MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Longboat Quay: One option but is it the best one for residents?

Longboat Quay apartments on Sir John Rogerson's Quay in Dublin. Picture: Fergal Phillips

While Bernard McNamara’s offer to do remedial work at the Longboat Quay complex at cost price would save residents financial pain, questions arise as to how the work could be done at this rate and if the recommended works would be completed in full, writes Michael Clifford

Bernard McNamara has moved to put things right, as he sees it, at Longboat Quay.

In recent weeks, Mr McNamara has begun to address the problems that have dogged the complex built by his company, Gendsong in 2006.

Just under a year ago, it was revealed by this newspaper that major fire safety deficiencies were discovered at the 298-unit apartment complex on Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

Two reports, from a fire consultant and Dublin Fire Brigade, had highlighted major fire safety deficiencies. A decision was taken to upgrade the fire alarm system rather than evacuate the building, allowing time to move on to rectifying the major problems.

While the fire alarm system was being upgraded over seven months, it was deemed necessary to have fire marshals in situ 24/7.

Longboat Quay: One option but is it the best one for residents?

The full extent of the problem was revealed publicly in September when the complex’s management company announced that remedial work would cost €3.88m, on top of €1.2m already spent.

Since then, the management company acting on behalf of owners has taken action against the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA), which partnered McNamara in developing the complex.

Dublin Fire Brigade issued a fire safety notice on the complex on October 1. The following month, Dublin District Court directed that the works be completed in early 2017. If that timeline isn’t met, the fire brigade will move to have the complex evacuated.

Meanwhile, the row continues over who will pick up the tab. The DDDA and the receiver for Gendsong have offered to pay €2.75m of the remaining cost of €3.88m — including €250,000 from the receiver — but the apartment owners say this leaves them with a huge bill for something that was not their fault.

Now, Mr McNamara has entered the fray. On December 18, he wrote to residents offering to do the work at cost price. On the face of it this is an attractive offer. Gendsong went into receivership a few years ago eliminating the prospect of any compensation from that quarter.

Mr McNamara is not legally liable personally. Offering to do the remedial job at cost price would save the apartment owners any financial pain.

Another winner might be Mr McNamara’s reputation, which has suffered as a result of all that has spilled out from behind the walls of Longboat Quay. There are, however, a few major stumbling blocks.

Longboat Quay: One option but is it the best one for residents?

In the first instance, Mr McNamara denies that any of the problems with fire safety relate to deficiencies in construction. In the letter to residents, he outlines that “many of the fire safety issues and associated costs do not relate to non-compliance during construction.” He has cherry-picked a number of the findings and recommendations in the consultant’s report, attributing much of the work to upgrades and the result of “wear and tear”.

The consultancy Michael Slatttery and Associates (MSA) was employed by the DDDA.

The Slattery report runs to 100 pages and includes a whole gamut of remedial work that reflects on the construction, including detail such as “incomplete fire stopping”, “smoke seals damaged or missing” and defective service risers which will require work to ensure they “do not present a fire spread risk between apartments.”

Mr McNamara’s position that Gendsong bears no responsibility for what has been uncovered echoes that of his architect on the job, Eugene Van Jaarsveld.

He told a newspaper last October that the fire brigade has signed off on the work. How could the building not be compliant if the fire brigade signed off on it on completion?

It’s a perfect defence apart from the glaring fact that the fire brigade didn’t sign off on it. The fire brigade has no function in the construction of fire safety features after issuing a certificate based on the design. The fire brigade signed off on the design. The completed work was signed off on by a consultant employed by the developer. The problem is that it was not built according to the design.

Mr McNamara does not appear to accept the interpretation of, not one, but three expert reports on the deficiencies. The consultant who found the initial deficiencies, Eoghan Ryan, was working for the receiver of Gendsong.

After he alerted Dublin Fire Brigade, it conducted its own investigation and report, which initially suggested the deficiencies were so serious that some residents should be evacuated immediately.

The upgraded fire alarm system was a compromise that allowed residents to stay in their homes. Mr McNamara doesn’t accept that conclusion. In a solicitor’s letter to the Irish Examiner, he disputed the findings of Mr Ryan’s report and stated “the recent and costly upgrade to the fire alarm system was in all likelihood an unnecessary upgrade”.

Then the DDDA hired Slattery, regarded as one of the top firms in the business. Effectively, Slattery’s brief was to check that Dublin Fire Brigade was not exaggerating the problems, while ensuring that the works would bring the complex up to the required standard.

Longboat Quay: One option but is it the best one for residents?

So any notion that Slattery might recommend, for instance, excessive remedial work, would not make sense. If anything, the consultant’s brief would include minimising the potential cost to a client.

Yet despite that, Mr McNamara is now claiming that he can do the required works for less than half the stated estimate.

“You should be aware that I have asked experts to estimate the cost of the necessary works prescribed in the MASA report,” he wrote to residents.

“In their opinion they estimate that such work could be carried out (within about a 15-week timeframe) for circa €1.5m. This estimate would represent a significant cost saving against the proposed €3.88m and well below the DDDA’s most recent offer of €2.5m. This would mean that owners/residents would not have to fund any works in order to comply with the Fire Safety Notice.”

Everybody’s a winner, but the question arises as to how could the work be done for such a price?

Even if the apartment owners were on board for Mr McNamara to go back to work at Longboat Quay, there is another outstanding issue, if he were not to agree to implement the MSA report in its entirety.

Longboat Quay: One option but is it the best one for residents?

Any variation from the schedule of works outlined by Dublin Fire Brigade would require all parties to return to the district court and readjust the original order. This would involve Dublin Fire Brigade and Slattery going before the judge and declaring they had got things wrong and have since been put right by Bernard.

A number of owners with whom this reporter has spoken are sceptical about the offer. Some view it as a PR exercise. Others are worried that there would be any attempt to vary the schedule of works demanded by the fire brigade.

Now, as of last Monday, Mr McNamara has made a new offer which is being considered by the management company at Longboat Quay.

Meanwhile, the legal actions continue. If Mr McNamara’s offer isn’t accepted, the dilemma of locating the funding for the works continues, the worry for owners and occupiers, who are entirely blameless, continues.

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