Thursday, 23 June 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Defective Building Materials
10. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the reason the remediation of dwellings damaged by defective concrete blocks Bill 2022 does not provide for the replacement of the foundations of homes that will have to be demolished, given that he has asked the National Standards Authority of Ireland to examine the need for this to be done in their ongoing review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33087/22]
81. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if the remediation of dwellings damaged by defective concrete blocks Bill 2022 will reflect the ongoing review by the National Standards Authority of Ireland of IS 465 regarding testing and diagnosing remedies for the full range of deleterious materials that are affecting homes in the west of Ireland, including pyrrhotite and the need to replace foundations in homes that have to be demolished. [33019/22]
Is é an cheist atá os comhair na Dála inniu ná an fhadhb atá ann le míoca agus le pirít. Why has the Minister ensured the remediation of dwellings damaged by defective concrete blocks does not provide for the replacement of foundations of homes that must be demolished, given that the Minister has asked the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, to examine the need for this to be done in its ongoing review? The scheme that was published required households to build on potentially shaky and damaged foundations, which would be a serious waste of taxpayers' money. We understand the Bill to be published later today or afterwards will be silent on this measure but will the Minister clarify that? If that is the case and there is to be replacement of foundations, will that cost be covered?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 81 together.
Following the Government decision of 30 November 2021 in respect of the enhanced defective concrete blocks grant scheme, the Government approved the remediation of dwellings damaged by the use of defective concrete blocks Bill 2022 on 21 June and I intend to progress the legislation before the end of term in order to ensure we can have the scheme ready for homeowners to access by the end of the year. There are hearings today that the Oireachtas joint committee will hold with residents affected, along with experts who have fed into this highly significant work. I certainly look forward to listening to those contributions.
It is important that the Bill will allow us to progress on key decisions made by the Government last November, including a 100% grant, to an overall maximum grant amount payable to an applicant under the scheme in the sum of €420,000, up from €247,500. There is the removal of the financial barrier to scheme entry, a feature of the current scheme, thereby reducing the cost for homeowners from up to €7,000 to an estimated €500 or €700, which will be recoupable under the scheme once the applications are approved. We have already been issuing refunds of those payments that have been made. Counties Clare and Limerick will be included in the enhanced scheme upon commencement and further local authority areas can be added as the necessary evidence supports inclusion.
To get to the point of the question, the decision made by the Government last November called for a number of reviews to be completed, which are very important. The scheme will be with us for ten or 15 years. This included a review of the IS 465:2018 standard and the consideration of the issue of other potentially deleterious material, such as pyrrhotite and the impact, if any, on foundations. I am acutely aware of homeowners' concerns in this regard, which is why I have asked the NSAI to review IS 465 and carry out all necessary research as a matter of priority. I briefed Deputy Ó Broin informally on this earlier. It is currently understood that foundations are not impacted and there is currently no evidence to support claims they are. However, when the Bill is published, if there are issues with foundations, we will revisit the scheme and amend the legislation accordingly. That is very important.
I wish to confirm that once the necessary review has been concluded and any revised standard is published, the defective concrete blocks grant scheme will be reviewed at that point, having regard to any amended standard. We need to conclude the research being done independently of me and we need scientific data to support this work. If the standard at that point provides for the inclusion of foundations, the Bill provides that I will be able to make regulations to provide for a new remediation option. That will be seen later today. If foundations in some homes are found to be impacted, we will not be slow to act. I have kept my word heretofore in greatly enhancing the scheme and putting much more resources behind it. There is a 40-year guarantee as opposed to a 20-year guarantee and a second grant option. The alternative to this approach would be to wait until the NSAI did the work and to pause the scheme.
The Deputy will see very clearly in the legislation that we will be allowing for further regulations once the evidence comes back. It is being done scientifically and independent of me. If there is a problem with foundations then, we will amend the scheme by regulation and include a relevant provision in the scheme. Not every house will be affected and there will be homes where other materials have not been found in the infill. We can proceed with a number of them and we should do that. We must get people's homes and lives back on track. I am absolutely committed to doing that.
Part of the question I asked related to the costs associated with this. The Minister has triggered a review into deleterious materials in foundations and other materials in the blocks but he authorised the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland to carry out a study of the cost of rebuilding while asking them to exclude the cost of foundations. The Minister has acknowledged a change from the published scheme, in that the legislation will be silent on the question of foundations and may change in future if the evidence suggests there is a need.
I take issue with the Minister stating there is no evidence; at this stage there is plenty of evidence and the committee will hear there is a need to deal with foundations. There is a question about taxpayers' money being used in this regard. The core issue is that if it is decided that foundations must be included, will there be an increase in the cap for householders and is it not the case that the Minister is prevented from increasing the cap until at least next year, according to the scheme as published?
