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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Feb 2006

Vol. 614 No. 6

Building Control Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Like previous speakers, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Building Control Bill 2005. It is important legislation that adds to our control mechanisms in the building industry and related matters. Considering the size of that industry, the Bill is timely and welcome.

In general, speakers welcomed the Bill. A number of contributors are professionals in the field, including a number of architects, and they appeared to generally welcome the Bill, although we will have some questions about it on later Stages.

I appreciate that the Bill will not cover a number of issues involving the building business about which we have concerns, including unfinished estates and so on, but I presume further legislation will be brought forward to deal with those matters and the planning and development area generally.

I agree with the comment of the Minister, Deputy Roche, at the outset of the debate that this is a good day for the consumer because consumers are most at risk when anything goes wrong. Whether it is poor design work at the outset, the involvement of bad builders or poor insulation, invariably the consumer must pick up the tab and is in difficulty. The Bill will cover a number of those issues.

The issue that has received the greatest attention and on which we have been lobbied the most by way of correspondence and directly is the need for the registration and recognition of the titles "architect", "building surveyor" and "quantity surveyor". Some people will argue that some of these professional groups could set up a monopoly. That question has been examined by the appropriate authority and it can be dealt with in time if necessary. The argument that persons employing such professionals are entitled to be assured they are appropriately qualified takes precedence over that point.

This House recently passed similar legislation regarding health professionals, and the same objective applies in both cases, that is, there is a State guarantee in place whereby if a person in a certain profession advertises for business, the user of that service is assured it will be of a professional standard. It is imperative that the back-up is in place for that. The point about the health professionals, including psychologists and so on, applies equally to that.

I watched some of an RTE exposé recently that concerned a person who described himself as an architect in action. In many instances the outcome for the clients involved was a nightmare. The primary problem, as pointed out in the programme and after it, was that the so-called architect appeared not to have broken any law at the time because there was no measure in place such as those we are about to enact. We must learn from those cases and be proactive in that regard.

As I said, there has been a fair degree of lobbying by architects and those in other professions to bring forward this Bill. I compliment the Minister on his work on that to date and wish him well in getting the Bill passed by the Oireachtas.

Two areas strike me as needing attention, at least one of which has been catered for in the Bill and was referred to by other speakers. It is where a person practising has gained alternative experience or training to that covered under the syllabus of the two professional groups mentioned in the Bill for monitoring it. The same issue could arise with people coming here from other countries who have had similar training. There must be some degree of flexibility in that regard. Legislation can be fairly rigid and when an anomaly or other problem arises, there is no flexibility in the Act.

I had a recent example of that when I was approached by a constituent who highlighted the restrictive nature of legislation. That case involved the need for a landlord to register private tenancies under the private tenancies registration requirements. That landlord, through no fault of his own, had previously forwarded a form to register for an earlier tenancy but because of a delay in getting a PPS, he was late in forwarding the required form. He was penalised by approximately €160 but this citizen is involved in many charities and it was more of a blow to him that he was breaking the law than paying the funding. When he made his case, which was a reasonable one, the response he got was that there is no facility in the legislation enacted to allow for a deferral, an allowance or leniency.

We must be aware of those types of cases. Politicians can call the shots on a case as they wish in terms of legislation but there must always be some element of discretion. I have appealed for that in the past on other issues. A similar happening could arise in this legislation. That is why I would like that aspect teased out further on Committee Stage to ensure we do not have such a bureaucratic type response to anybody who has a legitimate claim to be registered, and genuine cases will come forward. I heard references earlier in the debate to what I understand is a facility to cater for people in those circumstances and I would like to hear more on that. The grandfather rule was mentioned but I am not sure in what context.

The second question I want to raise under that section of the Bill relates to Brendan Behan's belief that any decent new Irish organisation would have, as its first item on the agenda, a proposal for a split.

The first item.

I notice when perusing the Bill there are just two prescribed associations or bodies identified as the ones to administer the system, that is, the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors. I am not sure if there are other professional bodies to which one can belong and still be fully recognised or if they are named purely to administer the system or if one has to be a member of those associations. In fairness it is more out of curiosity than concern that I raise this but, bearing in mind what I said previously that we should build in flexibility, there are at least three accountancy bodies practising. Is there a facility for any other representative body to be recognised, if established, under the legislation? There could well be a group which may wish to have an organisation called the architects society and which may not be happy with the word "royal" included in the description of their association. If we are prescriptive and too strict we may find ourselves in trouble later and going to Europe to contest a case because we passed bad legislation. It may well be that I am concerned about nothing, that these two groups will administer the scheme and that there can be a variety of other associations.

