BRegs Blog

A blog to debate the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (BCAR): The BRegs Blog presents an opportunity for free expression of opinion on BCAR and their implementation. The blog is not representative of any professional body or organisation. Each post represents the personal opinion of that contributor and does not purport to represent the views of all contributors.

Tag: Ireland

Thoughts on a way forward #bregs #JoanO’Connor

by bregs blog admin team

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The Obligations of the State

The involvement of the State in the protection of the interests of its citizens is a legitimate expectation and is an obligation of Government in a civil society. The State cannot abdicate its responsibilities to purchasers and users of property and there are means by which Government could control design and construction quality analogous to the operations of the Revenue Commissioners and their use of licensed auditors as a means of discharging the State’s functions in the control and oversight of business.

What is needed is a State-sponsored, self-funding independent inspection system which is credible and authoritative.

Consumer Needs

The consumer – particularly the house owner – must have easy access to a speedy means of resolving significant defects emerging in recently-completed property [particularly the home] at minimum, collateral costs. The current, Courts-based solution is slow, expensive and adversarial, even if a “mark” is found in the end.

The consumer – e.g. house purchaser – should have access to a guarantee, backed by insurance, to which he has immediate access to deal with legitimate complaints regarding defects. This guarantee – sometimes called latent defects insurance – can be provided, at minimal additional cost which would be carried by the Developer.

Such a guarantee would be mandatory and form part of the chain of conveyance and mortgage funding. LDI brings with it the following advantages in the campaign for better building:

  • Better builders will get insurance cheaper, based on track record, and thus will be able to sell more competitively.
  • Bad builders may be unable to get such insurance, ruling them out of the market.
  • The insurers carry out their own design reviews and site inspections, appropriate to the type of project and the risk profile of the building : another, experienced set of eyes looking at the project.

Increased Complexity of Building in Ireland

A multiplicity of approvals and certificates now required to build and there are numerous appointments to made for all building endeavours – whereas the obligations of the main parties to a building contract with regard to building standards are simple – to design and to build in compliance with the Building Regulations – and this encompasses everything – fire, thermal performance, disability access, structural stability, etc.

Appointments include architect, engineers, QS – PSDS, PSCS, Design Certifier, Assigned Certifier [and statutory notifications of such appointments where required]. Approvals, plans, certificates and consents will now include –

Planning Permission [separate regime].

  • Fire Safety Certificate : €2.90 per sq.m., €12,500 max.
  • Commencement Notice
  • 7-Day Notice : €5.80 per sq.m., €25,000 max.
  • Regularisation FSC : €11.60 per sq.m., €50,000 max.
  • Disability Access Certificate [excluding houses] – €800 plus fees, no time limit for issue.
  • Notice of Assigned Certifier [by Building Owner]
  • Undertaking by Assigned Certifier
  • Notice of Assignment of Builder [by Building Owner]
  • Undertaking by Builder
  • Design Certificate – submission of details, full drawings and specifications to BCA
  • Health and Safety Plan
  • Safety File
  • Preliminary Inspection Plan
  • Inspection Plan
  • Completion Certificate by Assigned Certifier and Builder [and acceptance thereof by the Building Control Authority – “BCA”].

Registration of Builders

Notices issued by Building Employer states that the Owner is satisfied that the person or firm appointed is/are competent to undertake the works …. How is a consumer building a house, or indeed a small shop-owner carrying out some alterations – supposed to know whether a builder is competent or not? The response might be that a check of the Builder’s Register should be adequate but such a register is not in place and will not be in place until 2015 at the earliest.

A voluntary register of builders is a nonsense. Registration with teeth needs statutory backing and would take at least two years to develop. It necessitates the establishment of a registration board, standards and codes of practice, grievance procedures, codes of conduct and the like so that there is fair procedure in the event of a challenge to a builder’s registration.

Registration as a system of recognition or public endorsement is more suited to the individual trader or practitioner – or a single, small firm whose entire activities can readily be encompassed and/or understood. It is less suitable for large, multi-faceted contracting firms with multiple employees of wide-ranging skill levels.

Licensing of contractors could be more appropriate, with builders ranked by competence for projects of varying sizes and complexities. A licence would last for –say – three years and might also be used to exempt firms from pre-qualification procedures or to, de facto, pre-qualify them. There would, obviously, have to be control and complaints procedures of some kind.

The Underlying Purpose of Building Regulations

The primary purpose of Building Regulations is to provide for the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings.

Some Impacts of S.I.80

S.I.80 is primarily intended to remedy problems in the speculative residential sector but applies to all buildings and material alterations or extensions to existing buildings, including office and factory fit-outs.

