Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government
1213. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the reason the proposed mica-pyrite scheme is so different from a similar scheme previously used in the Dublin and Leinster region; the reason there is a considerably larger contribution expected from homeowners who are not responsible for the situation that occurred; the requirements of the scheme in respect of those having to demolish their houses; if they have to apply to the local authority for planning permission to demolish and rebuild their property; if so, if there will be an exemption for local authority planning fees and contributions in view of the circumstances involved; the position that in the event of a rebuild the homeowner will be in a position to make the relevant BER upgrades; and the position regarding the operation of the scheme to date. [3150/20]
I made Regulations under sections 2 and 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1979, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to provide for a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in the counties of Donegal and Mayo to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks. Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks in Construction (Remediation) (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2020.
The regulations came into operation on 31 January 2020, and my Department is currently in the process of finalising guidelines, which will be available in the coming weeks, to promote and support a consistent approach to the operation and administration of the defective concrete blocks grant scheme by Donegal and Mayo County Councils. The aim now is to commence the receipt of applications without delay.
The defective concrete blocks grant scheme is primarily a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks. The scheme outlines five remedial options ranging from rebuilding on existing foundations to replacing of external walls. The maximum approved costs per dwelling under the scheme range from €275,000 to €55,000 depending on the remedial option. A grant of 90% of the approved costs associated with the necessary remediation works, subject to a maximum for each remedial option, or 90% of the actual cost of the remedial works, whichever is the lesser, is available under the scheme.
The scheme is targeted at assisting a restricted group of homeowners who have no other practicable options to access redress. It is not a compensation scheme and the regulations apply only in respect of qualifying works that have not commenced prior to confirmation of grant approval being issued in respect of a dwelling by the relevant local authority. Homeowners cannot seek the recoupment of costs associated with the remediation of a dwelling undertaken either prior to the commencement, or outside, of the scheme. This is in line with how similar Government schemes operate or have operated in the past, where prior approval is a key eligibility requirement.
Budget 2020 provides funding of €40 million to fund the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme and the defective concrete blocks grant scheme. Funding for future years will be agreed on an annual basis as part of the normal Estimates process and additional funding can be provided should it be required. Mindful that the scheme is being funded from the Exchequer the scope of the scheme cannot be open ended. The funding available must be used prudently to achieve the most efficient and cost effective outcomes.
Separately, the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013, provides the statutory framework for the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board and for the making of a pyrite remediation scheme to be implemented by the Board with support from the Housing Agency. The pyrite remediation scheme was first adopted in February 2014.
While the Act provides that the scheme can be amended, replaced or revoked, this can only be done in accordance with the scope of the Act. The provisions of the Act apply only to dwellings affected by significant damage attributable to pyritic heave consequent on the presence of reactive pyrite in the subfloor hardcore material and not to damage arising in any other circumstance, e.g. such as pyrite or mica in concrete blocks.
The Pyrite Remediation Scheme is a scheme of “last resort” for affected homeowners who have no other practical option to obtain redress and is limited in its application and scope. The full conditions for eligibility under the scheme are set out in the scheme, which is available on the Board’s website, www.pyriteboard.ie.
In regard to planning permission and the defective concrete blocks grant scheme, the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (as amended), provide that “development” includes any associated demolition works. Consequently, the demolition and rebuild of affected dwellings will require planning permission. However, requirements regarding planning permission and contributions are ultimately a matter for the relevant planning authority, who are independent in the exercise of their statutory powers.
Finally, the Building Regulations (as amended), apply to the construction of new buildings, extensions and material alterations to existing buildings. The five remedial options provided for under the defective concrete blocks grant scheme constitute a material alteration to an existing building.
Any works that are beyond the requirements of the current building regulations for existing dwellings, or any works that are not required for or ancillary to the remediation of damage to the dwelling arising out of, or in connection with, the use of defective concrete blocks in its construction, while not prohibited, do not qualify for grant assistance under the scheme. In this context, energy upgrades beyond the requirements of the current building regulations for existing dwellings, do not qualify for grant assistance under this scheme.
Similarly, in line with Government policy on waste prevention and value for money considerations, the reuse, recovery and recycling of materials, is encouraged where possible. The costs associated with the unnecessary replacement of items such as windows, doors and kitchen units, do not qualify for grant assistance under this scheme.
The primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of buildings.