In opening the debate the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, said one of the most important sections of the Bill deals with fire safety. That area is in need of urgent attention. There are huge gaps in the fire requirements in general. There have been many unfortunate happenings, including the Stardust disaster, to which the Minister and other speakers referred. I have said previously at local level and in the House that fire is no respecter of age, gender, race or any other aspect of human life. We should all be aware that if we make mistakes or get careless about its prevention fire will take its toll, which is a fact of life. The severity of that toll can depend on many different factors. Part of our job as legislators must be to put in place rules and regulations that will control as many of these factors as possible. More importantly, we must ensure there is a requirement that they be enforced, whether it is control of the design of buildings, the use of appropriate building materials at the outset or a check on overcrowding when buildings are in use. All possible precautions against fire must be enforced.

I accept that investigation afterwards and recommendations about change practices and so on can help in future prevention but as the Minister said we must take every precaution possible before the event happens to avoid tragedies such as the Stardust disaster. We are lackadaisical in many ways about fire hazards, an issue to which I will return.

I avail of this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the fire fighters throughout the country, both the professionals and the volunteers who often have to put their lives at risk to deal with outbreaks of fire. They see it and we recognise it as part of their job. It is not acceptable that their job should be made more hazardous by reason of bad building practices or carelessness in regard to storage of materials, lack of egress or access and that other avoidable issues continue to be allowed.

I have had the experience of calling the fire service to a serious fire where the hydrant had tarmac laid over it and it could not be found. That was a personal experience. The fire fighters with whom I am most familiar because of my years in Cork Corporation are the Cork city fire service members. They have an excellent record and play a huge role in fire prevention. They do that by virtue of the role they play in visiting schools, giving lectures, working with companies and in other areas of public activity. They give professional advice that should be listened to, adhered to and enforced. It is important that the fire fighters, the fire chiefs, have legal back-up to enforce their professional judgment where necessary. Whether it is overcrowding of bars or other gathering points, the provision of the escape mechanisms or any other issue on which they are called to advise, they should have the overriding powers. There can be a clash between that knowledge and the knowledge of planners. The fire chief or the highest ranking fire officer in an area has the expertise and must have the final say in matters relating to fire and fire precaution. It is imperative that we arm the powers that be in all walks of life with the necessary back-up but they must be able to enforce their professional judgment on such matters. In the new era of high-rise buildings we need the professional fire person to be the final arbiter in matters relating to fire, fire escape and so on.

One of the most dangerous aspects of fire is that none of us believes it can happen us. We may put a fire alarm in place. I became aware of that type of thinking in action through my own family. A brother of mine had refurbished our old family home which was a four-storey building. He slabbed off the top storey which would be used for attic-type storage space. In slabbing off that building he used soft building materials which were probably suitable for various jobs but not for that one. When he had it inspected by the local authority fire officer, the inspector refused to pass it on the grounds that the slabs had to be fireproof plaster board slabs. I confess I and the rest of us thought he was being extreme, particularly given the huge amount of money that had been spent on the refurbishment.

Approximately six months later at 2 a.m. a taxi driver, driving near Shandon which is the highest area in Cork, saw, half a mile away, flames coming through the roof of the building. He drove to what had been my family home, hammered on the door because everybody was asleep, and eventually the six occupants inside came out. When they awoke in the third storey, the bedrooms, the ceiling was a red mass. Were it not for the inspector's report and the insistence on slabbing there would have been six fatalities. That was a good lesson for us. Since then I have been on the side of enforcement whereas previously I might have made excuses that people did not have the money to put in place certain facilities, particularly in households. I no longer tolerate any arguments against fire safety. It was a personal experience but the inspection by that inspector saved their lives. I am sure there are many other instances where the same has happened.

Much of the building boom consists of high-rise developments. No doubt we have all seen "Towering Inferno" and said it was a great film, very exciting and so on but it is only a film. Arising out of that, there are many serious questions. I ask whether, in regard to the county hall in Cork, the trade union building, Liberty Hall and many other buildings, we have the ability to fight a fire in them. We certainly do not have the fleet of helicopters that were available to the fire chief in the film. We have Snorkels, which I believe extend only four or five storeys, perhaps a few more, and I certainly do not believe we have any apparatus for fighting fires in the upper sections of the new high-rise developments.

I am very concerned that commercial arguments and the push for development will take precedence over fire safety requirements. We should not wait for EU directives to address such matters. In this regard, consider the Seveso directive which addresses the danger of explosions and fires in industries using hazardous materials. No authority in the country had an idea of what was involved in this matter until the Seveso directive came into being. This prohibits the construction of buildings in which people gather if they are proposed to be located within a certain distance of industries using hazardous materials. In some cases, this distance is a kilometre. There was uproar over this. We were not aware of the directive and wanted to proceed with development. Too often we wait for directives from the European Union before we take action. I am concerned that this will lead to a serious incident.