Delays to projects planned to start in early 2014, increased costs – already acknowledged by Government, and protracted procedures at completion and handover, often a critical time for new business or business processes.

Building and construction investment forecast to increase by 5% this year and 7.2% in 2014, subject to conditions – an end to a 6-year decline. But regulatory bottlenecks are cited as a risk – and this is the biggest, avoidable hurdle.

Risks to the Government’s capital programme, including schools recently announced.

Reliance on Professionals’ Insurance

P.I. insurance needs to be in place when damage occurs and/or a claim is made. It is no use if the Assigned Certifier has retired [or been let go] , if his PI has lapsed for reasons of cost or whatever.

The PI insurer will cast his eye around the multiple players in the building works and will sue them all on the basis of joint and several liability whereby one, insured actor with even a minimal liability for the damage can be made to carry all of the costs, even for culpable parties who are no longer in business – “the last man standing”. As architects carry PI insurance, they are often that last man [or woman].

A Way Forward?

Dare we look aim for a radical overhaul of the system to simplify the administrative aspects of building control to focus on essentials such as education, inspection and insurance?

Joan O’Connor, President of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland 1994-1995

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Inadequate Regulatory Impact Assessment for S.I.80

by bregs blog admin team

Audit-Checklist

To find out how one might effectively assess building control amendments we do not have to look far: the “Communities and Local Government: Proposed changes to the building control system – Consultation stage impact assessment” report was produced in the UK in 2012. You can read it here. The report comprehensively examines several options to revise and change the UK building control system. Their existing system, unlike ours, already has comprehensive local authority independent inspections with 80% backed by warranty.

The UK report included the Irish system as a option: light-touch, low-cost (to local authorities), self-certification, but discounted this early on due to cost to the consumer and to the wider industry. Making the system of building control simpler, leaner and more cost effective for society in general is clearly a motivating factor.

The UK is our closest model in terms of building standards, legislative system and environment. We are a fraction of the size of the UK, however our demographics are similar. One must wonder after reading this document, how the Department of the Environment, Communities & Local Government (DECLG) opted to continue with the most expensive form of building control for the industry, when a simple system of self-funded local authority independent inspections would improve building standards and save the industry tens of millions per year, while delivering a better standard of building generally and giving the consumer redress in the event of latent (hidden) defects?

Despite over 500 stakeholder submissions on S.I.80 received by the DECLG, no such study was carried out here. It appears that at no point in the consultation process or formation of S.I.80 have the impacts on SMEs, the industry and the consumer been considered in detail. The National Consumer Agency (NCA) estimates the extra cost to the Irish house building industry alone would be in the region of €30m- €90m per year (based on a sustainable level of 30,000 new dwelling units per year). The financial impact of S.I.80 on the wider industry is likely to be a multiple of this. With no comprehensive independent system of local authority building inspections, the effect of S.I.80 on building standards will not give the return for this extra cost to the industry, nor to the consumer. In their 2012 submission the Competition Authority express concern about “whether the additional costs imposed by the proposed regulations are in proportion to any benefit they might bring”

Worryingly, it would appear that the Department did not carry out a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) of the March 2013 wording of S.I.80. A very brief RIA was completed in 2012 and the lack of a follow-up would suggest some of the very significant changes introduced by the Minister in the March 2013 draft have not been comprehensively examined. The RIA produced by the department is included as part of the following document “Strengthening the Building Control System – A Document to inform public consultation on Draft Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2012“ . See document here

The Impact section (section 4) of the RIA is only six pages long and does not appear to be backed up with any research. For example, under the Section 4.6(i) Impact on National Competitiveness, the report makes the simple claim “There will be no negative impact on Ireland’s competitiveness”. The only costs noted is a notional cost per dwelling. Remarkably, the more significant insurance costs are excluded. This is an extraordinarily light assessment of a very significant amendment.

We do not need to look to the UK for examples of good impact assessment. The RIA of our own Construction Contracts Act 2013 (available here) and recent Health & Safety Legislation (available here) provide far more comprehensive analysis. Why has S.I.80 only had the most cursory impact assessment done on the 2012 draft and nothing since? Already three Senior Counsel legal opinions completed on the March 2013 draft of S.I.80 identified serious legal and practical issues associated with implementation, and all concurred that S.I.80 is unworkable in its current form. Given the wide-ranging effects on the construction industry, SMEs and the wider economy, it is remarkable that essential stress-testing has not been completed by the department.

