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: Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland

Thoughts on a way forward #bregs #DeirdreLennon

by bregs blog admin team

D Lennon005

Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013 SI 80  –

The Minister has confirmed that he wishes to “strengthen the current arrangements in place for the control of building activities “ as part of the 2013 amendments to the 1990 Building Control Act

Indeed,BC(A)R’s SI 80 has been carefully crafted to “require the private sector to provide an active part in achieving regulatory oversight.” This is to be achieved through professionally endorsed notices and certifications along with Contractor endorsed undertakings, each to be submitted to the Building Control Authority at distinct times between commencement and completion of construction projects.

The drafting of this legislation has been in process since 2011 and its Statutory Instrument SI 80 is on the cusp of enactment. No transition period has been allowed. No meaningful engagement or dialogue took place between government and the general public. Engagement with our representatives and other stakeholders took place behind closed doors. This legislation directly affects the practice of architecture and we are therefore all stakeholders in this important matter.

Given the title of this amendment and proclaimed political commitment we may be forgiven for believing that the proposed amendment promises change. Not so.

The devil is in the detail. The role of the Local Authority as Building Control Authority under the Act has changed in one small way. It has to conduct a validation process, an administration function of receipting and recording submissions. The non mandatory Code of Practice states that the Authority will then undertake a risk assessment but there are no details offered as to how or what this means.

In fact, Building Control Authorities intend to rely on the 1990 Building Control Act to continue a practice of zero obligation to carrying out technical assessments and to proceed with current commitment to an undefined number of building inspections –no change there either.

We are being asked to believe that this legislation will create more work for architects, that our professional liability will not increase, that the Building Control Authority will do better and best of all that Contractor registration will come.

If the Minister is really serious about strengthening the Building Control System he can task the Building Control authorities to carry out independent inspection and review protocols similar to that operated in the UK. This system has been tried and tested and following review in 2012 has been confirmed to be the most cost effective solution for protecting the quality of the built environment. We would welcome it.

Deirdre Lennon MRIAI

Member of BReg Forum and candidate for RIAI Council Election 2014

15th December 2013

Thoughts on a way forward #bregs #ClaireMcManus

by bregs blog admin team

Claire McManus_MRIAI

Ireland should look to international experiences & best practice, and devise an effective system of Building Control that is suited to our culture, practices and legal system. A robust system must address eight major policy areas as set out by the World Bank:

Eight Critical Elements of a Building Regulatory Framework

PICTURE

The following analysis of international experience is drawn from the Wold Bank Group (2013), IRCC (2010) and the NCA (2012). The World Bank document was published this year as a roadmap on how to reform building regulations in order to drive cost-efficient robust systems, which have significant benefits to the entire economy.

The Irish system of Building Control is unique internationally. The Department of the Environment do not publish their statistics or their records of inspections, but their target is only one site visit to 12-15% of buildings. By way of comparison, there is a 100% inspection of all dwellings in the USA and in much of Europe.

AUSTRIA – First Build a Solid Foundation, Then Streamline the System

Austria’s building control system focuses on who can build rather than on the building: in other words, the builder rather than the building.

This system presents risks in that heavy reliance on practitioner licensing or “barriers to entry” can create impediments to progress or price increases during construction booms if not enough licensed practitioners are available to carry out the work. Systems that rely heavily on either professional designers and contractors or professional inspectors require strategies to deal with supply issues.

In Austria a strong foundation of transparency and professionalism has improved the regulatory system. Increased transparency improves developer and builder engagement, thereby increasing efficiency. Increased transparency also reduces public-sector discretion and the potential for corruption.

 

FRANCE – Private Liability and Insurance as the Main Drivers to Promote Compliance with Building Standards

Private Liability and Insurance as the Main Drivers to Promote Compliance with Building Standards The French system is one of only a few—if not the only—building regulatory systems driven by insurance. The United Kingdom system has some elements similar to those of the French system, in that private-sector third-party review bodies (approved inspectors) must be linked to a warranty provider for home inspections, but this requirement does not apply to non-residential building.

Independent and efficient courts have also been important elements in France’s reforms. The court system has not only regularly ruled to enforce the obligations of the constructors and insurance companies; it has actually expanded them over time through an extensive interpretation of the “fit for intended use” clause of the Civil Code. Emphasizing the liability of private parties may be a more powerful tool than state inspections to ensure compliance with building standards. Reform in France shows that leveraging the power of the market may be a stronger incentive than the fear of fines or sanctions.