Most Irish towns and cities came into being as rural communities grew and everybody knew what was required when something went wrong. Circumstances have changed and we must try to ensure through legislation such as the Building Control Bill that we do not make matters worse. More exacting standards for non-domestic developments in particular and greater penalties for breaches of the law will help prevent the construction of cowboy developments whose backers have much to gain, even if they have to pay the maximum fine.

I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, will share my concerns over high-density and high-rise developments. When considering high-rise apartment blocks, we should learn from the mistakes we made in places such as Ballymun in Dublin and various parts of Cork city, including Mayfield. The Deanrock estate in Togher is a case in point. Such projects were developed in times of panic when the accommodation list became very lengthy. People opted for high-rise developments that appeared to be good at the time, but these developments did not last too long as we are now demolishing them and trying to return to more normal types of development. The projects were ill-fated and gave local authority housing a bad name in several instances. In the case of Ballymun, the apartment blocks made people fear high-rise development. We paid for poor planning and a lack of vision in that the developments have now been demolished. In the case of the Deanrock estate in Togher, demolition in pending. Problems associated with high-rise development, such as traffic congestion, the colonising of surrounding residential areas to meet parking needs and, perhaps most important, the damage caused to neighbourhood identity, are all negative issues and need to be considered and addressed.

The driving force behind proposals for high-rise developments is the stated need for more accommodation. We are sympathetic to this as there is increased need for accommodation in urban areas in particular. Some suggest the only way is up but, while high-rise development is a means of achieving higher density, it is not the only way. It is possible to maximise density without reaching for the skies. In this regard, we require balance and a bit of common sense. We have suffered because of high-rise development, particularly in the case of Ballymun. New developments should enhance rather than detract from the environments in which they are located. Fire control authorities rather than architects and housing officers should be the ones asked for their professional judgment in this regard.

The third important element in this Bill concerns energy efficiency. In this regard we are only now complying with a relevant European directive, which proves the point I made on the Seveso directive. We could have been much more proactive. After the fuel scare some years ago, we became very enthusiastic about power and heat generation projects. In one case, the ESB and Bord Gáis together partly funded a hospital-wide project for Cork University Hospital. The project was unique in that the ESB and Bord Gáis, which might be seen as rivals, were brought together. However, the need was acknowledged and dealt with.

Our enthusiasm seems to vary according to the price and availability of oil or gas. There is much more we could do in securing energy efficiency. For the past two years, those involved in providing double and treble glazing have been working on new seal systems but they have been doing so on their own initiative and not on the basis of a legal requirement. We should have been pushing this some years ago.

I welcome the Bill and believe it should be implemented as quickly as possible.

I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words on this very important legislation. The quality of construction affects everyone's lives, not only Members but the people we represent. In particular, it affects the new generation buying houses and, in doing so, making the biggest investment of their lives. The building control legislation should protect them. The quality of construction also affects those who use public buildings.

I too want to refer to the Stardust disaster. We should all remember those who lost their lives in the tragedy and also their families who are still asking questions that deserve answers.

I will address the main point of the Bill. The explanatory memorandum states:

On foot of recommendations made by the Building Regulations Advisory Body (BRAB), the Bill introduces revised procedures for issue of Fire Safety Certificate (FSC), by local Building Control Authorities, confirming compliance with Part B (Fire Safety) of the Building Regulations of designs of new Non-Domestic Buildings (offices, factories, shops, hotels, etc.) and new Apartment Blocks.

The Building Control Bill, which has been sought for some considerable time, has important implications in this area. It is important that all the regulations be enforced. It is a waste of time making regulations, printing them and sending them to local authorities and inspectors if they are not adhered to. Quality should not vary from county to county or region to region. When ensuring fire safety, it is imperative that the standards laid out be upheld without exception. Otherwise there will be no sense in having the legislation.

The explanatory memorandum also states: "The Bill introduces a Disability Access Certificate (DAC) confirming that the designs of new Non-Domestic Buildings and Apartment Blocks comply with Part M (Access for People with Disabilities) of the Building Regulations." We must all agree with this. How many times have we heard examples of inaccessible buildings to which a great number of people need to gain access for one reason or another? Unless there is access for all and unless we meet the requirements, we are wasting our time. I welcome disability access certification.

The Bill widens the right of building control authorities to seek injunctions from the High Court. Under this legislation, such authorities will be able to seek injunctions to stop the construction or use of new buildings, the design of which has not been granted a disability access certificate. That is fine, but it is too late to take action if the construction of the building has already been finished. A system of inspection needs to be in place to ensure that buildings are being developed in the correct manner. I accept that the Bill will allow court action to be taken to ensure that construction does not continue if developers do not adhere strictly to the rules. We must accept and support that.

