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As a former resident of Priory Hall, I read the proposed changes to the Draft Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2012 with interest.
After reading, I cannot help but feel Environment and Local Government Minister Phil Hogan and his department have failed utterly to learn the lessons of Priory Hall.
The proposed amendments still place the focus for local authorities almost
entirely on the acceptance and filing of certificates of compliance.
Under the 1990 Act, local authorities have the power to inspect works in progress. They clearly have not availed of this power. Legislation should be changed to turn that power into a statutory duty. In the past, local authorities have claimed that they did not have the resources to carry out inspections on new developments, despite the large levies they received on the sales of these homes.A robust public/private inspection regime should be implemented to ensure that another Priory Hall cannot be built in the future.
When Dublin City Council, as the building control authority, finally decided to inspect Priory Hall, the cost of hiring an outside contractor to complete the inspection came to €39,829, or €213 per apartment. This is a small fraction of the levies they received from the sale of each apartment.
Should the decision be made not to inspect all developments a targeted approach to inspections should be taken rather than the current, apparently random, approach that exists. The decision to carry out an inspection should take into account the past history of the builder and any other available information that may indicate potential problems with the development.
This would necessitate information-sharing between the 37 local authorities and any other state bodies involved in the construction process, possibly through a centralised database providing details of any ongoing or historic problems local authorities or relevant state bodies have had with builders.
Such a system would have indicated to Dublin City Council that the builder of Priory Hall had, in the past, had compliance issues in other developments, that the HSA in 2006 sought a High Court order to close the Priory Hall development due to safety concerns and that, in the same year, a Department of Environment inspector had highlighted building control defects at Priory Hall to the builder.
Incredibly, it would appear there will still be no inspections by the local authorities, as the relevant fire safety authority, to ensure compliance with fire safety standards. Given the fact that the chief fire officer for Dublin City Council has stated that a fire could spread throughout the entire Priory Hall development within minutes, due to an absence of fire protection, it is a huge concern that the minister is not implementing a more proactive approach to ensuring fire safety.
Under Article 10 of the proposed changes, it states that local authorities will be required to enter details of the certificates into a register. There is no mention of the local authority being required to carry out any due diligence on these certificates. At a minimum they should verify that the person carrying out the inspections is in fact suitably qualified and properly indemnified. Finally, the need for a developer to lodge a bond with the local authority should be mandatory.
In my opinion the aim of the proposed amendments is to ensure that the State succeeds in absolving itself of having to take any responsibility for potentially dangerous defects to peoples homes despite the funds they have and will continue to receive through large levies & stamp duty.
Apt 3, Block 9
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