Deputy Naughten was in possession. He has eight minutes remaining.
Building Control Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).
Previously I was making the point that the Garda Síochána should have a role in decisions on major housing developments to ensure that development does not take place in a manner that facilitates anti-social behaviour. Planners in my local authority have jeered and sneered at me for bringing to their attention a number of developments in which anti-social behaviour is facilitated by the design of green spaces that are not overlooked by the windows of any houses. Research on anti-social behaviour in different developments shows, and all the top architects in the world will confirm, the importance of ensuring that public open spaces are overlooked by the windows of surrounding properties as that provides necessary security. Sadly, that has not happened in some parts of the country.
On a different topic, another problem is the tendency in some parts of the west to allow a montage of brightly coloured houses in housing estates. That is completely contrary to the building standards that were in place heretofore. For example, a number of housing estates in County Roscommon have houses that are bright red, yellow or blue. If the housing in any village in County Roscommon was painted in that manner, the village would be deducted points in the tidy towns competition. In places such as County Roscommon and many of the midlands counties, the housing is of a very plain style without the bright colours that are seen in parts of Munster. It is a pity that local authorities are allowing such developments to establish themselves in counties such as Roscommon.
Another issue I want to highlight is development contributions. I am aware of one development in the south Roscommon area for which the developer handed over €2 million to the local authority, which has not spent one cent of that money in that local electoral area. I appreciate that local authorities need to pool development contributions and spend the money throughout the county rather than just in the area where the development is taking place, but it is critical that part of the contribution is ring-fenced for the local area to provide it with amenities and services that are not currently available.
Similarly, we need a methodology for the calculation of development contributions throughout the country. For example, as spokesperson for agriculture, I am aware that some local authorities demand development contributions for the construction of farmyard buildings for which farmers will be able to claim waste management grants. In some areas those grants will be eaten up by local authority development contributions whereas in other areas such developments are exempt from contributions. We need some standardisation across the board because the current situation is confusing for business and developers. The process needs to be more streamlined.
Part 2 of the Bill will strengthen the enforcement powers of building control authorities. Building control is in a mess and is a complete joke. If the developer of a facility does a runner, funds are not available for the local authority to take charge of the facility. The Government needs to examine the issue of enforcement because the existing legislation is wholly inadequate to deal with such situations.
One issue that infuriates me, although it is a small matter, is the names given to some housing estates. I cannot understand how names such as "Tudor Lawns" get through the planning process. Many such names are English ones superimposed on Irish developments and this should not be tolerated. Developments should utilise local names rather than names which are alien not only to the areas in question but also to the country as a whole.
Developers have a responsibility to provide local authorities with the proper Irish translation of the names of their developments. Although we have Irish language officers, disputes can arise in some cases regarding Irish translations of particular estates. The Irish translations of the names of housing estates should therefore be clarified at an early stage by developers when they are submitting their proposals to the local authorities. They should submit sensible names for their housing estates and include the Irish translations so people will know them. Disputes over translations can be messy in some cases and they would not arise if a sensible approach were taken in the first instance.
Discussing this Bill is useless unless we have proper resources to enforce it. The area planner of my local authority took up office on 1 January 2006 and, although I have left numerous messages for that person every week, we have still not spoken. It is unacceptable in this day and age that certain public officials are not prepared to respond to elected councillors or Members of the Oireachtas in respect of planning queries and provide clarity. As bad as the Department of Health and Children is, which subject we debated previously, the local authority structure, especially the structure of planning offices, is appalling by comparison. This is not just the case in my local authority because colleagues from other local authority areas have told me they experience the exact same difficulties. Some officials almost believe it is an honour for one to be rung by them to respond to a query.
Part of the problem is the lack of planners in local authorities to deal with planning cases on a day-to-day basis. The position on enforcement is appalling, and wholly inadequate resources are being made available in this regard. Staff are being stolen from enforcement offices to engage in day-to-day planning because there are statutory obligations in respect of planning.
Last Monday a constituent of mine rang me about a sand hill that was being removed by a developer. I contacted the planning enforcement section and discovered there was no planning permission to remove it but the staff said they could do nothing unless my complaint was put in writing. By the time my letter would reach the local authority, the hill would be removed. What is happening is stupid and unless adequate resources are in place, talking about this legislation will only make a farce of the matter.
This Bill is impressive, far-reaching and progressive and it encompasses a very wide range of issues, including fire safety, climate change and industry registration. The Minister should be congratulated on bringing it forward and addressing so many concerns in one fell swoop. The Bill is multifaceted and yet it is cohesive. Each section is deserving of a speech in itself. There is not a single person in this country that the Bill, when enacted, will not affect. Its provisions for the implementation of the directive on energy performance in buildings and its consideration of global greenhouse gas levels serve as a case in point.
As all Members are aware, the stricter controls on fire safety contained in this Bill are being proposed close to the 25th anniversary of the Stardust tragedy. This appalling event is a black mark on the history of this State and, as a public representative for Artane and surrounding areas, I have experienced at first hand the heartbreak and suffering it has caused. I welcome the recent discussions provoked by the landmark anniversary of the disaster and hope they will eventually lead to some kind of closure on the event.
We need a new inquiry.
That does not arise in the context of this Bill but I have called for a commission of inquiry. I will pursue this.
Fair play to the Deputy.
It seems the details of that horrific night have been gleaned annually since 1981 and, every year at about this time, recommendations of the tribunal which have yet to be implemented are highlighted and new fire safety measures are called for. On the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, the fact that the prosecution of a pub or club owner for breach of fire regulations entailed taking a case to the Circuit Court rather than the lower District Court was underlined by certain people in the fire services. The Bill addresses that concern and simplifies the prosecution process. Prosecution in the District Court is opened up as an option to local building control authorities.
There is no doubt that we have come a long way since 1981. The annual running cost of the fire service is now in the order of €250 million and Dublin alone makes up for €90 million of this sum. Since 1981, the State has provided the fire service with almost €240 million in capital funding, including €19 million this year alone. A major refurbishment of the Dublin fire brigade training centre at Marino, the O'Brien Institute, to the tune of €20 million, is at an advanced stage of planning and I hope the Minister will give this project swift approval so the work can begin.
Existing legislation in this area includes the Fire Services Act 1981, the Building Control Act 1990, the precursor to this Bill, and the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003. All these had their merits. The 1981 Act was passed in the immediate aftermath of the Stardust tragedy and it imposed statutory responsibility upon persons in control of buildings to take precautions to prevent the outbreak of fire, and to ensure the safety of persons on the premises in the event of a fire. It also provided for inspections to be undertaken by fire authorities and, as a result, more than 13,000 inspections of almost 10,000 premises were carried out in 2004.
The Building Control Bill 2005 enforces existing legislation regarding the fire safety certificate process. If this Bill is enacted, the use of non-domestic buildings and apartment blocks will be entirely disallowed without the relevant certification. Given the prospective financial implications, I am sure this will, as intended, deter developers from shirking their responsibilities in this regard. However, we must keep reminding ourselves of the lessons learned from the Stardust tragedy. Laws that are passed must, first and foremost, be enforced and people must be aware of the requirements of the law.
Last August, 15 people were evacuated from a burning building on Ormond Quay in Dublin. There was no fire escape in the block of nine apartments and the fire blocked the only exit. Thanks to the work of the emergency services, there were no fatalities. However, the case should not have arisen in the first place. In the wake of the event, a spokeswoman for Dublin City Council toldThe Irish Times that building regulations required all new or newly renovated buildings to have fire certificates but she was unable to state the position on fire safety certificates for older buildings. I am pleased this Bill does not discriminate between old and new apartment blocks. Enforcement is gravely important when issues of safety are in question but implementation must precede enforcement. I am aware that aspects of the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003, about which I spoke in this Chamber more than three years ago, have yet to be put into operation. Discussions with the entertainment industry and fire authority experts on the licensing of indoor events by local authorities are ongoing. This is not satisfactory and I hope it will be resolved soon.
We know from the Stardust tribunal that the designing of buildings by unqualified people poses a real danger to the public. Like other people, when I come across newly published Bills I am sometimes surprised by the issues which arise from them. That people can arrive on these shores and refer to themselves as architects, regardless of their qualifications, is totally unacceptable and unsafe. People have been demanding since the foundation of the State that this glaring negligence be remedied. In my research, I discovered that a staggering 80% of the complaints made to the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland in 2004 related to work being done by people who were unqualified. Stories of rogue builders are not just urban myths. This Bill provides for the registration of the titles of "architect", "building surveyor" and "quantity surveyor", which will help to boost consumer confidence in the industry. It is significant that the Bill has the full endorsement of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Association of Building Engineers and the Building Regulations Advisory Body.
The architecture industry is spending a great deal of time in the public eye because the Government is continuing to provide record levels of housing and debates on urbanisation are broadening and becoming more intense. My experience as a representative of the Dublin North-Central constituency and as the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government has taught me that planning is a major issue. People are increasingly seeking to build apartment blocks rather than houses. Apartments constituted 68% of all housing units built in the city of Dublin in 2004. I am greatly concerned about some of the issues which arise from that. The provision that management companies be established is a fairly new phenomenon in the granting of planning permission to apartment complexes. Developers are required to establish management companies and subsequently to transfer the responsibilities of such bodies to residents who become responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of services within the boundaries of complexes. If they choose to retain such responsibilities, it can be quite daunting for people without previous experience in this area to deal with problems relating to water, drainage and lighting etc. Such responsibilities can cause real headaches for people who already have full-time jobs.