The Bill will give building control authorities the option of bringing summary prosecutions for all building code offences in the District Court rather than in the Circuit Court by means of prosecution on indictment by the Director of Public Prosecutions. That measure will simplify the prosecution process only if local authorities take action on time. We are aware that on many occasions local authorities spent ten or 15 years complaining and writing about problems which were staring them in the face before they brought such matters to the courts. In such circumstances, judges usually ask the representatives of local authorities why action was not taken sooner. Judges do not look after local authorities if 20 years have elapsed, which means that liability is assumed by the relevant supervising local authority. I hope the legislation under discussion will avoid a repeat of the mistakes which were made in the past.

This Bill does not provide for the completion of estates and compliance with planning conditions in the manner we would have wanted. We need to deal with two or three matters in this regard. Local authorities have always been able to control the manner in which development takes place. They employ development control officers to alert them to deviations from the accepted code of practice or from the conditions set out in the planning permission. If local authorities do not take action when such deviations take place, there is no point in them pointing out five or ten years later that there was no compliance in a certain instance.

Similarly, there is no point in someone coming in after 15 years and highlighting the lack of compliance in some cases. Such problems should be dealt with as they occur. How often have we heard about developers moving on to build a new housing estate without having completed the previous one? It is often found that work has stopped on three or four estates without planning conditions having been complied with. If the work standards of a developer are so slipshod and haphazard that he does not bother to complete a housing estate in accordance with the conditions of a planning permission, can we be certain that all other aspects of the construction of the development are in accordance with best practice? I ask that question as a matter of seriousness.

While I welcome most modern building practices, I am not sure about some of them. The marriage of steel and glass, for example, is much in evidence, but I am not sure it is the right thing to do. It is imperative that all the tolerances should be tested fully in the course of the construction of a building.

When I was in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris some years ago — I am not sure whether the Ceann Comhairle was with me on that occasion — I examined the configuration of the roof of a building that had recently been constructed. As an amateur with no qualifications in this area, I said to someone that I was not sure that type of construction — a high concentration of light steel or aluminium — would stand the passage of time. When I asked whether it would last, I was told that it would because the people who designed it were sure to have known what they were doing. As we are aware, however, the roof in question did not wait much longer before it fell in and there was no snow on it when it did.

We could learn some lessons from incidents of this nature. The roof I referred to fell in, whereas the roof of the National Aquatic Centre fell out. I advise those who are experts in the building industry, of whose activities I am seeing increasing evidence, to look carefully at issues such as tolerance, load transfer and load bearing before they scoff at innocent people who raise questions about their designs.

Previous speakers have discussed the Bill's provisions for the registration of various professionals in this area. Similar measures have been taken in respect of a number of other professions. The EU has decided to group various professions together to be administered in the usual way. I hope the proposed system will work in the way it is supposed to work. Many discerning professionals are anxious that the highest possible standards should prevail, the new regime should be all-embracing and bad practices should be avoided.

Like other Deputies, I received an e-mail that raised some questions about certain aspects of the proposed system of registration. It suggested that some competent and capable people who are fully qualified in every aspect of the construction industry could be squeezed out of the inner circle as a result of these provisions. I hope that will not be the case. On Committee Stage, we should give due consideration to the various professionals in this field. Nobody should be squeezed out because they are not part of an inner or upper circle. Decisions on registration should be made on the basis of one's competence and ability to do one's job. I compliment those who have set a high standard in the industry over the years. Like everyone else, I agree that there is a need for such standards to be maintained.

As the relevant Fine Gael spokesman, I especially welcome the section of the Bill that provides for the transposition of the relevant provisions of the EU energy performance of buildings directive. It will ensure that buildings, just like vehicles and electrical appliances, are the subject of energy rating and labelling, which is very important. Up to 30% of heating costs can be saved by the construction industry through proper conservation, labelling and the elimination of the escape of heat. That applies to public buildings and private buildings. I do not suggest that we should revisit the issue of the installation of the ventilation system in Leinster House 2000. Those of us who work in that building day-to-day know that the system leaves some room for improvement.

When one considers that the new regulations must come into force on 1 January 2007, it is impossible to understand why strict instructions were not issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government over the past six or seven months in respect of the pouring of foundations in affordable and local authority housing. I do not understand why builders were specifically requested not to provide for the new insulation and labelling standards. It would not cost much more to meet the terms of the new provisions now. It will cost quite an amount to do so in the not too distant future. I have already spoken about the energy conservation requirements for larger buildings. The legislation also provides for the registration of architects, which I have mentioned.

As someone who is interested in the simple and practical aspects of DIY, I have received representations from plumbing and electrical contractors who believe there should be an ongoing upgrade and evaluation of the standards which apply to encourage best practice and discourage practices like taking short cuts — no pun intended. The contractors in question have specifically requested that such measures be taken. When contractors take responsibility for a contract, they need to be sure that the standard of their own work is as high as possible. They readily say they can perform huge improvements in areas like heat conservation and the delivery of heating through proper wiring and properly constructed plumbing systems. That is what they tell me and I have no reason to disbelieve them. That is not to suggest that half the industry is slipshod, but it is an indication that someone out there has an idea or two that, if put into practice, would be very useful.