I was awaiting direction from the Acting Chairman. As Deputy Doherty has said, when the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland was asked to cost the demolition and rebuilding of a home earlier this year, the terms of reference did not provide for the foundations. IS 465 underpins the current grant scheme and, unfortunately, will underpin the legislation until it is reviewed. It has been discredited. It is well known that pyrrhotite is a very serious feature and it is playing a much more significant role than mica in Donegal, based on scientific tests that have been done. I ask the Minister to put it to the National Standards Authority of Ireland whether its work is linked to international best practice. Is it ensuring its review reflects the tests that are being done in Britain and international science?
To repeat, IS 465 is discredited, therefore foundations should be provided for.
I thank the Deputies. I have been very clear. We need scientific evidence on this and it is being done independently through the review by the NSAI of the standard. We need scientific research and testing on infill as well. If the Deputies were on this side of the House they would do the same. We need to bring forward the legislative basis to provide for what is effectively a new scheme. This scheme is night and day different from the one in 2020. That should be acknowledged too. There is the second grant option, the extension of the guarantee for the works from 20 to 40 years, which is something the residents looked for and is incredibly significant. There is the upping of the caps as well. At a minimum, more than likely we are looking at the State providing, rightly so, about €2.7 billion to help people get their lives and homes back.
The Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland, SCSI, will be presenting to the committee today and I do not want to prejudge what it will say about the work it has done. I commend its work heretofore. The committee will also hear from Paul Forde, chair of the expert group. He did an incredible amount of work and is definitely the most eminent expert in this field in the country. The standards and the material itself are being tested independently and scientifically so we can be very clear that it is not just opinion. I am not dismissing people's fears at all. That is being done. I cannot speed it up. This work is being done independently of us. Today's meeting will be very informative and I welcome the fact that the committee is holding those hearings.
I do not think the Minister answered the question. Maybe it was an issue of timing. The question I was asking was what happens if the NSAI comes back, as we expect it will, and says we need to deal with foundations. There are old Irish sayings about not building on sand. The idea of taxpayers' money going into building a structure on foundations that are at least questionable and are not even being tested is a serious issue. If the Minister decides at a late stage to include foundations, is it not the case that he cannot revise the upper cap limits until a year after the legislation has been enacted and therefore they cannot be revised until the end of next year? Does that not mean that many of these applications will be stalled, first until the NSAI makes a determination because householders do not want to build on foundations there are serious questions about, and second because the issue of finance would then have to be sorted?
This goes to the nub of the issue. The Minister has given terms of reference to the SCSI and it has given him a costing. That instructs to a certain extent the cap of €420,000, which includes €20,000 for relocation so is really a cap of €400,000. I trust that if the foundations are tested and found to be in the same condition as the blocks, the NSAI will recommend that they have to be replaced. The Minister is then going to have to look at that cap. He needs to do it now. He needs to be thinking ahead. It is very likely that the NSAI is going to recommend a new approach based on science and lab tests. I know the Minister has worked with this legislation and with the families. I acknowledge that. I hope he will continue to do so in these next couple of weeks. There is going to be a need for change to the legislation. I ask the Minister to pay close attention to the two hours from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today.
I will be super quick. It is not just the cap. It is also the rates. Head 13 is very clear that the Minister cannot review the rates until 12 months after commencement. Even if a property is well below the cap, if the NSAI recommends foundations to be included, if somebody has a 1,000 sq. ft. home, for example, they will not be able to enter into the scheme and get full remediation until the Minister revises those rates, which would be at the latter end of next year. The Minister should confirm that to the House because people have a right to know it.
No one will dispute the level of work that has gone into bringing about this legislation. When Deputies look at what is in it and see the published Bill later today in the hearings, it is a significant improvement on the previous scheme that was simply set up by way of regulation itself and was not on a sound footing. I said yesterday in response to Deputy Ó Broin that I will continue, as I have done over the last year, to engage directly with residents and Opposition Members. We will work through Committee Stage of the process. Where reasonable amendments are tabled that we can work through I will absolutely be open to looking at that.
I cannot prejudge what will come out of scientific research. None of us can. Let us be straight on that. I ask Deputies to enter into this process in a positive and constructive way. One way or another, gentlemen, we are going to need this legislation passed by the summer. There are homes that can start remediation pretty much now. I want to see homes starting this year. I have seen homes that have had outer leaves replaced. I have seen work that has been done there as well. We have the second grant option, which is really important, and the extension of the guarantee. Of course during the legislative process we will be open to looking at contributions.
Today will be important as well. We will hear from the experts as well as the residents. In conclusion, I want to thank the Mica Action Group and all the other groups and individual residents who have engaged in a very constructive way on what is understandably an emotive issue and a really important one for them. Our focus should be getting it right. I believe we absolutely have the basis of a really good scheme that is going to help them put their lives and their homes back on track.