I was pleased to note recently that Dublin City Council has established a residential section with responsibility for issues that can arise in the private rented sector, with particular regard to apartment complexes. The new section will support management companies by giving them advice on how best to fulfil their responsibilities and give some kind of structure to the system. It is comforting for one to learn that the services of professional management companies can be availed of, until one also learns that the city council has no responsibility or authority to ensure that management companies provide services to adequate standards. There are no standards for the provision of services to housing and apartment complexes, even though such complexes have become a large part of the answer to our housing problem. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently published a report in which a review group recommended that auctioneering, estate agency, property letting and property management agencies be licensed and regulated. I remind Deputies that in 2004, 80% of all complaints made to the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland related to work done by people who were unqualified. The House is addressing that problem today. I hope similar provisions will be made soon in respect of bodies operating in the private residential sector. I look forward to debating such legislation in the near future.
As the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government, I am familiar with the EU energy performance in buildings directive, which has been the subject of healthy debate at many of the committee's meetings. I am delighted that the directive is being transposed into Irish law in the Bill. The enactment of part L of the building regulations, which relates to the thermal performance and insulation standards of buildings, will reduce the energy required to heat a domestic dwelling by between 23% and 33%, depending on the size and type of dwelling. This significant reduction in energy requirements will have a knock-on effect on the cost of heating, which will decrease by approximately €188 per annum, and will add to the cumulative effect of the amendments to part L regulations, which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 400,000 tonnes a year by 2012.
Under this legislation, the energy performance of buildings will be measured by a building energy rating system and assessed by building professionals who are registered in accordance with the Bill. It is appropriate and necessary that the new rating system will be introduced on a phased basis over the next three years. Although technical guidance documents are available to those involved in the building industry, the new system has the potential to cause confusion among home owners and buyers. I hope a sustained awareness campaign will be initiated over the coming years to reassure people and inform them of their duties and the requirements under EU law. The implementation of the action plan that has been put in place on foot of our adoption of the EU energy performance in buildings directive will have a massive impact on the health of our environment.
The measures in this Bill have huge significance for Ireland's commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Our current building output is set to continue. The demand for housing is starting to be met by supply. Figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency two weeks ago show that greenhouse gas emissions rose slightly in 2004. The increase of 7% in emissions in the residential sector can be accounted for in part by the housing boom and the increase in this country's population. The residential sector produces just over 10% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it the fourth highest contributor. The third highest contributor is the transport sector, which produces 17.5% of our greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions of the transport sector, which is a victim of current social trends, increased by 6% from 2003 to 2004.
I urge the Government to work harder to increase the practicality of the use of biofuels, which entered our market recently. There are strong indications that biofuels could become commercially viable within two years. A number of pilot projects in this regard are under way in Dublin. I would like more major companies to prepare feasibility studies on the prospective use of such environmentally friendly fuels. The emissions levels in the transport sector, which have increased significantly on a sustained basis, are well over double what they were in 1990. Given that innovation and adjustment are important in this regard, I am pleased that section 5 of the Bill, which relates to alternative energy systems for large buildings, requires that any person proposing the construction of a building with a floor area exceeding 1,000 sq. m. must ensure that research into the use of alternative energy systems for the building is prepared and consolidated into a feasibility study with the intention of putting it into practice. This is an innovative and positive approach to environmental matters and to planning law. It is particularly notable in the context of the recent relaxation of the retail planning guidelines which opened the possibility of large-scale retail outlets being designed and built.
I have merely skimmed the full implications of the Bill, but this is clearly impressive and commendable legislation. It is multifaceted and innovative, yet it is workable. It has raised other issues that need to be addressed and I look forward to seeing them examined shortly in these Houses in legislative format. Time constraints mean that I have not been able to deal with many other positives contained in the Bill, including its provisions safeguarding disabled access for new buildings, but they are equally important in making this Bill's passage into law an exciting prospect. I hope that Committee Stage of this Bill can be taken without delay. Architects are anxious to see the provisions of this Bill enacted straight away. As chairman of the committee, I will make myself available to process Committee Stage without delay and I hope the Minister can facilitate that. I commend this Bill to the House.
I welcome the belated appearance of the Building Control Bill 2005. If I am not mistaken, it was listed on the 1997 programme for Government among all the other papers presented by the Deputies who were in Opposition at the time. In the last year of this Dáil, the Government has finally got around to it. I commend my colleague, Deputy Quinn, who raised the issue of this Bill with the Taoiseach at least ten times on the Order of Business.
The Bill is based on the report, entitled Building Control: Strengthening the System, which was prepared in May 2004 by a working party of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland, the Institute of Engineers of Ireland, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors. This working group came into being owing to the clear implication that implementation of building controls had been grossly deficient since they were introduced in 1976. The group sought to bring rules, law and order to this part of the construction industry, especially in respect of the qualifications of professional people and the new energy directive on household buildings. I commend the Minister on bringing forward the Bill at long last.
However, this is just too late for my constituency and for most of the Dublin region. The horse has bolted and we are stuck with what we have which is the direct result of the disgraceful behaviour that occurred on county councils throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This behaviour created the "get rich quick" developers who preyed on councillors and delivered high-rise, high-density, unplanned development on the fringes of Dublin city and county. These developments will be a disaster in the future.
There is much concern in my constituency of Dublin North-East about the development of the so-called north fringe. This is a monumental development of more than 20,000 housing units which will produce an additional population of around 60,000 in my constituency alone. If we include the constituency of Dublin West and the south fringe of Dublin North, especially the massive expansion of Swords, the capacity for getting it wrong is very grave.
We hear calls from all quarters for accountability, yet our leading newspapers, such asThe Irish Times and the Irish Independent, receive a large part of their finances from auctioneering companies and developers through their massive property supplements. Last week’s property supplement of The Irish Times was larger than the main newspaper itself. There is also a commercial supplement on another day. Our other leading national newspaper has similar property sections. Can there be any relationship between the fact that the print media is so well funded by the current development process and the fact that we have not heard calls for the reform of the auctioneering profession, the process of planning and development, the outrageous powers of councillors to rezone land and the planning powers of county and city managers?
The north fringe forum is a body which I proposed four or five years ago. It tries desperately to invigilate the massive development of our constituency. If I were a Dutch MP and we were planning the north side of Amsterdam, there would be real democratic engagement. The existing residents would have some input, along with their councillors and their MPs and we might be able to come up with a framework of development for the expansion of the city that is acceptable to everybody. That did not happen in Dublin where an elite minority of developers behaved in a criminal fashion over the past two decades to ensure that we will be left with a high-density ring to our city with very little social infrastructure. At many meetings of the north fringe forum we find that we do not have schools, primary health care centres or hospitals nor do we have public transport facilities such as park and ride. We do not have the facilities that should be in a modern development.
We can see the end result in today's property supplement ofThe Irish Times, where one headline reads “Keen prices in last phase of new city quarter”. A price of €250,000 is quoted for a one bedroom apartment that measures 63 sq. m., with prices going up to €410,000. Another puff piece is headlined, “Value for first timers at the Northern Cross”, which lists a 45 sq. m. apartment at €265,000, rising to €365,000. These are new apartments located in an area which has no social infrastructure. They would certainly fail the current building regulation proposals that are before us today. I am nearly certain that there are no lifts in these apartments nor access for people with disability, yet they are on the market. I also believe that the energy requirements of the new EU directive are not being fulfilled.
The key problem to this is that there is no social infrastructure in tandem with the new developments. I know that in the west side of the city there is a strategic development zone at Adamstown which is a much smaller development than that in my constituency. We should at least have such a zone in Belcamp which is located in the north fringe area. That does not currently exist and we are developing a high-rise, high-density city which is reminiscent of north Paris. We should remember the events that occurred there last year owing to the social alienation that existed. The Government is presiding over this development in the golden age of developers. That is the tragic reality. Even with the existing controls, the big problem is that part L of the building regulations is not being enforced or policed, for example, with regard to energy efficiency.
The horse has bolted in the case of much of the development in my constituency, the various sections of which have been in the proposal stage since about 1999 and where, over its four major phases in Baldoyle, Donaghmede, what is now being called Belmayne and Belcamp, there is already outline or proposed permission for between 16,000 to 20,000 units. These regulations will not be any good to that area and they will not solve the difficult problems with which I and my successor public representatives for the Dublin North-East constituency will be faced. Some fundamental issues relating to public infrastructure have not been addressed. This is not just additional infrastructure but issues such as the area's hydrology. There has been no hydrology report, for example, on the two areas closest to the sea. The Government went out of its way to ensure no flood plain studies would be carried out in the Dublin or any other coastal region. All it wished to do was continue to add the apartments.
As one watches the apartment boxes being lifted into place from high cranes, box after box like Lego, one wonders about the standard and quality of those apartments and what the future holds for the new residents who will pay expensive prices for them. In many cases, the developers themselves will pay for these apartments. There is a growing tendency on the part of developers to buy or hold half the street and this is something over which the Minister has no control. Young people who put their names down last September for houses in the Stapolin area of Baldoyle, which were priced at €350,000, discovered a few months later when they contacted Sherry Fitzgerald auctioneers and the developer, Menollys, that all the houses at that price were being held by the builders as investors. The next cheapest house available was €410,000.