When construction was being undertaken on the Naas Hospital a few years ago, a gentleman approached me and indicated that he could reduce the overall cost of management of the sites, the plans and the layouts by a considerable amount without cutting corners simply by adopting new practices. They have since been adopted. Instead of getting a Kango hammer and charging a channel along the side of three of four walls, the channel should be provided for before precasting or in the construction of the wall. In that way, a builder does not have to go back over it. The same simple practice can be applied to floors. Great savings can be made on the construction of buildings, public or private, in this way.

Years ago, great emphasis was placed on cube tests on concrete. When the previous Building Control Bill came before this House — it was not today or yesterday — I remember raising that question. There is considerable scope for raising that question again. There is a tendency to rely on the minimum tolerances. It is like the maximum speed limit. One does not have to drive at the maximum speed limit; one can drive below it. Likewise, one should not necessarily rely on minimum tolerances becoming the standard. I presume that all the standards laid down for this Bill will have regard to that so that recognition is given to an extra requirement and that the minimum should not always apply.

I want to speak about the terrible blight on development nowadays. Up to ten or 15 years ago, the quality of development in this country was exceptionally high with the exception of some of the places mentioned. Most three-bedroomed houses for first-time buyers were of a high standard and had adequate space and a small garden in which children could play. That is not the case any more. Now we have what is known as the duplex system. This is essentially the construction of one house on top of the other with an external stairway leading into the upper house. There are shared playground areas and so on. I do not know who thought this was a great system. It saves space and it makes more money for the developers who get involved in them, but it does nothing for the people who live in it. In the middle of winter, an elderly person or a small child walking up or down those stairs will be blown right off by ice on the steps.

I do not understand why the wise guy who invented this system thought it was a great idea. I heard someone speaking to an estate agent indicating that the duplex system was great. They should be banned now. Consideration in the first instance should be given to two things, namely, the quality, durability and efficiency of the building as well as the quality of life for those who live in a duplex. It is no good saying that a new large block of flats built right beside a railway station looks good and caters for thousands. It will be tomorrow's slums if we go on like that. It is an appalling blight and it is a new phenomenon that has come about as a result of high property prices, not high land prices. In ten years' time, whoever is in this House will reap the whirlwind of it. It will be as bad as, if not worse than, Ballymun.

In a country of our size, we still have space to provide adequate accommodation and space for families, both young and old. It is not necessary to run scared and to pretend that Ireland will be like Holland soon. If Ireland had the same density of population as that which exists in Holland, there would be about 48 million people in the country. We are a long way from that. I do not accept the notion coming from some quarters that we must build upwards indefinitely. While we must do so to some extent and, if it is good quality, it can look nice, we need to have regard for tomorrow's families, generation and population when we decide to condemn them to one kind of development or another.

The previous generation may not have had much money, but we did have a place for the kids to play in the garden. We did not have to get involved in altercations, walk up duplex stairs, get blown down off them or break our necks on the ice on them. We did not have mothers trying to bring prams up the same duplex stairs. We have come a long way in many ways, but we have lost sight in many other ways. I hope this particular Bill regains some of what we have lost.

I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, taking this important consumer Bill. The Building Control Bill 2005 represents high standards and common sense. The people will adjust to and welcome this Bill. Let us get it right first time and take pride in our buildings and work. Safety must be a priority because life is precious. We should strive to have the highest standards. Nothing but the best should be good enough for the people and there should be no excuses. We now have the most educated and highly qualified people in the world. It is as easy to do a job the right way as the wrong way. In all fields, professional and qualified people are the experts. We should employ people who are qualified, have served their time and know what they are doing. Everyone is an expert in their own professions. Consumers should demand the best when they are paying for a service. They can help to improve standards.

In County Longford, we are fortunate we have a high calibre of architects. Longford-based architects, as well as Longford architects based in Dublin and New York, have reputations second to none. They are highly qualified and respected in their profession. In Longford County Council, a high standard has been achieved and the county can be proud of the staff in the council's planning section. Qualified building surveyors and quantity surveyors give a good service. We are fortunate that in County Longford our builders have a worldwide reputation for excellence. One can see the great work the builders have done. There are many examples of fine residential homes and commercial, industrial, retail and public buildings. The customer in County Longford is well catered for, with a wide choice of quality builders to choose from.

The rural tax has resulted in major improvement and development. We are lucky to have so many good builders and developers to develop our towns and villages — someone must lead the way. Builders are people of action rather than words. Longford builders have taken the lead at home in County Longford, in Dublin and all over Ireland, as well as in England, Scotland, Wales, and, more recently, in Europe.