 

NEW ZEALAND – A Focus on Building Control, Accountability, and Consumer Protection

Many countries have established service standards for local building authorities requiring them to have qualified persons on staff who can review building-permit applications within specified time frames. In many countries, however, medium- and small-sized municipalities lack technical capacity or resources to provide the level of service expected or, in some cases, required by legislation. New Zealand’s reform targeted improvements in the transition process for the accreditation of building consent authorities (BCAs). The BCAs were not ready to perform this new task, and their lack of preparation may have led to delays in many jurisdictions.

After improving the municipal service standard and enforcement, New Zealand turned to accountability and documentation and to improving the capacity of designers and contractors to comply with the code. The New Zealand Government has recognized that, while third-party enforcement is important, enhancing the capacity of designers and contractors and empowering the consumer through better information can have an even bigger impact on streamlining of and compliance with building control processes.

NORWAY – Trust But Verify—Norway’s Experiment with Self-Certification

In an effort to streamline its building-permit process while leaving code compliance to the professionals, Norway decided to embark on a bold and unique experiment by eliminating mandatory third-party inspections and relying on self-certification by licensed practitioners. Self-confirmation refers to a construction-permit system placing complete reliance on the project designer to comply with building-code requirements.

The self-certification experiment led to a more streamlined system but also to increases in building defects and reduced building safety. Norway decided to keep the system of self-certification, but it brought back mandatory third-party review for certain crucial building components. The third-party review by certified private inspectors focuses on certain structural, fire safety, and building envelope components.

The lesson drawn from Norway’s experience was that despite self-certification by licensed practitioners and oversight by municipalities, significant increases occurred in building defects and safety problems in the absence of third-party review of crucial building elements.

SINGAPORE Combining IT Solutions with Public-Private Collaboration to Achieve More Efficient Building Approvals

Electronic permitting systems can greatly contribute to efficiency for both the industry and regulators. Following IT-based reforms in Singapore, both developers and regulators have seen significant efficiency improvements.

The Building Control Department (now the Building and Construction Authority) was the clear leader of this initiative, and its leadership and the engagement of all stakeholders from the beginning were key elements of reform success. Subsidies to update IT capabilities and help desks and several seminars and workshops on technical assistance were fundamental in bringing building professionals up to speed on the system. After providing all this support, the government made online submission of processes and plans mandatory: no paper documents were permitted. This was necessary to induce the private sector to fully utilize the new system and to achieve real efficiency gains by avoiding a parallel paper system.

One of the most valuable lessons from Singapore’s experience is the importance of reorganizing the approval process before adopting IT solutions. Authorities met with the private sector and with the technical staff of each of the agencies to look for synergies and to create common standards to improve communications and information-sharing protocols among them. Only after this effort was the approval process automated.

UNITED KINGDOM – Public-Private Competition in Building Control

In an effort to provide builders with more choice and to stimulate competition, the United Kingdom has gradually opened up more opportunities for private-sector inspection agencies, known as approved inspectors. To compete with the private inspection agencies, some local building authorities have entered into partnerships with other local authorities, pooling their technical resources.

The introduction of the private-inspection option and, in particular, the expansion of private inspection in 2007, have resulted in more customer-focused, faster service. Competition among private-sector building control firms has stimulated innovations in public- and private-sector corporate organizations. In the private building control sector, competition has led to the coordination of building control and warranty inspections by firms offering both services. In addition, some corporations offering building control also provide expert design advice on matters such as fire service.

The U.K. experience also shows how difficult, perhaps impossible, it can be to establish a level playing field between public- and private-sector building control bodies. The two building control and inspection systems never really compete on equal footing.

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA – Competitive Building Control—Clarifying Roles, Ensuring Performance

Much like the United Kingdom, Victoria decided to give builders a private-inspector option. To implement this option, Victoria’s reforms included mandatory practitioner certification of designers, contractors, and public- and private-sector inspectors.

Lack of effective government monitoring of private surveyors, however, has left the system open to the criticism that it fails to protect the public by ensuring safety, competence, and compliance with the Building Act. Local government councils currently have no systematic review process for permits lodged by private building surveyors. Many local governments are unsure of their role in dealing with private surveyors, sometimes resulting in building works that do not meet basic standards. Consequently, the system needs further clarity on the role of local governments in dealing with private certifiers.

A key lesson to be drawn from Victoria’s experience is that greater reliance on private-sector inspections and on private practitioners’ compliance with regulations must also involve greater clarity regarding roles and responsibilities and additional performance auditing.

Sources:

Performance Based Building Regulatory Systems, IRCC 2010

Public Consultation – Draft Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, NCA 2012

Good Practices for Construction Regulation and Enforcement Reform, The World Bank 2013

Claire McManus MRIAI is an architect in private practice in Dublin & Tipperary

Thoughts on a way forward #bregs #JoanO’Connor

by bregs blog admin team

photo (6)

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

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

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