I disagree with my colleague's statement that supply and demand are equalising. The reality is that, as Deputy Gilmore said, tens of thousands of young people have given up hope of being able to afford their own house or apartment. They just cannot manage due to the constant, vicious manipulation of the system, over which this Government presides, which went from rezoning and stroking to lashing through plans and approving high density development without the social infrastructure. Ultimately, there is a golden or iron alliance of auctioneers and developers. Why is there is no control of auctioneers Bill? Where are those regulations? We will not see that under the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government because they are too closely involved with that area of society.
I have a feeling the Deputy has an involvement somewhere along the line too.
I do not.
I have a feeling that I read or heard something——
What about Frank Dunlop?
What about the Deputy's party?
It was not me. If one looks at the history, in most city and county councils there was an iron alliance between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There has been talk about the coalition Governments this country might have, but the real coalition is in local development where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have worked hand in hand together. It was an iron alliance. The end result is that young people are paying through the nose for homes and many of them have given up hope of getting homes.
Then there are the people who, for one reason or another, are unable to work or do not have an income or are on benefit. There are 6,000 of them on the Dublin city housing list alone. Each week we desperately try to get them some affordable units. However, with every planning permission no decision is ever taken about affordable units until long after the planning permission is given and the houses and flats are nearly ready to be occupied. That is another issue the Minister could address.
The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has already demonstrated that the number of affordable houses being built this year is unprecedented. He has also shown that provision is moving forward under Part V.
The Government has had nine years. I am weary of this, as are other Members. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, said that by the time Opposition gets a crack at running the country, it will be too tired. That is a truism because it has been nine long years——
Too tired to run the country?
The Deputy's party is trying to snuggle over to this side of the House.
You are resisting heavily.
What I am afraid of after the election is the way you might look at us.
I have listened to my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, year after year giving the figures for affordable houses. There were practically none until last year. There are approximately 3,500 this year. In fact, up to the start of last year a total of 250,000 houses were built but only 1% of them were affordable houses. That is an appalling statistic.
There is a need for huge reform of how we plan and develop our future households and commercial development. With regard to the north fringe, the north fringe forum — I pay tribute to Mr. Clive Brownlee, formerly of Guinness, who is the chairperson, and the local area manager, Declan Wallace — has tried to keep tabs on this bolted horse, as it were, and is desperately, along with the other stakeholders and agencies such as the HSE, the Department of Education and Science, Beaumont Hospital and Dublin Bus, trying to get services for the area where development is proceeding at a fast rate. There must be a better way to do this. It is one of the great scandals of my time in politics that we have not been able to plan new housing in a coherent and supportive way by including all the additional necessary services. If I and the Minister ever meet on the central boulevard of that development in five or ten years time, I hope we will not regret not taking proper responsibility for the area at the appropriate time.
I welcome the comments Deputy Haughey made about the fire safety regulations. Today's newspaper shows that, at long last, the services appear to be responding more vigorously. The newspaper reports that a proprietor was prosecuted for locking doors of the premises during a function. Given the incredible carnage at the Stardust 25 years ago, it is appropriate that this should occur. I hope the full inquiry everybody is seeking will take place.
I welcome the Part 2 initiatives in the Bill, particularly the fire safety certificates, the regularisation certificates, the disability access certificate for part M and the move towards summary prosecution in the District Court. These are basic requirements to ensure that new buildings will meet a fundamental standard. As I stated, our concern is that recent buildings do not meet this standard. Section 6 contains a provision for appeal to An Bord Pleanála with regard to disability access certificates and fire safety certificates. Why is this the case? Why do we need this type of appeal? Given the importance of access and protection from fire disasters, why should the local control authority not be in a position to simply implement its enforcement, and leave it at that?
I welcome the legal transposition of Directive 2002/91/EC of 16 December and the implications this has with regard to energy performance ratings for new housing stock and will have for such ratings for older housing stock from 1 January 2009. Until recently, many households had appalling energy efficiency standards. Very often, the lower the household income, the less well it was insulated and heated. I welcome the fact that Energy Action Ireland, through Government funding, is providing insulation for free to senior citizens. I commend the Minister for this initiative and hope it will be extended.
My party, of which I am energy spokesperson, believes that householders and individuals have a grave responsibility for their own energy footprint and carbon dioxide emissions. The implementation of the directive through this legislation will be an important step in encouraging people to take responsibility for their own and their households' carbon footprint. I welcome the measure and hope it will be vigorously implemented.
I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister. I hope it will be the first of a series of Bills which will in the coming years try to avoid the mistakes that have happened and are happening in vast areas of our cities and towns.
I reassure Deputy Broughan that the person who has been most vocal in seeking regulation of the estate agency profession, with the possible exception of Senator Ross, is the Minister, Deputy McDowell. I look forward to reminding Deputy Broughan of his words before the end of this Dáil. I have no doubt the Minister is keen to have this issue addressed.
Deputy McDowell is in Government.
I welcome the Bill, which provides for measures regarding disability access and fire safety, although it is tardy when one considers we are implementing legislation 25 years after the Stardust disaster, which is not a matter of which we can be proud. The Bill also deals with the regulation of professions. However, a most important element of the Bill is that it transposes into Irish law the EU directive on the energy performance of buildings. It is largely to this aspect that I will address my comments.
The energy rating directive is concerned with pollution. The issues of energy, security of supply, our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and carbon dioxide emissions have moved centre stage as important international geopolitical issues. We find ourselves at the end of a line in terms of supply. Security of supply is a key element, the other being the consumption of energy. The Bill and the directive address the issue of conservation.
As was stated, the heating and cooling of buildings accounts for roughly 45% of energy consumption and results in the corresponding generation of carbon dioxide. Given that the performance of buildings accounts for such a high proportion of consumption, it is important that we institute policies which will seek to get the best performance possible from buildings. Apart from the energy supply needed to heat and cool buildings, we must factor in the additional costs of the carbon dioxide produced as a result. It is an issue we must take seriously.
It is important that we are finally transposing the directive into Irish law. Some have claimed it will result in higher house prices, which is not the case. It is in the long-term interests of householders to have their buildings perform efficiently. We need to encourage and inform householders in this regard.
I appeared on a television programme earlier this week to speak on this matter. It was brought to my attention that the directive will come into law but nobody will know about it, which highlights a problem with the Dáil. It is seen by Members as a glass house and we think that because we are discussing an issue, everybody else is also discussing it. They are not.
We must follow up this issue when the directive is transposed into Irish law. Funding should be made available for an intensive advertising and information campaign to explain it to the public. It is in the long-term interests of householders to have their buildings perform to the highest standards. We have an obligation to inform householders and provide incentives, although I accept that many incentives are currently available. I am a great believer in the carrot rather than the stick. Whether the aim is to encourage people to insulate their attics more efficiently or otherwise, we must try to reduce the national consumption of energy and we must incentivise people to achieve this.
The briefing material suggests carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 22% through efficiencies. This represents a huge bill, with which we will be faced if we do not act. We have signed up to the Kyoto Protocol and we need to be conscious of the consequences of this. We can show we are serious about the protocol by tackling issues which will reduce carbon dioxide levels. The proportion of emissions resulting from housing is greater than that from the transport sector, so we need to get our act together.
Some 70% of housing stock has been built in the past ten years — the Minister may correct me if that figure is wrong. People are now more aware of the energy performance of buildings, largely due to the significant recent increases in the price of gas and oil, and they realise that their homes need better insulation. However, I regret that we are brought to this point kicking and screaming and that we always do the minimum. We should try to introduce provisions which would take from models of best practice, such as Sweden. I accept Sweden has a colder climate but we must look to best practice and try to emulate it.
The owners of the 70% of houses which are under ten years old could have been provided with much more efficient heating systems had we introduced maximal insulation regulations and construction standards. We owe this to householders who are facing huge bills. Most would agree that oil and gas prices are only going one way, namely, up. We need to face this reality. If we do, it might cost a little more to build a house or invest. I heard it would cost an additional €20,000 to €25,000 to build a one-off house to the highest energy efficiency standard. While it is not everybody who can afford that extra money, how long would it take to get that amount back? We need to give people an incentive. A constituent told me of an energy efficiency grant available to a developer building ten units. However, such builders will not necessarily embrace the higher standards as they try to keep costs to a minimum to maximise their profits or to reduce the price to the buyer. We also need to incentivise building one-off houses in the most energy efficient way. We should reconsider the matter and amend the proposal to encourage those building their own homes to do so in the most energy efficient way. It has been indicated that a house built to the highest standards would give the household an annual saving of approximately €1,000. It would not take long for the investment to be returned.
We also need to be very conscious of building management. In addition to heating of buildings, cooling is becoming more common. I heard that an audit was carried out to determine the efficiency of the heating in the Dublin City Council building on Wood Quay. It found that the building is heated and lit for 54% of the time that it is unoccupied, which is quite extraordinary. I heard that, unfortunately, the person responsible did not particularly mind that this was the case. I was horrified to hear that he did not care as long as the lights and heating came on on Monday morning when the employees arrived. Whatever about the lights, heating a building for 54% of the time when it is unoccupied represents an enormous waste of money for the local authority. In addition it produces CO2 emissions.
We need to clamp down and make people think about how they are adding to CO2 emissions, as it will cost us a considerable amount. As most Members will know, when the carbon tax issue was first discussed, it was thought that we might need to pay €10 per tonne. However, it is now at approximately €23 to €25 per tonne and probably increasing. People are insufficiently aware of inefficiencies and their costs. I was in Government Buildings during the week. When I came down the main staircase I was overwhelmed by the heat. Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, runs a campaign in the depths of winter encouraging us all to turn down our thermostats by 1° in order to reduce our bills by 10%. I would recommend that the heating in the vicinity of the main staircase close to the Taoiseach's office be turned down, as it is extremely hot there. We need to lead by example.