Government Reports & Professional Opinion Ignored in S.I.80

by bregs blog admin team

As Minister Hogan prepares to sign off on the final wording of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, we take a look at some of the government commissioned reports and the professional opinion that were ignored in the design of S.I.80.

Government Commissioned Reports:

The National Consumer Agency (2012): “the NCA would point to the undesirability of a situation arising whereby one entity could design, build, inspect and certify a building while no inspection by a Building Control Authority takes place.. Should a consumer purchase a dwelling become aware of non-compliance with building regulations, and bring the issue to the notice of the relevant Building Control Authority, the legislation allows the consumer to be designated as the party responsible for bringing the dwelling into a state of compliance. Consideration should be given to providing means by which responsibility for bringing a building up to a compliant state rests with the party responsible for the non-compliance in the first place”

The Pyrite Panel 2012: “…the Panel recommends that the system of independent inspections, carried out by the building control officers, should be strengthened to complement the mandatory certification process for buildings.. Project-related insurance whereby cover for each specific project is available and adequate and is related to the project only”

The Competition Authority 2012: “These concerns are (a) whether the proposed regulations would, in fact, afford proper protection to citizens, (b) whether the additional costs imposed by the proposed regulations are in proportion to any benefit they might bring, and (c) whether placing the onus for compliance on certain individuals involved in the construction process, rather than on an independent arm of the State, is appropriate”

The National Disability Authority 2006: “The findings of the Rogerson (2005) research and DoEHLG’s own 2003 survey suggest the need for vigilant on-site inspection for compliance with accessibility requirements. The provision of Disability Access Certificates does not preclude the requirement for strengthened enforcement and on-site inspection of buildings against Part M”

Chief Fire Officers Association Conference 2012: “Better Paperwork does not mean Better or Safer buildings!”

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland 2013: “It is believed that Latent Defects Insurance (LDI) would provide a cost-effective means of providing long-term protection for the recovery of the costs of repairing or replacing works following discovery of a latent defect. The insured party does not need to prove negligence and defects would be covered even were the contractor company is no longer in existence. Given the complexity involved in contractors individually providing their own policies, there would be a clear benefit in having a single LDI policy, where all works carried out under the Scheme were covered by a single provider, offering a single point of contact for claimants at an optimal cost.”

Professional & Registration Bodies:

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland 2013: “Registration of builders must be part of the new system.. It is essential that the new monitoring and inspection systems provide for planned and random audits – on a risk analysis basis – of the documentation submitted to a local authority before building work actually commences, as well as inspection of buildings during construction… If such systems of inspection and analysis by building control authorities are not in place, then the danger remains of shoddy building practices continuing with consequent risks to the consumer”

Engineers Ireland 2012: “An appropriately strong and active inspection/auditing function being delivered by the appropriate state authorities is equally critically important in strengthening the existing Building Control System”

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland 2013: “The regulations do not address the Building Control Authority’s side of the equation and it will also be incumbent on the Government to ensure that appropriate review of operations occurs in this respect.” Alan Isdell, Surveyors Journal 2013

Self-builders to be phased out under S.I.80

by bregs blog admin team

The forthcoming changes in the Building Regulations in March 2014 (S.I. No. 80 of 2013 BUILDING CONTROL (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 2013) have big repercussions for residential self-builders. Nearly 60% of houses constructed in Ireland are self-builds (source NaSBA) and self-building is a common form of construction for houses and extensions; this is especially the case in rural areas.

S.I. No. 80 requires that the owner gives notice to the Building Control authority of ‘…ASSIGNMENT OF BUILDER’:

Item 2. requires the owner to have ‘…assigned the following person as Builder of the works and I am satisfied that they are competent to undertake the works so assigned on my behalf.’

The owner therefore needs to assign a ‘competent person’ to undertake the building works; this raises several questions:

• Who decides whether a builder is a competent person?

• Currently there is no register of ‘competent persons’ that are considered competent to undertake building works; the Construction Industry Federation ‘is progressing the establishment of a Register of Builders in consultation with the Department of the Environment Community and Local Government (DoECLG).’ but this register will initially only be a voluntary register (transitioning at a later date to a statutory scheme).

• Logically a self-builder cannot assign himself unless he is a ‘competent person’.

Self-builders will be required under S.I.80, as clients, to employ a design certifier and assigned certifier (engineer/ architect/ building surveyor)- this is positive as it is unwise for a technically non-experienced person to undertake self-building without professional input. This should be welcomed as a positive development.

If a client is going to be the builder, currently that’s fine- self-builders can nominate themselves (as long as they consider themselves to be ‘competent’ and as builders are currently unregistered this seems to work well for self-builders. The only persons precluded from operating as contractors are Architects.

