Pragmatism wins out to solve long, sorry tale of Longboat Quay

It looks like Bernard McNamara, the man who built Longboat Quay, will get the job of sorting out its fire safety deficiencies without residents having to foot the bill, says Michael Clifford

Pragmatism wins out to solve long, sorry tale of Longboat Quay

Pragmatism appears to be winning out in Longboat Quay.

Bernard McNamara, the developer whose company built the 298-unit apartment blocks currently the subject of a fire safety order, is heading back to the site. If plans come to fruition, he will be undertaking the remedial fire safety works at cost price.

This, in turn, may well begin the restoration of his reputation, which has taken a major hit as a result of all that has tumbled out from behind the walls of Longboat Quay.

His intervention will also ensure that the apartment owners will not have to come up with the €1.2m-plus bill they were facing for the works.

So far, so good for everybody. The only hitch is that the cost for the works will still largely come from the public purse. While McNamara will undertake to do the work, it will be funded by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Some may baulk at the prospect of the developer whose company constructed the deficient building in 2006 being brought on board to sort out the problem from the public purse. But, as with much that has befallen the country since the days of the building bubble, pragmatism appears to be the compass.

How did it get to this point? In February last year, the Irish Examiner first reported on the major fire safety deficiencies that were discovered at Longboat Quay, a development built in 2006 on Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson Quay.

The discovery led to fire marshals patrolling the building 24/7 over seven months until a major fire alarm upgrade was installed. Thereafter, Dublin Fire Brigade began to despair at the lack of progress in getting the main works under way. The fire brigade twice wrote to the management company threatening to apply for a fire safety order, the first move in having the building evacuated. At the same time, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority — which was anchor tenant for the common areas in the blocks — retained fire consultant Michael Slattery and Associates (MSA) to assess what was required to bring the building up to a safe standard. MSA concluded that extensive works costing €3.88m would be required.

On October 1 last, the fire brigade followed through on its threat and applied to Dublin District Court. A stay has now been put on the order until next year.

A major problem has prevented the remedial works getting under way. Who will foot the bill? The DDDA — now being reversed into Dublin City Council — offered to put up €2.25m. The receiver for McNamara’s company on site, Gendsong, pledged to cough up another quarter of a million. This left the residents with the prospect of coming up with €1.2m.

Most of them don’t have the money. A stalemate ensued.

Meanwhile, the management company issued legal proceedings against the DDDA. Through it all the owners and 600-plus residents were forced to live with the worry of what might happen should a fire break out, not to mention the massive devaluation of properties bought at the height of the boom.

Enter Mr McNamara. By last year he had returned from the UK, where he had endured a purgatorial term in bankruptcy. Reportedly miffed that his reputation had taken a battering, he went about conducting his own investigation into Longboat Quay.

On December 18 last he wrote to the apartment owners and residents directly, offering to do the remedial works at cost price. He also claimed that “many of the fire safety issues and associated costs do not relate to non-compliance during construction”. He attributed some of the problems as being the result of “wear and tear”. At the time Mr McNamara claimed he could undertake the work required at a cost of €1.5m, although he didn’t specify where the money would come from.

His approach received a lukewarm reception. A court had agreed with both Dublin Fire Brigade and MSA that serious questions needed to be addressed.

Yet here was the man responsible for constructing the building claiming that a lot of it was much ado about very little.

It now appears that McNamara has changed his tune in the last two months.

This newspaper understands that he has been in negotiations with the DDDA and working with the authority’s consultant Slattery to reach an agreement on how to proceed.

He has retained experts from the UK, and conducted a number of tests to show how it might be possible to do the work required in a more cost efficient manner than outlined by Slattery.

If things continue to progress, the end result will be that McNamara will be retained to do the work. This would avoid further delay through having to issue a tender and, crucially, cut out the requirement for a profit margin for any contractor. The DDDA will still be required to put €2.5m into the remedial works, but the apartment owners will largely be off the hook.

The last outcome will be the most welcome. Apart from enduring worry over their homes, health and safety, many of the owners would simply not have had access to the funds required to right a wrong that was not theirs.

One owner told the Irish Examiner that she remained wary despite signs that the situation might be facing a resolution. “It’s been going on so long, I’d welcome anything,” she said. “I’d be a bit wary of the work being done by him (Mr McNamara) as he built it in the first place, but if everybody is satisfied he’ll do it properly let him at it. It would also be a relief to know we wouldn’t have to fork out for it.”

The Irish Examiner understands that an agreement between the parties should be due within the next fortnight. A positive resolution should also include the dropping of the legal action between the residents and the DDDA.

What remains to be seen is whether Mr McNamara will finally admit that Longboat Quay was in fact built in a deficient manner, which now requires that it be set right for the first time.

Since the story first came to light, he has threatened to take legal action against the fire consultant who first discovered the deficiencies in early 2014.

Finally, his initial assessment of the deficiencies called into question the judgment of Dublin Fire Brigade in seeking a fire safety order. It’s hard to see how an agreement with Mr McNamara can be reached unless he rows back considerably from that position.

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