All public buildings should meet the highest energy efficiency requirements and not just minimum standards. At the design stage we need to consider how a building is located to maximise the use of natural light etc. We are certainly getting better. We have a very high standard particularly in civic offices throughout the country. We have wonderful examples of modern architecture. I hope as much attention is being paid to the energy efficiency of these buildings. The town hall in Dún Laoghaire is the jewel in the crown of the town. That is a fine 19th century building. The civic offices in Birr, County Offaly, are beautiful and are a wonderful example of a 21st century building. We should spend money on building civic offices to the highest architectural standards. While I have not been there, the civic building in Swords looks beautiful. I hope energy efficiency is considered when they are built.
When introducing legislation we need to ensure it will be well policed. It is in the long-term interest not just of the country in terms of reducing CO2 emissions and the cost of importing fossil fuels but also of the public to police these standards. We need to have enough inspectors who need to be familiar with the building standards and the new standards of energy rating to be confident that the directive will work. One speaker asked whether the legislation was just paying lip service. We must ensure that enforcement is a key element in the Bill. When considering buildings that might not have been built to the highest energy efficiency standard, we need to recognise that the cost of doing something right is much less than the expense of trying to remedy it after it has broken down.
The Bill in transposing the energy performance directive has pollution in mind and we should all welcome it. I look forward to better building standards.
I wish to share time with Deputy Finian McGrath.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. I agree with having lifetime adaptable housing to which we should all aspire. When we are born, we do not know what might happen in the future and how our lives might change. God forbid that we might become disabled, but it can happen. Our housing should be as people friendly as possible. The system should serve the people and not the other way around. Too often that emphasis is lost and the Bill may help in that regard.
Part M was included to make a difference and allow premises to be accessible. However, there are growth limitations and I understand the Minister is reviewing part M, which is to be welcomed. The difficulty is that while a house may be accessible, getting to that house may not be possible, which defeats the purpose of part M. It may be that the extent of it is to ensure that toilets are accessible to disabled people. While major improvements are required in part M, it represents a step towards lifetime adaptable housing which should be our goal.
While we do not know whether we might become disabled, we know we will get older. We hope we will have long lives, which often means increasing disability and thereby not being able to use a house that is not disabled-friendly. We should aim towards equality for everyone rather than catering for a disability. We should aim to ensure that everyone, right across the board, has the same ability to access a house or building. We know well that surveys conducted show disgraceful access to premises, particularly public buildings. There is 4% access to housing developments under construction, a disgraceful figure that must be improved.
One must know who one is dealing with if it is a professional person. If someone is an architect, one should be able to trust him or her to do the job. That is very important, no matter what walk of life one is in. In building especially, many people purport to be architects, and people must know exactly who they are dealing with.
Energy conservation is logical and should be backed to a greater degree by Government grants to ensure access to the best materials, thereby cutting people's energy use and bringing us into line with what we should be doing as good Europeans, if not as people who have an obligation to protect the earth for the next generation and ensure we do not waste finite fossil resources.
There are problems with planning, and in the context of this Bill, I would like to mention one or two. While there are guidelines for planning in local authorities, there is no real easing in terms of people being able to live in rural areas. I come from a rural area and this is dear to my heart. I see the importance of infrastructure and housing, the most important element of infrastructure. If one cannot live in an area, there will be no further development there. There must be provision to build a house in a rural area, with services for it. If there are houses, there are people, and if there are people, there is a need for services. That helps the regeneration of rural areas, but when one has a policy directing people towards the largest centres of population, as currently, it can only lead to continuing depopulation elsewhere. The Minister should re-examine interpretation of the planning guidelines by local authorities. There are some very fine people working as planners for the local authorities and they are under much pressure. Many non-nationals are now working in the area. I sometimes wonder, however, whether they have the expertise and understanding to deal with the rural planning issues that face them daily.
Another point relates to vexatious objectors and it must be examined. I have had personal experience, having unfortunately been involved at a community level with such people. In one situation, I was trying to arrange an extension at St. Brendan's Village in Mulranny, but the whole process was scuppered by people who could write in without giving a name or address and hold up the entire process. They were able to produce a list of objections that would have to be gone through and teased out. There is an onus on the Government to consider that situation, since people should not have the right to frustrate community projects in that way.
That it is happening all over the place. I had to engage the services of a private detective to try to find out what exactly was happening there. I discovered the person supposed to have given the letter of objection to the local authority did not even exist. The block of flats where the person was supposed to be living was one where a great many non-nationals were accommodated, and after extensive inquiries it was found that no such person existed. It was an attempt to frustrate the planning process. Although I got the gardaí to investigate further for me to check that no such person existed, the only thing worrying the local authority was whether it would have somewhere to send the notices regarding what was happening in the planning process.
The Minister must examine this matter, which I have raised before, although I was not at all happy with the response. The Minister must reconsider the situation and perhaps formulate some form of sanction against persons who try to frustrate the planning process in that way. An Bord Pleanála has an important onus to do the right thing and act independently. While I do not doubt the integrity of its staff, I wonder about the lack of representation from the community.
The Irish Rural Development Association was established in response to difficulties with planning in rural areas. I am not in favour of a free-for-all in planning, since there should be some restrictions. However, there must be fair play and an obligation on the Government to ensure the people who live in an area, whom this is all about, should be allowed to remain there if at all possible, just as their families did for generations before them.
I will give an example of a decision by An Bord Pleanála where its own inspectors were over-ruled. If that happens, the board has an obligation to provide a detailed analysis of its reasoning. In the Ringaskiddy incinerator case, there were written objections from 20,000 people, and despite the decision by Cork County Council not to carry out the necessary rezoning, An Bord Pleanála ruled in favour of the development, even over-ruling its own inspectors' findings. That was strange indeed, and where it takes place, An Bord Pleanála should spell out why it is doing so.
One must understand that this is about people. Michael Mohan said that the concept of inclusive design was linked to a universal right of access. The excellent bookBuilding for Everyone by the National Disability Authority stated that the user was at the centre of the issuing process rather than the building or designer, an approach whereby accessibility, central to the process from the outset, can become invisible, properly integrated into the general building design. It concludes that the aim of inclusive design, sometimes called universal design, should be to make it a seamless part of the design process so everyone can participate equally.
It is about equal access rather than disabled access, so we move away from the negativity that accompanies disability. If we move towards equal access and promote ability rather than disability, we will be on the right road. We must not forget that people are in the centre of this equation and must be served.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the Building Control Bill 2005.
This discussion is both very important and very relevant to the times in which we live. We talk about development, planning apartments, and densities in urban areas in particular. Before I go into the details, we should seriously examine the role of developers, pointing out to them that they have duties and responsibilities. They also have a strong duty and responsibility to ensure estates are finished properly. I have been extremely critical of certain developers who have not delivered to the customers who bought their homes. I demand that they finish estates and install the proper infrastructure before they exit. There are also developers who have shown good practice, and I do not wish to exclude them.
Just as developers and builders have a responsibility regarding this legislation, so too do Ministers, Members of the Oireachtas and councillors.
It is a little rich, totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable to have lobbyists and people with bundles of cash knocking on politicians' doors in the middle of the night. Similarly, it is unacceptable to have a politician claiming not to have looked into an envelope and consequently being unaware as to whether it contained €2,000 or €3,000. This is not good enough and must be challenged effectively during this debate. Sleaze and corruption in politics must be rooted out and cannot be tolerated. Apart from politicians, allegations have been made with regard to corruption among officials in different sections of various councils throughout the State and this matter should also be properly investigated. Both officials and politicians have been severely damaged.
As I noted, some developers have done great work. While I welcome the fact that developers make money, it should not be at the expense of taxpayers or young home buyers. If they have extra cash, they should donate it to charities or to worthwhile projects. Some already do so. Politicians must face up to their responsibilities and cannot turn a blind eye. Failure to co-operate with the Garda in this respect is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for a politician not to respond to a letter from the Garda in respect of any allegations of corruption in their council area. One should not remain silent or fail to respond because one does not believe the query to be relevant. Members and political party leaders should note there is no point in throwing stones at the Government parties if they themselves are directly or indirectly involved in such matters. I will not accept this and the Independent Members will stand by the taxpayers and the citizens and will stand up for the people in this debate.
These activities took place in the past and that reality must be faced. Turning a blind eye to corruption and sleaze should never be an option in public life. People seek honesty, decency and fair play in politics.
On the subject of planning and development, I wish to discuss the tragic situation in my constituency, where recently the Silver Swan public house on Kilmore Road, Artane was reopened. This was the site of the tragic Stardust disaster in 1981, in which 48 people died, 241 people were seriously injured and hundreds of families were severely damaged. Despite this, a businessman had the brass neck to open a public house on the site on the 25th anniversary of the fire. This is unacceptable to people of the northside of Dublin and it will not be tolerated. I commend the families and protesters. I have been on the picket line myself for many nights in their support.
I wish to take the opportunity to ask the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, to encourage the Cabinet to reopen the investigation into the Stardust fire tragedy. People have the right to truth and justice. They have submitted new forensic evidence on the issue of the Stardust's fire doors which should be examined. These are serious allegations which have never been faced properly. When one discusses planning and development for the future, these are also important elements. If that businessman possessed any courage, he would have provided a proper facility for young people in memory of the 48 victims on the site, rather than a public house. A major protest will be held in Drumcondra next Saturday at 10 a.m. I encourage all Members to attend.