So, S.I.80 at the moment can only improve the quality of self-builds.

However when a formal register of builders is introduced in 2015 self-builders will need to meet the criteria to become registered, or will be precluded from this role. The criteria more than likely is a minimum of 3 years relevant building experience, tax affairs in order, relevant insurances in place etc.

So, in 12 months self-building will no longer be possible unless the self-builder  is already an established experienced contractor, with their own insurances and tax-clearance documents etc. People who want to undertake works themselves are no longer able to do so. One unintended consequence of this is that rural landowners with some building experience who are capable of managing sub-contractors will no longer be able to inhabit this role- they will be forced down the more expensive route of appointing a main contractor to domestic or other projects that require planning permission (farm buildings, outhouses etc.)

The UK system of Building Control allows for self-builders; their risk-based assessment on the number of inspections takes into account whether the builder is known, his experience/track record and whether there is also an architect inspecting the works (as examples). The Building Control Officer then adjusts the number of visits following this risk analysis based on a points system in order to ensure the build is in compliance with the Building Regulations.

The introduction of S.I.80 denies the centuries old tradition of the Irish person building their home for their family themselves. There are a number of contradictions in S.I.80 and this is one of them. If public opinion forces a u-turn on registration of contractors in 2015 then the basis of S.I.80, that of “regulating” building, will not be achieved. Unregistered and unregulated builders will still be in a position to control the procurement process. Introduce mandatory registration of contractors and self-building will cease to exist.

References to UK Building Control mean England and Wales.

A special thanks to Geoff Wilkinson at TheBuildingInspector.org (Approved England and Wales Approved Building Inspectors)

“severe risk of a hiatus in the construction industry” #bregs #Morning Ireland #JoanO’Connor

by bregs blog admin team

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Interview with Joan O’Çonnor on Morning Ireland: ‘RIAI call for postponement of Building Regulations’ 

Podcast at: feed://www.rte.ie/radio1/podcast/podcast_morningireland.xml

Listen back at: http://www.rte.ie/news/morningireland/

A Hiatus in the Construction Industry?

by bregs blog admin team

UniversityCollegeCork

Last Friday University College Cork (UCC) sought tenders for a design team for a new Student Hub envisaged to support learning and employability skills for students. The Hub is part of the university’s plan to “be largely self-funding within five years, saving the Irish taxpayer millions of euro a year” Irish Examiner 25/05/13

The tender specifies that the project architect “will have overall responsibility for full compliance with the New Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013 which will come into effect on the 1st of March 2014… and will act as the Assigned Certifier for the project duration”. This seems prudent on UCC’s part, after-all projects that commence on site from the 1st March next year must comply with the new regulations.

The problem is revisions to the regulations are still ongoing and the role of the Certifier is as yet unknown. Once the regulations and the roles are confirmed, more time will be needed for new contracts to be written, for insurers to confirm they will indemnity the Certifier, for professionals to up-skill for their new role and for appointments to be agreed.

The public sector is not ready either, as it emerges that the promised IT systems will not be in place for the 1st March. Yet no additional resources will be be provided in the understaffed Building Control Authorities to deal with vast amounts of paperwork required under the new regulations

It seems inevitable that the UCC project will be on hold until all of this can be sorted out. The situation is even graver for projects already underway and due to start on site from 1st March. Existing contracts will need to be unraveled and new ones formed. All in time for March 1st, or virtually no new projects will start on site.

Will this mean a hiatus in the construction industry, just as it beginning to get back on its feet?

For a more detailed analysis of the expected delays in the Construction Industry, see our report here

Dispensations and Transition Arrangements

by bregs blog admin team

Dispensations:

S.I.80 does not make any additional provision for dispensations but does specify that they will be included on the Building Control Authority Register. Under the 1990 Building Control Act “a building control authority may, if it considers it reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case, grant a dispensation from, or a relaxation of, any requirement of building regulations”.

However, there are some difficulties with the provisions for dispensations.  David Keane (Building and the Law, Gandon 2003) sets this out:

 “Section 4 of the Building Control Act contains the provisions for dispensation or relaxation. At the time that Act was drafted, it was anticipated that the Building Regulations might be in the form of the revised draft Building Regulations which were originally published in 1981, but in the event the Regulations as they finally appeared were so concise that any relaxation or dispensation is almost impossible. Take for instance Part F, which says: ‘Adequate means of ventilation shall be provided for people in buildings.’ Remember that the technical guidance documents are not the Building Regulations. The Building Regulations are the items set out in S.I. 497 of 1997 and nothing else. They are the law. It would be difficult to imagine a situation where an application could be made to allow inadequate means of ventilation for people in buildings. It can be taken that the relaxation and dispensation provisions will not trouble us very much, although it is possible that sympathetic use might well be made of them in the difficult cases of material alterations”.

