Opinion Piece: The Cost of Construction

by Bregs Blog admin team

In his answer to a question from Kevin Humphries TD, to the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan TD, regarding the impact the new Building Control Regulations on capital building projects, the Minister said that the new regulations “may result in additional design, certification and, possibly, insurance costs”.  There is little doubt about that. There was however no mention of the increased cost of the building itself, which is likely to be more significant than any of the increased costs listed by him.

In general, public works contracts are already carried out by the building professionals under a full service agreement, including normal inspections.  A significant increase in liability for the professionals will arise under SI.9 from changing the duty to use reasonable skill and care only, to one that comes close to providing a guarantee of compliance as envisaged under the legislation and manifest in the department’s refusal to accept any qualification of the word “compliance”. This increase in liability is compounded by the terms of appointments currently being sought by the Department of Health which places a direct obligation on architect to “ensure” compliance of both the complete design and the construction.  This extraordinary level of liability will inevitably result in defensive design and specification by professionals.  This, in turn, will result in higher specifications, demand for more site supervision by contractors, increased levels of testing and certification and more paperwork, not to mention the impact on design and construction programmes.  It would be foolish to think that these will not have a significant impact on the cost of construction.

The real question is whether the improvement in quality that the Minister believes will result from these measures will in fact materialize on projects which already have design teams on full service agreements.  It is very unlikely.  While the current arrangements are by no means perfect there is no evidence to suggest that the extraordinary measures now being imposed on the construction industry are justified outside, perhaps, of the speculative residential sector, where there are significant problems.  Normal building design and construction in Ireland have high levels of safety built into them. Minor deviation from the standards will not normally result in a defect which causes damage to the building or the occupants.  They are not manufactured products, but if they are constructed to a normal good standard, they will serve their purpose for a hundred years or more.  There is no evidence to suggest that there is a need to raise the standard of normal well-constructed buildings in Ireland to the level higher than that.  What is needed is to ensure that all building design and construction is brought up to that standard. That is not difficult, or expensive. All that is required to achieve it and bring our procedures into line with international best practice is a simple system of independent audit of design and construction under the control of the Building Control Authorities.

The country can ill afford to waste money on complex regulatory systems that are unnecessary in most circumstances and which may not work where they are most needed.

Opinion piece by Michael Collins and Eoin O Cofaigh, Presidents 1986-1987 and 1998-1999, Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. Written in January 2013 .