Press: RIAI fearful Local Authorities will start “finding something to invalidate as a method of workload control”

by Bregs Blog admin team


In this Press article, representative body for architects’ (RIAI) spokespersons fear Local Authorities re-adopting a policy of “finding something to invalidate as a method of workload control”. This is of particular concern for completion stage under the new building regulations, when many industry commentators feel the cracks in the current system will begin to appear and delays/ claims will invariably result on many construction projects.

Quote: “…John Graby is concerned at the impact of a ramping up in development activity after a period when staffing in planning offices has been steadily reduced during the downturn…”Construction activity is down at 6% of GDP. It should be at 11 to 12%. At present, the system is more or less coping, but could it cope with an increase?”…

Recent changes including the introduction of long awaited building control regulations…have added to the administrative workload of local authorities and architect-developers…

Read the full article from the Irish Examiner here

Extract to follow:


Time to increase housing supply | Irish Examiner

In 2012 when the topic of housing in Ireland came up for discussion, the terms ‘negative equity’ and ‘ghost estate’ were bandied about with numbing frequency.

Since then, the debate has been turned on its head — at least as far as the country’s capital city and other large urban areas including Cork and Galway are concerned. House prices in Dublin are up by over 20% in the past year.

A cause of celebration perhaps for struggling vendors, or rather for their impatient lenders. a source of headaches for families in search of suitable starter homes.

The soaraway growth in rents and the surge in homelessness are concerns which also increasingly preoccupy people.

The message is clear: It is time to increase the supply of houses. Easier said than done, it would appear.

In April, the Housing Agency forecast that the country’s urban areas will require a supply of 80,000 houses at a minimum, with the annual requirement rising from 9,500, this year to almost 21,000 in 2018. The Dublin region alone will require around 37,500 additional units, at least.

A vigorous debate is under way over what type of properties should be supplied.

The builders want previous permissions for apartments to be amended so that family houses can be supplied instead. The planners beg to disagree.

According to Irish Planning News, three quarters of all new households in the period up to 2018 will consist of three people or fewer, while 57% of new households will consist of one or two. The make up of home supply must be adjusted to reflect this new reality.

Supplying the wrong kind of houses can appear to be a distant concern when weighed against the possibility that many of the planned residences may not appear at all within an acceptable time frame.

Finance is a crucial issue. The country’s cash-strapped banks now expect builders to put up around one half of the initial capital cost. It is easier to build out estates of houses on a piecemeal basis, using the funds from early sales to fund the rest of the development.

Perhaps, the banks will loosen the purse strings once the great ECB health check has been completed. But even if the builders are able to ramp up supply, they will run up against another set of obstacles.

A lot of suitable land on the fringes of urban hotspots lack the necessary services. The task of providing water and sewerage services to enable development to get under way could be hobbled by the inevitable teething problems associated with the setting up of Irish Water.

Architect Stephen Musiol was involved in a survey carried out by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland into member concerns. Member architects fear that developments could be held up because the necessary water infrastructure is not in place. This could be a real roadblock, though Mr Musiol believes that the emergence of the new body, with a commercial mandate in place of individual local authorities could turn out to be positive, over the longer run.

Many practitioners experience frustration on a daily basis in their dealings with the country’s local planning authorities.

Mr Musiol highlights a number of things that can go wrong with applications.

Original applications can be invalidated due to minor technical breaches. Requests for additional information also serve to add to workload and slow up progress.

Third party appeals to an Bord Pleanála, often lodged by people without a connection to the site, is another source of annoyance.

Clearly a balancing act is required. Appeals should not be vexatious, but nor should development be railroaded through without attention to the detail.

According to RIAI director John Graby, the system needs to be streamlined. “Why is there not a national planning application form? Each local authority has a version, yet a tax form is the same whether one lives in Donegal or in Dundrum.”

He would also like to see a better arrangement for consultation and the validation of applications, allowing for speedy correcting of any defects.

Scope for consultation was introduced fairly recently into planning legislation, but problems remain, according to Mr Graby.

“There is a concern about the accuracy and consistency of pre-consultation measures.”

The RIAI director also points to the increasing complexity of newspaper planning notices, involving entire recitals drafted by lawyers.

Another potential headache exists in the form of problematic compliance conditions.

No time limits are set on conditions being issued by councils after developments have been completed.

In one recent case, the developers of a school were instructed to relocate the entrance gate months after completion.

Stephen Musiol recalls that at the height of the boom, councils appeared to have a policy of “finding something to invalidate as a method of workload control”.

Could those days return? John Graby is concerned at the impact of a ramping up in development activity after a period when staffing in planning offices has been steadily reduced during the downturn.

“Construction activity is down at 6% of GDP. It should be at 11 to 12%. At present, the system is more or less coping, but could it cope with an increase?”
Recent changes including the introduction of long awaited building control regulations following the Priory Hall/pyrite scandals, have added to the administrative workload of localauthorities and architect-developers. Some small developments end up being caught up in the building control net simply because there is a requirement to apply for a fire certificate. Architects such as Stephen Musiol call for an end to this ‘blunder buss’ approach.

There are positive signs. In Kilkenny, a forerunner in urban planning, the local council has found itself in the eye of a storm over plans to run an inner relief road through a historic part of the town. However, the city manager, Joe Crockett, is now working closely with the RIAI and with leading architects such as Tony Reddy, Niall McCullough and Shelley McNamara to develop a master plan for a large site being vacated by the brewers, Diageo.

Such consultations could be the way of the future. In Britain, the coalition government has espoused the concept of neighbourhood plans based on extensive local participation. This is seen as tackling some of the roadblocks created by ‘nimbyist’ tendencies: The idea is that local people can be won round to accepting schemes through efforts at genuine information and consultation.

Legislation has recently been introduced aimed at reducing the burdens faced by developers of smaller housing estates. New systems of self financing for local councils are also in train.

But above all, local councils need to box clever and display flexibility. Their approach to IT also is in need of overhaul. Architects call for a greater acceptance by councils of e-planning so that documents can be filed electronically rather than in multiple printed forms.

Too much effort is going into jobsworth type activity of the type favoured by old style bureaucracies.

A streamlined planning administration may not by itself provide the new generation housing units, often city centre and urban infill, which are now required. But it will certainly represent a good start.

Other posts of interest:

Commencement Notice figures 25th June 2014 – click link here

BC(A)R SI.9- BCMS: “must do better” – click link here

Building Control Officers: Survey – click link here

Building Control Officers need help! BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here

Building Control Officer issues: Conference April 2014- click link here

‘Recovery’ is Still Worse than the 1980s Crisis – click link here

Engineers Ireland CPD 10th June – click link here

Irish Times: Dramatic fall in number of buildings being started – click link here

Commencement notices fall: BC(A)R SI.9  – click link here