When the issue of public money is being dealt with in the context of planning and development, it is important to recall and seriously question the amount of wasted public money in respect of the building and construction of major infrastructural projects. For example, my constituency contains the Dublin Port tunnel project. Some 240 houses have been severely damaged with cracked walls and kitchens, or subsidence in their gardens or extensions. However, the Government parties, as well as some of the major Opposition parties, are silent on this issue. It is unacceptable for the residents of Marino, Santry and Fairview to be treated in this fashion. I will stand up for them inside and outside the House as they demand their rights and seek support for the damage to their homes. Before the project commenced, they were told that nothing would happen. In reality, there is a major issue in respect of damage to homes, as well as floods and leaks. While people have appeared on television to assert that the residents are being alarmist, the water buckets are down underneath Marino, Fairview and Santry. I challenge people in respect of this issue.
Moreover, the project has run €200 million over budget and some predict this figure will rise to €400 million. I raise these issues because they are important and because the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has spent €30 million for a farm in north County Dublin which is valued by most sensible people at approximately €4 million. This kind of wastage of taxpayers' money is unacceptable and should be challenged. This money could have been used to end the scandal of patients on trolleys forever. Alternatively, the Government could have built all the new schools it needed, or could have made a major dent in the housing lists, or could have developed child care services. Above all, it could have assisted the elderly.
This is an important point. The Bill provides for the strengthening of the enforcement powers of local building control authorities. On foot of the recommendations made by the buildings regulations advisory body, the Bill introduces revised procedures for issue of fire safety certificates by local building control authorities to confirm compliance with part B — fire safety — of the building regulations for designs of new non-domestic buildings, that is, offices, factories, shops, hotels and new apartment blocks.
The Bill also introduces a disability access certificate to confirm that the design of new non-domestic buildings and apartment blocks complies with part M of the building regulations, that is, access for people with disabilities. I wish to highlight the rights of people with disabilities. Developers and planners have a duty to ensure the rights of tens of thousands of people with disabilities are protected. They have the right of access to buildings and it is not good enough to build apartment blocks or public buildings without respecting people with disabilities. I commend the disability groups, particularly those who for the past ten years have been directly involved in promoting the rights of people with disabilities to services and proper access to buildings. After all the talk, more than 3,000 families remain on residential respite and day care waiting lists. This is the reality for families who must cope with intellectual disabilities and is an important aspect of this debate. The section of the Bill which deals with disability access certificates should highlight the need to strongly support people with disabilities.
An action plan for Richmond Road is under development at present and I welcome Dublin City Council's input to the plan. However, it has a duty, before any further development commences on Richmond Road, to ensure the infrastructure to cater for new developments and residents is put in place. This includes upgrading the drainage, especially flood and foulwater, provisions. Considerable upgrading of the road infrastructure, including Grace Park Road, is required, along with provision for pedestrian, bus and cycle traffic. There should be consultations with Dublin Bus regarding the requirement to provide a bus service for Richmond Road and the large new apartment blocks and housing estates. The number of new traffic lights should be restricted by ensuring all the new developments feed into the main road appropriately. There should also be adequate street furniture and lighting as well as an upgrade of the freshwater supply.
I support the residents of Richmond Road, who should also be protected by the Garda. Recent incidents after a match between Shelbourne and Glentoran in which residents had their windows smashed also constitute a problem.
The Deputy should conclude.
I will highlight these issues in the residents' interests. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this legislation. Developers have responsibilities and citizens have rights and I urge Members to listen to this argument.
Deputy Finian McGrath is not alone in his concern that we should have the highest standards on the part of both politicians and officials in respect of the administration of local authorities and Government. I have been pleased by the volume of legislation which has been introduced since 1997, which will keep all Members on the straight and narrow. It ensures the transparency of the reporting mechanisms operated by individual public representatives and offers accountability to the highest level. Despite the numbers of cases which have been reported recently in the public media concerning officials and politicians, it cannot be forgotten that the great bulk of politicians and officials serving at national or local level perform their duties beyond reproach. This point must be stated as frequently as possible because since my election in 1997, I have heard numerous debates in this House which centred on the corruption of a small number of officials and politicians who took money for one reason or another. Most Members enter public life to do their best. While Deputy McGrath is correct up to a point, the other side of the argument must also be pointed out and taken into consideration.
I welcome the Bill introduced by the Minister, Deputy Roche. For me, the most important part of it is perhaps that which refers to the control of those qualified as architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors and ensures that all involved in those professions are suitably qualified for the work they are undertaking, that there is a register kept of those qualified to which people can refer and that all those involved in those professions are expected to keep up certain standards in their work with either developers or individual members of the public. Most of the issues of which we speak in the context of this debate start with and can be controlled by that block of people who engage with individuals and developers and who provide the professional advice to make a planning application in the first place.
I have seen far too often where developers purchase a large tract of land for an enormous price and thereafter must ensure that the highest number of units are put on that site in order that they might get a profit from it. Deputy McGrath also referred to this. That is what the profit line is driven by. I understand that the developers must make money, but the need to make back the type of foolish money invested in sites is causing a problem within the planning section because after the purchase they press for permission for the greatest number of housing units, apartments or commercial units. That practice must stop. Developers must adopt a commonsense approach to the purchase price of land and to the planning permission available subsequently.
In my city of Kilkenny I have seen in-fill sites, for example, being purchased at outrageous prices. For that price the developer then must get four houses instead of two. If it is properly stated within the county development plan and if the architects and the surveyors appointed by the developer properly state prior to purchase what can be achieved on a site, then there will not be the rush to the maximum limit and beyond which is seen currently within the planning process. Part of controlling that, without being mentioned in this Bill, is set down in the context of how we treat the architects, surveyors and quantity surveyors. It is good that we are doing that in the context of legislation.
Alongside and parallel to that there should be a system whereby within the Department every planner is not only informed of this legislation but extends it to the point I mentioned earlier, that prior to a purchase where a pre-planning query is made, the person or company making the inquiry is brought in to hear the various restrictions on the site explained, not only in the context of legislation and the county development plan but also in the context of general sensible development that can take place on that site. All that planning has an impact on what is achieved on the site and the consumer. I am glad that this legislation has a serious focus on the consumer in question and makes a serious effort to protect the rights of future consumers in the context of any development taking place.
I would suggest that a proactive role needs to be taken in this by county managers and the engineers employed in local authorities. That can be achieved by consultation with the Departments to ensure that a common line is followed in every county. One of the other issues is that there is no consistency between counties, that is, greater density is achieved on specific sites in different counties and that leads to confusion. Setting it out in the context of this Bill is therefore a good idea.
The Bill's other focus is on the disability groups. Given that approximately 80,000 units are being built a year, it is very important as the economy develops and improves with greater turnover and people having greater aspirations and expectations that we focus on the area of disability and ensure in the context of good planning that every aspect of the Bill is adhered to. This leads back to the architects and surveyors. Too often over recent years I have seen lip-service paid to the legislation and the planning regulations on access for those with a disability to public buildings or general housing. The Bill sets down a certification process for those who make planning applications. I want to see that certification process streamlined, efficient and achieving what is set out in the Bill on behalf of the consumer.
As we move along in this process of developing the country and providing all these housing units, commercial operations and civic buildings such as administrative centres in the various growing centres of population, this certification process must ensure that there is not only public access for those with a disability to toilet facilities, etc. but that we really extend the process to make working buildings for everyone. The critical judgment call I would make on any building is whether there is access for everyone. There is such access in some of our civic buildings. There are lifts and ramps and people can access every part of the building to do their business. In older buildings, however, there is not such access. In a city such as Kilkenny where there are many old buildings which cannot be tampered with due to their heritage value, there are also those used as civic buildings such as City Hall which a person with a disability cannot enter because it contains stairs from top to bottom and there is no lift.
As this Bill is being introduced by the Department with responsibility for heritage and local government, there is a need to ensure that we lead by example and that a much greater effort is made to ensure that those with a disability can access those older buildings. That means spending a considerable amount of money on slowly but surely going through that list of buildings and ensuring accessibility for all. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, apart from this Bill but in the context of the work of the Department, would encourage county managers to get to grips with the problems in such old buildings. For instance, in Kilkenny Borough Council one of the members of the council cannot access the building and sometimes the meeting must be held elsewhere. That is unforgivable, given that the issue of access has been debated over the years. It always comes down to funding and in the context of this Bill, we must lead and show good example. Showing good example will cost money but it will pay off in the end.
Similarly, where the owner of a commercial building, regardless of whether it is leased to a company, shows an intent to make it accessible, there should be grants available. We cannot simply set down legislation and correct it as we go along. We must revise what is in place. It would be no harm if the State were to provide a financial incentive to people who own such buildings to do the job of providing lifts, ramps, wider doorways etc. That needs to be done sooner rather than later. It will pay off in the context of accessibility to services and employment. People with disabilities who could not take up certain jobs previously because of the lack of access to buildings will be able to do so following the enactment of the legislation.
The granting of planning permission has become a major issue in the enforcement of building control. My experience with Kilkenny County Council has been positive because it has an enforcement section. One can have a complaint processed to ensure a building is constructed in accordance with the planning permission. These sections are hugely important in the context of this legislation. The Minister of State said he intends to speak to county managers to ensure their building enforcement sections are alive and well and take a proactive approach in ensuring planning conditions and provisions in this legislation are met so that buildings are in compliance with planning permission.
