Two weeks ago, residents of Belmayne received a letter warning of possible defects in their homes, despite repairs carried out years ago. Michael Clifford reports.
Living with defective homes is a way of life for thousands of people who bought during the Celtic Tiger years.
But few among them have experienced what homeowners in the north Dublin development of Belmayne are currently going through.
These homeowners received a strange letter two weeks ago. They were invited to attend the AGM of their owners’ management company.
Belmayne, a 900-unit complex in Balgriffin, north Dublin, has been beset by controversy for the last eight years.
There have been claims and counter claims as to whether there are major structural and fire safety issues in various parts of the complex. That, of itself, is not unusual today.
What makes Belmayne different is that, eight years on from the first discoveries, the full detail of what may or may not be dangerous remains hidden.
The letter from O’Connor Property Management (OCPM), which manages the day-to-day business of the owners’ management company, stated: “The board of directors is currently aware of defects with regards to balconies and fire safety. The directors are currently uncertain as to the extent of these issues, the cost to remedy same and whose responsibility it is to rectify the situation. As a result, there is significant uncertainly as to the financial impact if any on the company [owners management company].”
It was a staggering admission that the extent of problems effectively remains hidden despite a raft of reports about defects since 2011. Equally baffling was the statement that it was unknown “whose responsibility it is to rectify the situation.”
There was no word on the developer of the complex in this clarion call to owners to come together and find a solution to an as yet fully defined problem.
The meeting took place at the Hilton Hotel, Malahide Rd, on June 26. Owners were told that new pilot holes had been drilled at a few locations in the complex. Some issues have been identified, but nothing major.
“We were told there were a few minor issues discovered,” one owner who was present at the meeting said.
The owners were told that if they wanted to view the full report into whether or not their homes are safe, they would have to do so under supervision at the offices of OCPM.
This was being stipulated in order to ensure that the detail of the report did not leak out to the media or wider public. After eight years of reports, claims and counter claims, the main focus appears to be on keeping a lid on what the latest report says.
If this report was new or contained previously unearthed details of what lies behind the walls in Belmayne, the secrecy might be understandable. However, it is inconceivable that the results are any worse than what has already been recorded, most particularly to do with fire safety and the dangerous conditions of some balconies.
A series of questions about the meeting and the secret report were submitted to OCPM. Repeated efforts were made to elicit any kind of reply but to no avail.
Most of Belmayne was built with timber frame construction which has been at present in a number of developments where fire safety defects have been uncovered.
The complex was built by a subsidiary of Stanley Holdings, called Kitara. It was launched with much fanfare in 2006 with controversial ads featuring models and the presence of celebrity couple Jamie Rednapp and his wife Louise.
Problems were first uncovered within five years. In October 2011, defects in Belmayne featured on RTÉ’s Liveline programme. This was soon after the nearby Priory Hall development had to be evacuated due to fire safety concerns.
A few days later, Stanley Holdings wrote to residents. “During this programme, an individual purporting to be a fire safety expert made a number of statements alleging that the Belmayne development is not in compliance with building and fire safety regulations. We would like to state beyond any doubt whatsoever that these claims are completely false.”
Dublin Fire Brigade concurred.
Three months earlier, a “very senior fire engineer” was sent to survey the complex, according to a letter from the chief fire officer at Dublin Fire Brigade to an apartment owner in the complex.
“At no time was he shown any deficient construction,” the chief fire officer wrote. “He has looked into the system of on-site supervision and also into the certificate of completion… I am satisfied he carried out a diligent and competent investigation and I concur with his report and conclusions.”
The following year, 2012, defects were uncovered. Kitara organised for the remedial work to be carried out on 225 homes, even though the company says it was another contractor which had been responsible.
Stanley Holdings began repairing fire safety defects on 225 homes after a chance discovery. The developer informed Dublin City Council that these shortcomings were a result of a work by a “connected developer”.
Some residents were not happy that the remedial work went far enough but Kitara maintains those homes are now fully compliant with building regulations.
In the intervening years at least six homeowners have issued legal proceedings against the developer. These are all still active.
Kitara went into receivership, but the principal of Stanley Holdings, Michael Stanley, is the founder and chief executive of Cairn Homes which is currently building houses in Balgriffin, near Belmayne.
A number of questions were submitted to Mr Stanley. A statement issued in response to the questions pointed out the remedial work undertaken by Kitara and added: “Kitara will continue to deal in a professional and responsible manner with any genuine issues that are brought to their attention and will continue to do this in direct consultation with the relevant authorities.”
A series of independent reports over the last eight years have highlighted some major fire safety and structural defects. (see below). The owners’ management company has refused to accept any of these.
In 2017, the owners’ management company commissioned a report from Thornton Surveyors. That also highlighted a number of fire safety defects and recommended further exploratory work. That extended work is now contained in the report that can only be viewed by owners under supervision.
Eight years on, the majority of owners are still in the dark. They don’t know how much they might be expected to pay. They have not been told whether there will be efforts to seek any form of compensation from the developer or associated companies. And they are officially left in the dark as to whether their homes are dangerously defective.
“We were told back in 2012 that everything was fine, but it seems that since then there has just been sticking plasters put on the problems here,” one owner told the Irish Examiner.
“We still do not know how bad things might be and I hope I’m wrong but I think it will take an actual fire before we get to the full truth.”
The following are extracts from some, but by no means all, of the reports in relation to fire safety defects in Belmayne.
Thornton Chartered Surveyors 2017
“Serious shortcomings were noted in respect of missing or poorly fitted fire stopping to party walls. In some instances, we noted absent cavity closing barriers where we managed to view or gain close access to partly inspect cavity wall spaces.
“A concern in relation to the above is that if these elements of fire stopping and fire construction which are easily visible without carrying out an intrusive survey have been carried out to such a poor standard, there is every likelihood that such fire safety elements which are concealed by construction are to an equally inadequate standard.
“An intrusive investigation would be required to ascertain the full extent of the problem in this regard.”
McCartney Smyth Fire and Safety Consulting 2017
A service riser inspected “does not appear to be adequately constructed to achieve the required fire resistance for the walls and it looks like flammable expand-able foam was also used”.
On fire doors, it found one instance where “a gap between the fire door and the masonry construction has been filled with flammable expandable foam instead of fire-stopping material”.
Robin Knox and Associates 2014
(Conducted on one dwelling within the complex)
“The lack of proper fire resisting construction and assembly is a MAJOR DEFECT and it appears to me that ANY similar dwelling or building part in this development is a potentially dangerous building. There is an imminent and grave danger to anyone in or around them for any purpose whatsoever.”
McCormack Brunkard Associates 2012
“On inspecting the property I identified a number of potential fire spread risks. Pipes penetrating compartment floors are not fire stopped. Plaster board construction to compartment floors and ceilings are not staggered, tapped and jointed as per the manufacturer’s specification.
“Double layered wall slabs and ceiling slabs providing one hour protection do not meet and they are not taped, staggered or jointed as per the manufacturer’s specification. I recommend an independent fire safety test should be carried out on the construction of the compartment floor build up in an accredited laboratory.”
Noel C Manning and Associates 2011
“FIRE SPREAD RISKS — Wall cavities are not closed. Penetrations through compartment floors not fire stopped. Party / separating walls (spandrel panels) incomplete in their assembly, and are not fire stopped.”