Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Other Questions

Building Regulations Application

10:10 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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7. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government if he has considered the concerns of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland in respect of the new regulations regarding the inspection of building works at key stages during construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11912/14]

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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This question relates to the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and its concerns about the new building regulations and asks what consideration the Minister has given to these concerns.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I am surprised that Deputy Pringle has taken upon himself to support the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. Every effort has been made to ensure that arrangements have been in place for a successful transition to the new building control arrangements on and from 1 March 2014.

The new on-line Building Control Management System, BCMS, has been developed to provide a common platform for clear and consistent administration of building control matters across the local authority sector. Briefing and guidance on the new system has been provided for local authority staff and representatives of the key construction sector professional bodies and the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, in recent weeks.

The definitive Code of Practice for Inspecting and Certifying Buildings and Works, was circulated to industry stakeholders on 7 February 2014. Standard forms of contracts used for both private and public sector projects fall to be revised to reflect the new regulatory environment. The Government construction contracts committee and the key construction professional bodies both report strong progress in advancing this work within their respective sectors. The Government has established an oversight group to ensure no unavoidable delays will occur in relation to critical public infrastructure projects, at a time when construction activity and employment depends significantly on public sector investment. Briefing and guidance is available within the public and private sectors to deal with contractual challenges and procurement issues that will inevitably arise as change takes place.

The above measures are the key supports necessary to ensure the new regulatory arrangements can work well in practice. Concerns that the new regulations prevent a self-build situation are unfounded, as I have indicated to Deputy Stanley. An owner who intends to self-build will, as before, assume legal responsibility for ensuring that the building or works concerned are compliant and they will be required, as builder, to sign the undertaking by the builder and the certificate of compliance on completion.

As local authorities and industry now move to full implementation of the new regulatory arrangements, my Department will continue to work with all parties to ensure they understand their obligations and the steps necessary to meet them. I do not intend to defer the regulations as the RIAI advocates.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his response. It is noticeable in this country that we have always been good at introducing regulations but never at enforcing them and have never intended to enforce them. That is part of the reason they were brought in. One of the concerns of the RIAI is there is no independent oversight to support the people carrying out the inspections. The Minister said that he has done this for major infrastructural projects but what about the people who self-build, who, with the best of intentions, employ somebody to oversee their work? There is no oversight of that person. The problem will be lack of enforcement when the regulations are in operation. Does the Minister intend to have any independent oversight of the people in charge of overseeing the construction?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Under the Building Control Act 1990, the professionals were self-regulated and were supposed to do the job for which they signed up, to satisfy everybody, particularly the customer, that everything had been done according to the specifications laid down and the plans lodged.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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That is the problem.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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We have changed the regulations because that was not working. We have plenty of examples of no regulation or enforcement. Professional bodies in particular have not stood up to the test of signing off on projects and verifying the job had been done properly on behalf of the customer, rather than just giving an opinion. We will establish a clear chain of responsibility from before the work commences through to completion. We will place a legal obligation on professionals and builders to confirm compliance with the regulations and our comprehensive inspection plan will ensure works are monitored. Nobody could doubt my determination to ensure the era of light touch regulation in the building industry is over.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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How will the Minister enforce all that? He is placing legal responsibilities on people to carry out their jobs competently. That is fair enough but how will he inspect that? Will there be an audit or oversight system to ensure compliance? We had all this in place before and the certification was supposed to make everything work and be right.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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We did not have this before.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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It failed because there was no inspection or oversight. That is the problem.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I know Deputy Pringle has a very keen interest in these matters of oversight and inspection. I am sure he has some knowledge of it from his previous employment. I will get the building control authorities on a risk-based approach to inspect the work. I expect the regulations will dramatically improve the end result for many customers. The people in Priory Hall and similar buildings around the country deserve no better than to have a proper system in place that will be policed and enforced. I am determined to do that.