responsible for the quality of construction, that is, owners, designers and builders, accountable for the steps they have taken to ensure that the building complies with the building regulations. Local authorities have strong powers of inspection and enforcement under the Building Control Act 1990 but these remain separate and complementary to the building control regulations, including the recent amendments under SI 9 of 2014. In these circumstances, the question of halting the implementation of the regulations does not arise.
I thank the Minister for his reply but, unfortunately, he failed to differentiate between self-builds and multi-unit complexes. I have studied the guidance, the statutory instrument and the correspondence we have received from lobbying groups. While it is technically correct that an individual can self-build or hire his or own builder, is the builder required to be registered with Construction Industry Federation of Ireland, CIF? This document appears to have been drafted by CIF. Is it necessary for the builder to be the director or principal of a company? If I am building my own house, can I hire qualified bricklayers, carpenters and electrician if I stand over their work?
The Minister has given a cash cow to architects and chartered surveyors. He said they will charge between €1,000 and €3,000 but I have seen a quotation for €18,000.
The Deputy can do so provided he has an assigned certifier who is registered on the list of professional bodies to stand over the work. I am concerned about the potential for costs to be exploitative initially. The same thing happened in respect of the building energy regulations introduced several years ago by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. People were charged between €3,000 and €4,000 for certification inspections that cost €150 in the market. The professions have tended to jump on the bandwagon to exploit the customer for what they can get. I advise those who are involved in self-builds to shop around. There are a considerable number of people on the register. One does not need to be an architect to sign off as an assigned certifier;a building surveyor or engineer can also be an assigned certifier provided he or she is a member of a professional body.
I expect Deputy Stanley, of all people, to support the new regulations in light of the experience of Priory Hall, in respect of which professionals and builders like Mr. McFeeley drove a coach and four through the regulations in order to exploit ordinary people who had to pay for the mistakes made by others.
Coming from a rural constituency, the Minister will agree that the quality of self-build is generally good. A farmer who builds his or her own house will stand over the work. We do not want to make the costs prohibitive, however. The experience of shopping around to date is that high prices are being quoted. The aforementioned quote of €18,000 is for a modest dwelling. The Minister clarified the big question of whether the local subcontractor, plasterer or bricklayer can be hired in. He has stated unequivocally that if I am involved in a self-build I can do that. However, the issue of the assigned certifier will still cause problems. The local authority building control officers carried out good work but they were under resourced. This could be a self-financing mechanism. If local authorities charged €1,000 or €2,000 for carrying out final inspections, people would be happy to pay them rather than pay €13,000 or €14,000 to somebody in the private sector. The final point I want to make is that housing extensions will be expensive as a result of these regulations.
Anything under 40 sq. m is exempt. That would be a significant extension. I am concerned about the possibility of customers being exploited by professionals under these regulations. I will monitor the situation over the coming weeks and if I detect that the professional bodies are exploiting customers to the extent that the Deputy alleged - he only mentioned one quotation - I am prepared to consider ways of ensuring customers are not financially exploited in the manner to which he alluded.