The following letter was submitted to the Irish Times on Monday 26th May 2014 by Joseph Little in response to Minister Phil Hogan’s Letter to the Editor on May 23rd 2014. Links to relevant letters and posts are included at the bottom of the following piece.
Please include the following letter.
Minister Hogan continues to adopt a hectoring approach in all discussions about the new Building Control system. Based on my own experience as a practising architect and many conversations with other engineers and architects, I consider Frank McDonald’s article (“Dramatic fall in number of buildings being started”, Home News, May 19th) a more accurate and fair reflection of what is happening than that of the Minister. Furthermore for him to suggest that Mr. McDonald may not be interested in raising standard of construction and proper building control is highly disingenuous: it is well accepted that no journalist in Ireland has promoted higher construction standards than he.
What is extraordinary about the Minister’s contention about 840 commencement notices since March 1st is that it contradicts the statistics uploaded by the Local Government Management Agency on the Building Control Management System (BCMS – the web-based database serving the new Building Control system). Only 327 commencement notices were lodged in all of March and April, 53% of them for house extensions under 40 sqm which are not the focus of the new regulations. Even more worrying only fifty commencement notices of any kind were lodged in the first two weeks of May. This suggests a building industry markedly slowing down compared to last year’s activity. The Bregs Blog gives links to the government documents downloaded from BCMS.
Like many other architects I have set up a user account on BCMS however I am very, very reluctant to make use of it to become an Assigned or Design Certifier. I’m aware this may mean losing clients or delaying projects but this is a safer and saner prospect than pursing a path strongly advised against by senior counsel. To use the words of Mr. Damien Keogh of Matheson Solicitors where he quoted Denis McDonald SC (in a letter of 12th December 2013), ‘the amended language is “extraordinarly loose and vague” and this will undoubtedly lead to significant problems in terms of professional indemnity insurance cover and the cost of same’. He strongly advised architects, engineers and surveyors acting as Assigned or Design Certifiers in any circumstances.
Professional indemnity insurance comes under civil law, however failure to provide necessary clarification of compliance of a particular item under the new regulation can lead to criminal prosecution for which the insurance provides no cover. Furthermore if professional indemnity insurance becomes unaffordable or its payment lapses the whole system falls apart with no protection for consumer. It appears the Minister has created an unfair and unbalanced ‘house of cards’. Ireland clearly needs better building and stricter controls to ensure consumer protection but this should be based on a significant increase in the number of building control officers, legal registration of all builders, and latent defects insurance for all relevant projects. The Minister should look to the more robust and fair systems implemented in most West European countries.
I have heard from many sources that local authority building control officers are complaining about the legislation and the lack of training on how to implement the system. There are still no lists, for instance, stating what documents must be uploaded for a school compared to a new build house. Lastly I have been told that the completion section of the new electronic system is not available yet. In this context how does one prove compliance, against what and where do you send it?
A system should only have been implemented when all stakeholders had been actively engaged with and listened to, and when all systems and training were in place. Minister, please revise the regulations.
BArch, MRIAI, MSc Archit. AEES