That will create a need for additional local authority staff if the Minister is serious about implementing the legislation. Will the Minister of State examine the issue of joined up Government and relate it to joined up agencies? Health and Safety Authority staff undertake site inspections while staff in the Department of Social and Family Affairs and Revenue also inspect building sites for other reasons. Their efforts should be combined to police the building regulation process. I encourage the Minister of State to examine the possibility of using this multi-skilled cohort of staff to undertake this work, which would eliminate the need to recruit additional employees to enforcement sections that need to investigate building sites. The behaviour of a number of developers and builders towards employees by neglecting or ignoring their rights has been at the centre of public discourse in recent weeks. A multi-agency approach to resolving this problem should be considered.
I refer to fire certification. The fire service needs additional staff to cope with the number of buildings that need to be certified, given the increased development taking place in every county. When fire certificates are approved, sufficient staff should be available to ensure there is no delay in issuing them. Under the legislation, a developer will have to secure a certificate that reflects the provision of access for people with disabilities and a fire certificate to comply with planning permission. This will increase the public scrutiny of planning applications and provide opportunities for appeals and so on. The process should be transparent and open to the public while achieving efficiency in the granting of certificates and complying with planning permission within the specified period. Deadlines need to be specified for both making applications for certificates and the approval of such certificates.
A major onus will be placed on the fire service. Its core task is to deal with fires, accidents and so on in the community. There are major gaps in the fire service infrastructure and investment is needed in staff, vehicles and buildings. Fire stations also have access difficulties. As communities develop and new standards and regulations are enforced, the Department must lead by example and ensure the fire service can adequately deal with the safety issues for which it is responsible. The service should have the infrastructure and resources it needs, including funding, to ensure it can do its job. I commend the men and women of the fire service, who work more than the normal number of hours to ensure a fast and efficient service is delivered to the local communities. However, they work against a backdrop of the construction of 80,000 additional housing units, the extension and relocation of many commercial buildings and the expansion of centres of population. Commercial premises are relocating to county towns and so on where they would not have set up in the past and the fire service is trying to catching up with this development. The fire service is offering new services in towns such as Freshford and Castlecomer in my county but there are gaps in other urban centres such as Graiguenamanagh, Thomastown and so on.
We must focus on what is expected from the service. The Bill will be implemented by local government, which we are told is seriously under pressure, and the fire service, which is also under pressure. The Minister of State must acknowledge this and make the appropriate changes, where necessary, and the Government should be prepared to increase investment in the system. I am pleased energy efficiency in new homes is covered in the legislation. Developers and others will be encouraged to look beyond oil fired central heating and consider other heating concepts so that people will not be affected by the price of oil. Developers should be encouraged to take on new concepts when building new homes and commercial premises larger than 10,800 sq. ft. That is a positive development. Our approach should be environmentally friendly. I look forward to the debate on the finer points of the Bill on later Stages.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. The Opposition usually highlights what is missing. However, I welcome a number of provisions in the legislation, including the proposed increased powers for local authorities to enforce planning requirements on access to buildings. We have failed on this issue. Many years ago legislation was introduced which stated access to buildings should be provided at the front for people with disabilities. However, most buildings did not comply with this and access was provided through a side entrance or through the back. That is the same as saying to somebody with a disability that he or she must enter through the back door because the ramp does not look good at the front of the building. Although it was right to introduce the legislation, it has not been enforced properly and we have let ourselves down in this regard.
This often happens with our legislation. Across the board local authority planning is an area where we have failed to come to grips with the actions that should follow on from good legislation. I welcome the fact that this Bill probably gives us more powers to enforce the legislation properly in this area. It is a step in the right direction.
I welcome the change in the limits on who can use the terms "architect", "building surveyor" or "quantity surveyor" and that professionals will now have this status and be named on a national register. This is important. Many people work in this area and charge people large amounts of money to design houses, draw plans, etc. I question the ability of some of these and wonder what education they have and what courses they have completed. I would go further than the Bill. Apart from having to display their qualifications, they should have to show a portfolio of their previous work. There should also be more of a link between professionals and councils at local level.
Councils and professionals need a greater understanding of each other's business. When new laws on planning and building controls are introduced, some professionals fall behind. For example, in January new regulations required planning applications to include a contour study, but most planning applications continued to arrive without it. We seem to miss out on simple issues such as this. Who ends up paying for these failures? The customer ends up paying when the architect must resubmit everything and advertise the application again in the newspaper. I suggest there should be more interaction between the different professionals doing jobs for customers and the councils.
Sometimes council staff and staff in planning offices are not well informed on the regulations and changes in them. They may only get one copy of the new rules rather than a copy for everybody. I have visited planning offices — not in my county — where only one copy of the planning regulations came for free from the Government and any further copies had to be paid for. We still expect them to enforce the regulations. What is the logic in this? We should do it properly and equip councils and staff to enforce the legislation.
Apart from legislating to provide councils with the powers to enforce regulations, we must consider providing finance. We have slipped up in this area, especially in areas with the pressure of high development, mainly in the greater Dublin region and other cities and large towns. We have not properly resourced planning departments either by providing sufficient staff for good planning or for checking building control procedures. We need staff to check if conditions are complied with and that buildings are constructed as they should be.
Some improvements have been made in staffing. However, it is hard for local authorities to get sufficient funds to be really in control. Without good staff who know their job and have time to do it, we will not have proper building controls and the local authority will not be in authority. In most cases the developers will have the power and they will laugh at the councils because they do not have authority. We must staff councils properly and equip them with the knowledge and training they need to have proper standing and building controls. While this Bill is wide-ranging, it touches on just a few of these areas.
I have a major concern where conditions of planning are not enforced. We should not accept this situation nor should it be allowed. Every developer should be made carry out the conditions of planning without excuse. We accept they may want to change the conditions for certain reasons, but let them make another application to do so properly and let them inform the residents of the association or estate of the changes they intend to make. The public are the people who lose out when changes are made. They end up suffering because of the lack of control or the lack of powers.
Another concern of mine is the record of builders and developers. Under the Planning and Development Act councils can refuse developers permission based on their record or on whether they have done a bad job previously or been associated with a company that has been involved in a bad development. However, they can only refuse them on these grounds by first going to the High Court. We know how much that costs and that is the problem. Local authorities will not run the risk of going to the High Court.
I welcome, therefore, some of the changes in this Bill relating to building controls for smaller developments and the possibility of going to different courts. Councils will not run the risk of high costs. Planning law is a grey area and if a council takes a developer to the High Court, it is likely the council will lose the case and be down a few hundred thousand euro. That leaves less money for footpaths, lighting and facilities for young people in towns. Councils rarely run that risk. Therefore, developers know their past record will not be taken into consideration and just laugh it off. They continue to do things wrong, knowing they will get away with doing so. There are some good developers but there are also many chancers who do not do a good job. We have not taken control of the situation and stamped out this bad practice.
The main problem with the lack of building control is finishing off estates. A person building a one-off house cannot afford to be cheeky with the council or to take any risks. These people face the full rigour of the law and the council comes down on them if they step sideways or build on an extra room. The big developers, on the other hand, who know the game well and have the staff and can afford to take on the council get away with bloody murder on a regular basis. They leave estates half-finished without footpaths, lighting or a second layer of tarmac. They know they will get away with it and do not care. It is a shame we do not stamp this out and insist the council is in charge and must be respected. That is what we should do. If we did this, it would save us money and hardship in the long run.
There is no provision in the Bill to provide for building control inspectors who will oversee the quality of work on housing at the various stages of building. In other jurisdictions each level of development is checked and overseen before the council signs off on it to ensure the quality of the houses being built. I have been in many houses built during the boom of the past five or six years that would not be passed. Local authorities do not even pass them when it comes to buying them under shared ownership schemes, thankfully. Why do they allow them be built? It is because councils were not given the staff or finance to check them and control the development. Unfortunately, many people have bought houses that are not up to the quality they should be. We will have major problems as a result in the coming years.
We are familiar as local and national politicians with the problems faced by estates where sewerage and water systems have not been installed correctly. This is because of bad workmanship and a lack of adequate supervision. My local authority has included a charge on each development to try to ensure there is some money to pay for a surveyor or someone to check the work. We should not have to do that and I am not sure it is within our rights. It is our attempt to control what is being built and to end the bad work being done.
In some cases digital images of developments have been submitted that did not relate to the development to imply that everything was all right and sewage pipes were clear, etc. What goes on in the industry is a disgrace. Why does it happen? It happens because people want to take shortcuts and make larger profits, people who have not been properly trained do the work and, most importantly, people know they will get away with it because we do not have proper controls.
We have had some improvements but much damage has been done. The message must go out that we will not accept bad workmanship. On behalf of the people who buy these houses, we must ensure they are built properly.
We have a concern about the phasing of works on developments. People end up living in houses on what is still a building site without lighting or footpaths. We need a change in this regard so that developments are constructed in an orderly fashion. I welcome the introduction of local area plans and strategic development zones, SDZs. These are a good way of carrying out developments because they bring order and organisation. However, there are still too many one-off applications for estates that do not blend in well in their area.