The Bill in the main states that architects and other building professionals will be registered. The public will welcome, as I do, that these professionals will be properly qualified. It is only right and proper that properly qualified professionals are involved in the building profession. There is too much at stake and the people have too much to lose if qualified professionals are not employed.

I welcome the fact new homes and businesses will be more energy efficient. I also welcome the budget announcement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, of grant aid to help people use alternative energies in their homes and businesses.

There will be better provision for people with disabilities, which is a necessity. It is okay for people who have their health to take things for granted, but we owe it to people with disabilities to help to make all buildings accessible to them. Of all the people with disabilities, I think of the many who are, unfortunately, confined to wheelchairs in County Longford. They are cheerful, happy people with a great outlook. They are entitled to live their lives with the least inconvenience possible. It is time to ensure that all buildings are wheelchair accessible.

The Bill will ensure stricter controls on fire protection. The tragedy of many major fires with loss of life has been well documented. There can be no excuse for this. We must take all necessary precautions to prevent fires. A new fire station will shortly open at Ballymahon, County Longford, the new fire station being constructed at present at Granard is well under way and a site has been acquired for a new fire station at Lanesborough. I hope the Minister of State will look favourably upon the extension of Longford town fire station and a site is being pursued at present for a fire station at Mostrum, County Longford. It is too important to life——

That is a long list, even in an election year.

I am delighted the list seems long but no matter what list we give this Minister, he makes it shorter.

The Deputy should be careful the Minister does not cut bits off it.

The list was longer last year and the year before that.

Is the Deputy referring to the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe?

Deputy O'Keeffe is the man. "Batt-man" is delivering in Longford. He is doing a great job and I thank him in advance for the new fire stations he will sanction.

The enforcement of the building code will be tightened. All in all, consumers will welcome the Bill. Professionals who currently operate to high standards have nothing to fear. Qualified professionals will welcome the Bill. Only the best is good enough.

Most, if not all, builders in County Longford have excellent controls on their sites. The majority of builders I know are doing what the Bill would recommend regardless of the Bill. They did not need the Bill to bring them under control. However, unfortunately, some people do not conform to what is in the best interests of the public. The consumer can be happy with the Bill. No matter what laws, rules or regulations are in place, they can always be improved.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, for bringing this important Bill before the House. As Deputy Kelly said, it marks a good day for the consumer. It will be seen in years to come as progressive consumer law. It is also appropriate that the Bill is before the House soon after the anniversary of the Stardust tragedy. Many of the victims of the tragedy hail from my constituency. We must make sure that a similar tragedy never happens again. The Bill goes a long way towards ensuring that.

The enforcement of the legislation will be the key measure of its success or failure. From my overview of the proposed legislation, I believe it will result in much progress on a number of levels. It will assure the public that those calling themselves architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors are properly qualified. It strengthens the enforcement of building control law to ensure that Ireland's high building control standards are fully adhered to and provides for the energy rating of houses and commercial buildings. Together with the new building regulations, these measures will bring long-term cost savings to householders and business and help meet Ireland's greenhouse gas emission obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Bill also marks a further move in implementing the Government's commitment to disability by requiring commercial buildings and apartment blocks to be certified as being compliant with disability access requirements. The feedback I get from my constituents indicates that there is a demand for this kind of legislation. With building activity running at all-time record levels in Ireland, it makes sense to strengthen our building control system and to seek to improve the energy performance of our existing and new building stock. We need to build better buildings, instil public confidence in those who design our buildings and recognise the qualifications of the people involved.

The time is long overdue for legislation to protect consumers from unqualified people passing themselves off as qualified building professionals. Accordingly, I welcome the registration of the titles of architect, building surveyor and quantity surveyor because it will give a greater degree of protection to the general public. This will mean that only qualified people on a statutory register will in future be entitled to use these titles. The registration system for architects is to be administered by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and for building surveyors and quantity surveyors by the Society of Chartered Surveyors. I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Roche, will ensure that the eligibility criteria for registration will not be decided by the relevant registration bodies, and the Bill lays down a rigorous system to ensure that the highest standards are met.

It is absurd that in 2006 one need only put up a sign stating "architect" outside one's door to classify oneself as such. Most people will remember a "Prime Time" programme from last year which claimed that a property consultant made 132 applications to a local authority in Dublin since 2001 but the council could find no record of planning officials ever having met him. It emerged that the council had refused 67% of the architect's valid applications, which the director of planning for Fingal County Council described as a very high rate of refusal by any standard. When one arranges to meet a doctor or consultant, it is reasonable to expect he or she has followed a recognised training course and achieved a professional qualification. One has reason to assume that is the case. However, we should also seek to find a means of recognising those who have demonstrated their ability, not through formal qualifications but through their work.