This means that although a provision for dispensations is included in the Building Control Act, in practice it is not workable and the Certifier does not have easy recourse to this provision.

Transition Arrangements:

There are no transition arrangements in S.I.80. The Regulations where a Commencement Notice is lodged on or after 1 March 2014 including

  1.  the design and construction of a new dwelling;
  2. an extension to a dwelling involving a total floor area no greater than 40 square metres (this was an error in the published regulation and is to be corrected to mean domestic extensions over 40 square metres);
  3. works which require a Fire Safety Certificate (this will include new build, extensions, works to existing building, material alterations and later phases of some projects).

It can take many months and sometimes years from the date the professional team is appointed to when a building is ready to commence on site. Without transition arrangements, projects designed or partially built under older standards will pose particular difficulties after 1 March.

Furthermore, as Commencement Notices are lodged for each building, rather than for the whole development, sections of projects may come under the new arrangements and this has implications for completing ghost estates, fit-outs, phased work and re-starting abandoned projects.

An opinion piece by seven Past Presidents of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland

by bregs blog admin team

PROTECTING THE CONSUMER THROUGH BUILDING REGULATIONS

In March of this year the Government introduced new building regulations in the wake of the widespread instances of defects in speculative apartments and houses which many believe were due in large part to the lack of any effective building control system in Ireland in the past 30 years. The new regulations (SI.80 of 2013) take effect from 1st March 2014.

The regulations were drafted following consultation between construction industry stakeholders and officials from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Other interest groups, such as representatives of consumer interests, building control officers, apartment owners or building management were not included in this process.

In summary, the regulations continue with a modified system of self-certification whereby an assigned certifier appointed by the developer/builder and those involved in the design and construction of buildings will certify that the work they have done complies with the regulations. Where defects occur, it will be up to the house or apartment owner to pursue whoever they deem to be at fault through the courts. There is no significant involvement envisaged for the Local Authority, other than keeping a record of certificates and other documents related to the project. It is incomprehensible that the State should legislate for a system which relies on a home owner proving negligence by some wrongdoer in the courts after a defect has been discovered as the sole deterrent to defective design and construction and as the sole means of getting it rectified.

At a recent general meeting of over 500 members of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, (the largest number of architects ever to gather in Ireland) those present voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion which included the following statement: “The meeting believes that the said S.I. 80 of 2013 will not achieve the objective for which it has been introduced, and that the consumer will be no better protected than was the case in the recent past because of shortcomings in the said Regulations”

What is needed is a system that prevents defects from occurring in the first place and provides protection to homeowners without having to go to court, should that system fail. Such systems operate successfully in many other countries, including in Britain and Northern Ireland, with inspection of design and construction by independent private sector inspectors acting under the control of Building Control Authorities. When combined with a state controlled system of latent defects insurance it will at once improve the quality of design and construction and protect the consumer against building defects. Such a system can be achieved at little or no cost to the State. It needs little or no legislation to implement.

With just a few weeks to go until the new regulations come into force, Department officials and industry stakeholders are still working on possible minor changes to the regulations. As a result of this uncertainty and the complexity of the issues, little has been done to assess what changes are needed to standard procedures and documents such as standard government and private sector forms of contracts, sub-contracts, warranties, all of which are critical to the industry. Local Authorities are unprepared for the few administrative functions that they are expected to undertake. There is no possibility of rectifying these matters in the time available. As a result, the implementation of the regulations in March 2014 is likely to cause significant delays across the whole of the construction industry with consequent disruption of other sectors which are dependent on it.

Irish people, none more so than those who purchased defective homes, are suffering the consequences of the light touch self-regulation adopted by successive Governments in the past. The present Government has regulated financial institutions, food production, nursing homes, crèches and even septic tanks. It is surprising to imagine construction might be the only major industry allowed to regulate itself.

We are calling on the Government to do the following:
1. Review the proposed system, not only with the industry stakeholders but also with representatives of consumer and other groups affected;
2. Defer implementation of the regulations until that review has taken place;
3. Revise the proposals to provide a system that will improve the quality of design and construction and protect the consumer.

Signed: Michael Collins, Peter Hanna, Arthur Hickey, Padraig Murray, Eoin O Cofaigh, Joan O’Connor, Sean O Laoire