A major problem is finishing off estates, especially electricity connections. The ESB, the developer and the council are involved but no one takes charge of it. We have residents' associations fighting for three years to get their lights turned on. These are lights that are in place and if a button was pressed, they could be on. However, because of procedures and rules that have not been changed in modern times to speed things up, the residents sit in darkness, night after night. We all know how dangerous it can be to walk around a building site or housing estate without lights. We must find ways of speeding things up and sorting them out. Someone must take control and get things done so the issues are resolved.
The purpose of building control is to make people afraid of the authority and let them know who is the boss. It is designed to ensure builders do things correctly in the first place and have proper discussions on each development. I am speaking specifically about housing estates and the development of new areas.
I favour a formal procedure, although I know it can happen informally in some areas, whereby every planning application for over a set number of houses in towns and villages would be brought before a meeting of the area council. That meeting would be attended by all those involved, including the engineers, planners, the manager of the area, the person involved in community facilities and some of the councillors, who would discuss the impact of the estate on the village or town. They could examine whether new footpaths are needed to allow residents get to town and who will pay for them, whether a new school is needed, and so forth. Builders have to provide crèche facilities for every 70 houses, but perhaps a new community centre would also be needed. It is important to look at the overall picture and the impact of adding a new estate to an area. Ideally, that should be done at zoning stage, but it is not always done then. In some cases, the rezoning has been done already. A discussion should take place on who will pay for everything and if that means requesting more time to deal with the application, so be it. The application should not be pushed through just because the two-month timeframe is up.
I have a major issue with the bonds given by developers to councils. They are always too low and as time passes, their value diminishes. If an application is granted in 2000 but the development is not built until 2005, a bond of €20,000 is not sufficient. At that stage, €20,000 is the profit on one house for a developer, who may think to hell with it and move on. He or she will not spend time finishing the work to get the bond back. If the bond really hurt developers, financially or in some other way, it could make a difference. Developers would then finish the job correctly and complete an estate in order to get it back. I ask the Department to examine the option of ensuring the bond reflects the price of the houses in an estate or that the last five houses cannot be sold until the estate is completely finished. That would mean the bond would be relevant. At least then if a developer did not build the houses for ten years, the value of the bond would have increased accordingly, rather than being an historical cost which does not bother him or her. Small changes could help greatly in terms of building control and stamping out faults.
Effective building control and follow-up legislation rests on money and proper funding but our local authorities are not being properly funded. Some are lucky enough to have a high rates base, with numerous companies and industries in their areas. To take my county of Meath, its rates base has been €11 million or €12 million for the last number of years. This year, with some changes, it will be lucky to take in approximately €16 million. The council next door, Fingal County Council, gets approximately €100 million in rates, which is a massive difference. This is the money used by councils to provide services to people. In growing counties like Meath, Kildare and Louth, money is not available to match the increases in population and to allow the local authorities to provide services like building, planning and environmental control as well as basic facilities to allow people to get on with their everyday lives.
We have been saying this for a long time, as former local authority members and as Deputies. The proof is now on paper in the form of the report from Farrell Grant Sparks which shows the funding provided to Meath County Council is only 70% of the national average. The population of County Meath has increased by over one third in the last few years. It now has a population of 160,000, heading towards 200,000 rapidly. The local authority is only getting 70% of the national average in funding, despite all the problems that thousands of extra houses bring. There are 20,000 people commuting to Dublin from Meath every day. Massive problems have been created in the county but no money follows suit. It is fine to talk here about legislation which looks good on paper but if we do not back it up with proper resources, it is a waste of time. It is worth noting that while the money Meath gets to run the local authority is 70% of the national average, the tax take from the county is 110% of the national average. It is losing out in one area and giving too much in another. That is a raw deal for a county that is in the greater Dublin region and it is the counties in that region that have suffered most from lack of building and planning control.
We may have missed the boat with this legislation. Much damage has already been done and we will suffer for a long time to come. Some people who have 40 year mortgages will, due to a lack of building control, find themselves in houses that will not stand for 40 years without a lot of money being spent on them to patch them up. That is a shame and it is letting people down, and it is what we have done when it comes to building and planning control.
This is a long-awaited Bill. Many of us have received numerous representations particularly with regard to professional qualifications and registration of those qualifications. The provisions within the Bill in that context are very welcome.
The Bill also gives us an opportunity to talk about the construction industry in general and Government policies on construction. Given the hand-in-glove relationship between the largest party in Government and the construction industry, it might be in better order to call this the "Building Out of Control Bill". Many aspects of construction, over the last decade in particular, have brought about severe social and environmental consequences, with which Government policies have been unable to deal.
It has been boasted that one third of all residences in this country have been built since 1995, a frightening statistic. It is proof positive that much of that building has been done in an unregulated and unplanned way and has produced buildings of dubious quality for which we, as a society, will pay for many generations. Even the provisions within this Bill that address future building and bringing about better standards of construction, particularly in the area of energy efficiency, seem very much an exercise in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Given the housing stock that already exists in our society and the wanton way in which construction was allowed to take place, this Bill is several years too late. We must put on the record of the House the failure of Government policies to put in place legislation of this type when it was needed for the type of construction that has been taking place here.
We have curious planning laws that on paper allow maximum public participation in terms of allowing concerns to be placed on record and responded to. However, the reality for many individual citizens and communities is that the planning system is unable to respond, partly because the resources of individual local authorities are far from adequate but mainly because of an attitude fostered by this Government, and by the largest party in Government in particular, that all development, of any type, is always welcome. If there is any need for legislation on building control, it must be to challenge this particular philosophy. The idea that cranes dotted across the skyline are themselves inherently good and what is being constructed will be to the betterment of our society needs to be questioned.
While there are provisions in the Bill that address different types of quality control, much of which has been imposed on the Government through European Union legislation, there is nothing in it that deals with the aesthetics of quality control and the type of ugly, dull, cold, functional buildings that are dotted around the country, with no thought for what we are bequeathing to future generations. It is a major flaw in our planning systems that planning applications cannot be refused on the basis that the buildings being proposed do not fit in with the existing built environment and are just plain ugly in terms of what is being proposed and what is eventually constructed.
In the context of the construction boom we have had since the 1990s, we are developing within our town and city centres a type of blandness that takes away any sense of the character of these areas that would have been slowly built up over generations by using traditional materials and styles of architecture. In pursuing an agenda of getting the maximum number of buildings up in the quickest possible time while making the largest amount of profit, we are wasting the architectural credit that we have built up through the years. That one can pass through any town without being able to identify particular characteristics that differentiate it from any other Irish centre is a tragedy. If we are serious about building control, that is an area the legislation should address.
There are other issues that are of more immediate concern. Part of this has to do not only with the control of building in terms of quality but also with the quality of builders. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, a constituency colleague would not have been present at a recent meeting with Cork building unions where there was a discussion on difficulties on building sites and how subcontractors are sourcing workers to work on many of the construction sites in our constituency. This raises concerns about how wages are being undercut, how workers from outside the country are being abused in terms of their rights and entitlements and how the quality of the work on the construction sites may be compromised because of the pursuit of maximising profit and making use of whatever advantages exist for construction companies while the going is good.
Today the European Central Bank increased by 0.25% the bank interest rate for the second time in six months. It is likely that by the end of the year the bank lending rate will have increased by a full percentage point. We are living in a society where indebtedness, mainly caused by huge mortgages, for each citizen is 160% of their average income. We have pursued this policy of untargeted tax reliefs from which individuals and companies have gained huge benefits from creating buildings that are little more than cardboard boxes in which people must live subsequently, and the only people who appear to have benefited has been that small cohort in society.
Government policies are directly responsible for this huge imbalance in what is being built, where it is built, for whom it is being built and who is benefiting from it. There is a need for a wiser Government to look at a longer-term picture of planning and development. Certainly this is not such a Government. This has been a short-term, get rich quick Government in terms of construction. There is a price to be paid for deserts of housing estates, one after the other, without proper social facilities, transport links and the basic infrastructure of water and sewerage systems. On these grounds the Government must stand indicted.
We have created an environment in terms of our buildings in which people cannot expect anything more than the lowest possible standard. If we are looking for hope in regard to our future building stock, it must come through the various EU directives because it will come directly from this Government. The need to take responsibility for what is being built and how it is built will not come from the Government because of the nature of its relationship with the construction industry. We must enforce standards that are imposed on us from outside, the type that exist in other European countries where the question asked is why what is being built is being built. In the current climate it does not seem important to ask that question because building in itself has the value the Government decides. Until we get away from that type of ghettoising approach, not much will change in that area.
Where the Bill is also deficient and where it could have had more pointers to the future is not only in the area of energy efficiency but also in directing future construction along the right types of building materials or at least a more diversified use of building materials. The excessive use of concrete has led to massive environmental consequences not only in terms of energy efficiency but the pock-marked nature of many landscapes throughout the country from quarrying.
While I realise the Minister of State is going to further fields in future elections, not far from the constituency we represent in east Cork is the Midleton-Carrigtwohill area. Anyone who has seen the aerial photographs taken of the area would think they were looking at either a lunar landscape or some type of advanced golf course for hard-bitten golfers who want to get out of bunkers that are 40 feet deep. Those are the environmental consequences of a building programme that is reliant almost solely on concrete materials.
There are alternatives that are not only cheaper to make and provide more cost effective and more heat efficient housing but also give people an opportunity of getting into the house market at a level they can afford. The burden of debt by which people are being crippled is beyond understanding and will be beyond forgiveness when the bubble eventually bursts. We are not talking about bank interest rate increases of 0.25% but 1% increases at a time, and that is not too far away.