Registration has been in place in the United States, for example, since 1990 and in the United Kingdom since 1930, but to which model should we aspire? Research leads me to believe that the best model in place is that in the United States. The Association of Building Engineers has made a submission on the Bill supporting it. It is a sign of a good Bill when those about to be regulated welcome the legislation. As Deputy Kelly said, legitimate architects, surveyors and builders have nothing to fear from this Bill, rather they will benefit considerably from it. It is only the cowboys who will have to worry about it. The majority of builders in my constituency are good builders who will not have any problem with it.

Some years ago the Competition Authority stated that the case for regulating those who describe themselves as architects had not been adequately made. In a consultation paper on the profession the authority suggested that a regulatory impact analysis should be undertaken before the proposal to regulate it was progressed. I have heard criticism with regard to the length of time it takes to qualify as an architect, approximately five years with two further years postgraduation. We now have universal application of academic standards throughout Europe and a common understanding of what constitutes a qualified person. This is a welcome development.

I am pleased the Bill enhances fire safety controls and provides for better compliance with disability access requirements under the building regulations. This gives teeth to the enforcement of the building control legislation. The introduction of a disability access certificate will ensure that the disability compliance requirements of the building code are fully respected. The requirements will advance the rights of people with disabilities to enter and use buildings, a precondition for equal access to services and employment.

I welcome that in parallel with the publication of the Bill the Minister will embark on a public consultation exercise to review the current building control standards as they relate to disability, the Part M requirements. I hope all interested parties take full advantage of that process. With regard to making public buildings accessible for people with disability, we should not wait for this to happen. The timeframe of ten years which will take us to 2015 seems a bit too long. How could those responsible take ten years to make a building accessible? This period is too lengthy and I do not understand the need for such a long timeframe. I ask the Minister to review this on Committee Stage and do all he can to speed up the process.

We want to reach a stage where people with disabilities can leave their homes and access footpaths and public buildings and go about their business. The issue of accessibility of footpaths has been brought to our attention on numerous occasions. We must ensure that when a person leaves his or her home in a wheelchair, he or she can reach his or her destination. They should be able to travel along footpaths with dish kerbs in place that enable access for wheelchairs, not the current situation.

Although I welcome the introduction of a disability access certificate confirming the designs of new non-domestic buildings and apartment blocks will comply with Part M of the building regulations, I have severe reservations about the process of seeking High Court injunctions to stop the construction of new buildings if their designs have not been granted disability access or fire safety certificates or if an enforcement notice served by the local authority has not been complied with. There must be a simpler way of dealing with such problems.

I am aware that with regard to energy performance the heating and cooling of buildings account for an estimated 45% of energy consumption and of related CO2 emissions. The conservation of energy in buildings must be a key part of any energy policy at national or EU level and is a cornerstone of the national climate change strategy. The Bill, together with new building regulations, will put Ireland to the forefront of the EU in driving energy efficiency in our homes, offices, factories and other commercial buildings. This will be a win win situation for energy savings and the environment.

The Minister was right in saying that good builders are being penalised because of rogue builders who are allowed to do as they like in a race to the bottom. There is pressure on good builders who want to construct safe apartment blocks that comply with standards but who cannot compete with rogue builders who take short cuts, do not use proper materials and fail to put fire prevention measures in place etc. The Minister must review the matter and if necessary introduce new legislation that will give teeth to local authorities to enable them to force builders to operate properly and finish estates.

Currently local authorities are not in a position to deal with the obligations placed on them in this regard. We impose new duties on our local authorities from time to time, even though they do not always have the relevant personnel to carry out such duties. We must, therefore, be realistic when passing this legislation and ensure the necessary personnel are in place to implement its provisions. An example of the current farcical situation is the ongoing controversy relating to the failure of local authorities to take charge of unfinished housing estates. In numerous areas in my constituency it took ten or 12 years before such estates were taken in charge. This is a significant problem in Dublin as I am sure Deputy Finian McGrath could confirm. I have heard him raise the issue at council level.

This is a progressive Bill. I thank the Minister for introducing it and commend it to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Building Control Bill. This is an issue we all deal with on a daily basis. The area is a mess and cowboy builders give a bad name to everybody involved in the business. We regularly have to deal with situations where developers commence estates but never finish the job. The enforcement sections of the local authorities of which I have experience are inadequate to deal with the challenges they face with regard to developers who try to get around the regulations to avoid doing the required work.

There seems to be a total lack of communication between roads, planning and enforcement departments of local authorities. For example, bonds are deposited in planning departments and set aside in case the developer does not complete an estate. I know of a particular case where the bond deposited would not even complete the fencing around the estate. The estate was built on the banks of a river and needed specific fencing so that children could not access the river, but the bond left behind after the developer up and left would not even cover the cost of the fencing. There is something seriously wrong when planning authorities do not insist on a decent bond to ensure that if the developer does a runner we can get the works done. This is a regular problem. Although local authorities have become more conscious of developers not completing estates, the bonds appear to be wholly inadequate in ensuring that work is completed. As a result, the developer knows that if the council forecloses on the bond, it may cost him less than finishing the work.

While under the Planning and Development Act 2000 a local authority can refuse to consider any future applications from a particular developer, the local authority would have to go to court to implement it. That is unacceptable. Such a matter should be dealt with in the daily planning process. If a developer cannot finish one estate, an authority should not have to go to court to refuse planning permission to commence works on another estate.

There has been some progress on "taking in charge" under the Planning and Development Act 2000, but the efforts are inadequate. For example, I know of a number of estates where the local authority has argued that if it is forced to take charge of the estates, it will not do any work on them because of a lack of resources. We are back to square one again. If the local authority at any stage took any type of enforcement proceedings against a developer, they seem to get away scot free. The whole thing is a mess, leading to huge frustration among people living in what can only be described as war-torn estates. In one estate I know of, manhole covers were not provided, and footpaths were not put down. Clause 804 material was put down to serve as a footpath and driveway into the estate. It was left in such a state by the developer. It took years to get the local authority to step in and carry out the works there. This is the type of mess being dealt with around the country at the moment. The Government needs to consider this area again. I am glad we are strengthening enforcement, but it is pointless unless the enforcement offices of the local authority are properly resourced, which is not the case at the moment.

I ask the Minister of State to consider bringing together the legal expertise in various local authorities. Some local authorities have their own legal expertise while others employ a private solicitor. The issue of planning and development and enforcement of the regulations is complex, and we should look at shared legal services as this would be most effective. I find that even when files go to the county solicitor to be processed legally, it can take years to move them along, track people down or deal with the nuances in the legislation and so on. We consider this option in every other area and the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, discusses it ad nauseum with regard to health services. A group of experts in a shared services facility controlled by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government would be a positive development.

Before turning to the issue of housing densities I refer to the matter of disability access certificates in the context of this Bill. There are a number of houses, owned by local authorities, which would not meet the requirements of a disability access certificate. Many were constructed before relevant legislation came into force. However, in conjunction with grant aided work carried out on local authority houses, we should consider making buildings as accessible as possible. It may not be feasible with some buildings. This would save returning to the property on foot of a disabled person's grant and going through the process again. Accessibility works should be done when a property is being worked on anyway. I ask the Department to consider this.

My main reason for speaking on this Bill is housing densities, which are now unbelievable. In the county of Roscommon, which is very rural, the main growth is in the south. The fastest-growing area in the county is in the environs of Athlone. The residential density guidelines refer to greenfield sites in the vicinity of towns, stating that only eight to ten houses should be built per hectare. The document also indicates that when evaluations are being done on housing densities, a number of criteria should be taken into account, with the proximity to a town or city centre or available facilities being examples.

In my parish in the Bealnamulla and Monksland area, there is no public transport but massive apartment blocks are being built. These are turning into ghettos. Public amenities and public facilities are not being provided. There is not enough room in the estates to park all the vehicles of residents. The local authorities are nonetheless encouraging developers to put in more housing. It has gone out of control. There are incentives to build because of the development charges, the housing density guidelines and so on. I do not know how applicable these guidelines are today. They discuss open space and general landscaping. There is no public open space in this community, and the only portion of public open space is on the county boundary between Roscommon and Westmeath. The only amenities are a soccer and GAA pitch, which must cater for an ever-increasing community.

Another element which should be taken into consideration is the provision of footpaths and pedestrian access. There is not even a footpath from the County Roscommon side to the boundary with County Westmeath. With regard to traffic safety, roundabouts are not being put in. Crossroad junctions are being created with major housing estates on both sides of the road, there are no traffic lights, and people are taking their lives in their hands getting into and out of estates.

The guidelines also discuss the creation of area action plans. In County Roscommon, we are coming into the fifth year of our county development plan, and the first local area action plan is only now going on public display. The local authority does not have the engineering and technical staff available to ensure that these plans are developed, or that development is occurring in a structured and sensible manner.

Placing massive apartment blocks on greenfield sites away from town centres, without any public amenities or public transport put in place will create ghettos for tomorrow. One suggestion by Fine Gael for combating anti-social behaviour was that consultation should take place with the Garda Síochána in planning major housing estates. I have come across a couple of developments where planning permission has been granted for alleged green areas which no houses overlook and which are completely closed off to the public. I brought it to the attention of planners and they laughed at me. They do not regard the issue as relating to anti-social behaviour.

Debate adjourned.