I would not consider myself particularly aged but I have certainly slipped into middle age and have 18 years of marriage behind me. I bought a house in 1987 for the princely sum of £24,500 for which I got a housing finance agency loan of €17,000. I managed to get €3,000 from the local credit union, supposedly for house furnishings which did not arrive for several years later, and the balance from a relative in England who gave me a £5,000 sterling loan which I paid back at terms. When I think of what my wife and I had to go through 20 years ago, I try to put myself in the position of young couples who are trying to do exactly the same a generation later and I do not know how they do it. I barely did it then. It is obvious they are doing it through the finance packages being offered by financial institutions of 100% loans, grant-parenting mortgages where parents act as guarantors for whatever mortgage loans are available and, increasingly, through getting 30 or 40-year mortgages.
If this is the society we are seeking to build, where houses are little more than cardboard boxes because of the lack of building control, I would like someone to take responsibility and not boast and gloat about activity that in many respects has been damaging and fruitless for those who end up living in these houses. We have not built houses worth living in. We have destroyed communities that should have been fostered and on these grounds the Building Control Bill will do little to solve the problems that have been created.
I would like to finish by welcoming the aspects of the Bill that will further improve standards in building control. We have talked about the professional qualifications and the register of those qualifications. The energy efficiency rating for future building is long overdue and I would like to see it made retrospective. The real challenge for any future Government is to ensure that future housing stock is energy efficient and the existing housing stock is made energy efficient. That is the problem that needs to be tackled in light of our greenhouse gas emissions.
I share the fear expressed by previous speakers that, regardless of the form in which this Bill — which I suspect is relatively uncontentious — is passed by this House, the current problems will continue when the Bill comes to be implemented by local authorities. Due to lack of resources and personnel, local authority planning and building control departments cannot cope with the amount of work that is currently asked of them. Given that the Bill will ask local authorities to do even more work that is of a higher standard, I fear this string will be stretched even further. Although the intention behind the Bill is to improve quality, I suspect quality might slip even further unless the Government is prepared to back up that intention with appropriate resources on a large scale. If the problems I have outlined intensify in the future, none of us will take any great pleasure in the situation.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and I have listened with great interest to Deputies' valuable Second Stage contributions. We acknowledge the non-partisan approach adopted by Deputies, who have welcomed the Bill and supported its broad objectives while raising legitimate issues and queries about the details of the Bill's seven parts and 68 sections. As most Bills presented to the House can be improved through amendment, we will carefully consider all amendments proposed on Committee Stage.
To recap, the Building Control Bill 2005 has three main objectives: to strengthen the enforcement powers of local building control authorities and to improve the accessibility of buildings for people with disabilities; to transpose certain provisions of the European Union energy performance of buildings directive; and to provide for the registration of the titles "architect", "quantity surveyor" and "building surveyor". I will respond to the Second Reading debate in the order in which these objectives are dealt with in the Bill. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to respond to all matters raised by Deputies so I will focus on those that appear to be the core issues. Perhaps we can return to the other matters on Committee Stage.
On the issue of enforcement, it is safe to say there is universal support in this House for the introduction of a disability access certificate, as recommended by the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I agree with many Deputies that the building code enforcement provisions, as strengthened by the Bill, will be of no real value unless they are actively invoked by local building control authorities. As already mentioned, Deputy Roche will write to each city council and county council manager to ask them to take personal responsibility for improving enforcement at local level.
Although the Government aims to regulate and control the number of staff employed in the public service including those in local authorities within agreed ceilings, we will attach a high priority to the implementation of the Bill when it is enacted. We are keeping the overall employment position in local authorities under review. Obviously, there are many competing demands over the wide range of local authority functions due to the expanding economy, but the Minister will take the necessary steps, along with his colleague the Minister for Finance, to ensure that essential staff are employed to give effect to the provisions of the Bill.
We accept that the statistical data available to my Department on building control enforcement are somewhat limited and need to be improved. However, building control officers have said that we should not measure enforcement activity solely by the numbers of enforcement notices, injunctions and prosecutions. They argue that such legal procedures are ultimately a measure of the failure rather than success of the building control system in individual cases. Non-compliance issues are often successfully resolved by discussions and correspondence between building control officers and builders. My Department has asked local building control authorities that data relating to this more informal enforcement activity be included in the statistical returns for the second half of 2005. My Department will also seek a breakdown of future data to identify which parts of the building regulations are the subject of non-compliance enforcement procedures and proceedings.
We agree with Deputy Twomey that it is vital that measures be taken to prevent the spread of fire in apartment blocks. Such measures are required under part B of the Building Regulations 1997, which deals with fire safety. The design of all new apartment blocks — irrespective of the type of construction involved — must be certified as compliant with part B by the local building control authority. It is the duty of the builder to construct apartments in accordance with the certified design.
Deputy Dennehy expressed concern about the feasibility of fighting fires in tall buildings. It is true that fire ladders and external fire hoses can generally only reach up to seven or eight storeys. Accordingly, fire safety design in tall buildings is generally based on: the early detection of fires, through smoke alarms and heat detection systems; rapid evacuation of all occupants, through emergency stairways compartmentalised against smoke; and fighting fires using water supplies from internal fire hydrants located on each floor.
Deputies also expressed concern about the desirability and practicability of retrospectively regularising fire safety certificates after building works have been started or completed. As local building control authorities have granted retrospective certificates on a pragmatic basis over the years, the Bill will simply provide a clear legal basis for established practice. We agree with Deputies Murphy and O'Dowd that the ideal situation would be for developers to secure the certificate before work commences. We acknowledge that the seven days' notice procedure allows developers a legal mechanism to start urgent development projects before certification. However, we stress that this procedure is subject to an undertaking by the developer to carry out any work modifications required by the fire safety certificate when it is granted. This is modelled on a similar provision in the building code for England and Wales.
Deputy Quinn referred to the option of introducing a system for the mandatory self-certification of compliance, as recommended in the 2004 report of a joint working group representing the building professions. The report acknowledges that, if the principle of mandatory self-certification is accepted, the Building Control Act 1990 would need to be amended and the details of the respective responsibilities of designers, main contractors and specialist sub-contractors would need to be worked out. My Department has considered the 2004 report but has a number of reservations about self-certification. First, there is a potential conflict of interest between a certifier's business relationship with the client who commissions the building and the certifier's duty properly to certify compliance to the building control authority. Second, the unfortunate reality is that some building professionals have been willing to issue compliance certificates for non-compliant building works under the Law Society's opinion on compliance system, which has been in operation since the early 1990s. This is acknowledged in the working group's report. Finally, there are major issues surrounding the arrangement, organisation and funding of essential independent audits of self-certification and the liability of auditors for any deficient certification.
Deputy Quinn pointed out that the registration of architects and surveyors under the Bill will introduce a mechanism for establishing who is entitled to self-certify. He suggested that this mechanism could also be used subsequently in the regulation of professional conduct and should act as a disincentive to dishonest self-certification. However, my Department would need to do much more work, in partnership with all the stakeholders, before the Government would be in a position to recommend the necessary enabling and amending legislation. We doubt that this process could be engaged in during the enactment of this Bill but we are willing to start work on it when it is enacted.
Much has been said in the media about the alleged tardiness of Ireland in transposing the EU directive on the energy performance of buildings. This is based on a misunderstanding that all the provisions of this directive should have been transposed on January 2006. Article 15 of the directive allows member states until 4 January 2009 to transpose the provisions relating to the building energy rating under Article 7, promotion of the energy efficiency of boilers under Article 8 and mandatory inspection of air conditioning systems under Article 9. Article 15 is an acknowledgement by the European Union than Articles 7 to 9 are demanding requirements that involve complex supporting technical and administrative arrangements.
It is interesting to note that other EU member states are also grappling with the complexities involved. I understand that, as of 31 January 2006, only ten member states, including Ireland, or 40% of the 25 member states, had notified the European Commission of partial or total transposition of this directive. All ten member states propose to defer full implementation beyond January 2006.
We are commencing the energy rating of over 80,000 new houses annually in 2007, as such rating can initially be done off plans. We will move on to the rating of existing houses, when sold or let, by 2009. This will involve the physical inspection of an estimated 100,000 houses annually. The energy rating will generally be done by building professionals in private practice who will undergo training of about one week's duration. Sustainable Energy Ireland plans to arrange the training of up to an estimated 2,000 building professionals in energy rating over the period 2006-09.
All sides of the House have welcomed the proposal to register the titles of "architect", "quantity surveyor" and "building surveyor". There is more or less universal agreement that the time has come to protect consumers from unqualified persons passing themselves off as building professionals to unsuspecting citizens building new houses or undertaking house extensions. The relevant building professional organisations, led by the RIAI and SCS, were consulted on a confidential basis during the drafting of the provisions in Parts 3 to 7 of the Bill. However, these organisations are proposing a number of refinements of the Bill, as published, and these will all be carefully considered on Committee Stage.
In reply to points made by Deputy Broughan and Deputy Fiona O'Malley it should be noted that under the Building Control Act 1990, there has always been a right of appeal against the refusal of fire safety certificates or conditions attached to these certificates consistent with the principles of natural justice. This right of appeal is being extended to the new disability access certificate. Ireland's insulation standards are among the highest in Europe. The grant scheme for the installation of renewable energy systems in individual houses will shortly be announced by the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey.
I thank Deputies for their considered contributions and we look forward to a constructive debate on Committee Stage.