The purpose of this Bill is to provide a revised framework for the making and administration of building regulations. At present, the power to make building regulations is contained in section 86 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. The purposes for which regulations may be made under that Act relate to matters of public health and safety. However, since the enactment of the 1963 Act, the need to provide for energy conservation and for more flexible systems of building control have led to the situation where the 1963 Act is not adequate. The Bill, therefore, expands the purposes for which regulations may be made to include not just public health and safety but also the welfare of persons in and about buildings. The regulations may also provide for the special needs of the disabled, for energy conservation, for the efficient use of resources and for the encouragement of good building practice.
I will deal with the individual sections of the Bill in greater detail later on but first I would like to refer briefly to the background to building regulations and to the history of this Bill. The 1963 Planning Act conferred an enabling power on the Minister for Local Government to make building regulations to replace the building by-laws which were too rigid and not capable of adjusting to changes in building methods and technology. A draft of building regulations in accordance with the 1963 Act was completed in 1976. Consultation with interested parties in the building industry generated lively debate and comments were received from over 500 persons and organisations. Apart from technical comments on the regulations themselves, concern was expressed that the system of control set out in the 1963 Planning Act would be bureaucratic and unwieldy and would create costly delays. An amended draft was published in March 1981. Alternative systems of building control were also being examined at that time, including a control system based on certification by the industry. It became apparent at that stage that a new Bill was needed.
The publication in July 1982 of the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Stardust fire reinforced the need for new legislation. The draft building regulations were revised to take account of certain recommendations made by the tribunal and a further updated draft was published in October 1983.
The Building Control Bill was published in 1984 and it passed Second Stage in the Dáil. In July 1986, both Houses agreed to refer it to the then Joint Committee on Legislation. The Bill was considered at two meetings of the Joint Committee in October and November 1986. However, before the joint committee had concluded their deliberations, the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil in January 1987. The Bill was restored to the Dáil Order Paper in October 1987 and it was passed, following substantial amendment, by Dáil Éireann before Christmas.
Section 2 of the Bill designates as building control authorities those local authorities which are fire authorities under the Fire Services Act, 1981. This arrangement recognises the importance of the regulations in relation to fire safety generally and should facilitate better coordination and co-operation at local level in regard to the matters, including fire safety, arising under the regulations.
Section 3 contains the power to make building regulations. Subject to the transitional arrangements in section 22 (2), the regulations will apply to all new buildings — including State buildings other than prisons and places of detention — construction work on which begins on or after the date on which the regulations come into operation. Provision is made, however, for exemptions. Under this provision buildings such as power stations, temporary buildings, detached domestic garages, small outhouses and like buildings might be considered for exemption from the regulations. The regulations will apply to existing buildings only where they are affected by material alterations or extensions, by the provision of new services, fittings or equipment, or where a material change in the use of a building occurs. Section 3 extends the purposes for which regulations may be made to provide for the welfare of persons in or about buildings, the needs of the disabled, energy conservation, the efficient use of resources and the encouragement of good building practice. The matters for which the regulations may prescribe standards are detailed in the First Schedule to the Bill.
Section 4 contains the power for building control authorities to dispense with or relax particular provisions of building regulations in individual cases where compliance could be unreasonable having regard to the use to which the building might be put. A building control authority will have two months in which to deal with such an application unless the applicant agrees to a longer period, and if the authority makes no decision within that time the application will be taken as being granted.
A corresponding power is provided in section 5 for the Minister to dispense with or relax a requirement of building regulations in relation to any particular class of building operation, works or material. This power is necessary to cater for the development of new methods of construction and materials which do not strictly comply with the regulations but are otherwise acceptable. Section 13 confers powers on the Minister to prohibit the use of materials or methods of construction which would be a danger to public health or safety or which would contravene the building regulations.
I would like now to talk about section 6 of the Bill, which empowers the Minister to make building control regulations. These control regulations would prescribe the procedural, administrative and control arrangements necessary to secure compliance with the buildings regulations. Section 6 contains a flexible power which will enable different systems of control to be applied to different kinds of buildings or to buildings in different areas or in relation to different provisions of building regulations.
This Bill establishes building control authorities with powers of inspection, enforcement and prosecution under sections 8, 11 and 17. Building control regulations under section 6 will be additional to these powers. I would like to explain briefly the different main types of control procedures that can be put in place under section 6. The first option is to provide for self-certification and this system centres around a large measure of self-regulation by the industry itself. Under the self-certification system the designers and builders of individual projects will, on their own responsibility, provide certificates of compliance with the requirements of the building regulations. There is a recognition within this system that the primary responsibility for designing and construction of buildings rests with the industry itself.
The second option is third party certification, involving certification of the design and construction of buildings by an independent and appropriately qualified person. Third party certification is, in effect, a form of independent self-regulation by the industry.
The third main option provided for under section 6 is broadly similar to the control operated by those local authorities which currently operate building by-laws. It would involve the submission of plans and other information to the building control authority for approval and the approval of this authority could also be required in respect of the completed building.
The flexible nature of section 6 and the range of options it provides will ensure that the Minister of the day will not be unduly confined in relation to the types of control systems that might be appropriate to the building industry at different times in the future.
Building control regulations under section 6 may also provide for the issue of fire safety certificates by building control authorities in respect of fire aspects of certain buildings. This provision is included as a direct result of the report of the Stardust Tribunal. What would be involved is the submission of plans of certain buildings for approval in advance of commencement of construction. The types of buildings which might be subjected to this control system would be specified in the control regulations and would be likely to be buildings which would present a high risk in the case of fire.
Section 7 of the Bill provides a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála where an applicant is not satisfied with the decision of a building control authority on an application under section 4 or 6 of the Bill.
Sections 8 to 11 of the Bill relate to enforcement. The provisions of sections 8 and 10 enable building control authorities to serve a notice requiring action to be taken to ensure compliance with building regulations, while section 11 confers rights of inspection. Section 9 sets out the procedure by which a person may apply to the District Court to have an enforcement notice annulled, modified or altered, the grounds on which it may be done and the powers of the Court.
The power in section 12 for a building control authority to seek an order from the High Court is additional to that contained in the sections dealing with the enforcement notice. This power is necessary to deal with an emergency situation where a building control authority may consider that, because of the risk to health or safety arising from construction work, immediate action is necessary and it would not be prudent to go through the procedures necessary for the service of an enforcement notice under section 8. The High Court order may require that a building be removed or made safe and prohibit its use until this is done. A similar provision is contained in the Fire Services Act, 1981.
Section 14 enables the Minister to appoint a Building Regulations Advisory Body to advise him on matters relating to building regulations and to provide such other advisory services as may be specified from time to time. The House will note that the section is drafted in fairly broad terms. This is deliberate as there is a wide range of issues on which the advisory body might be asked to advise.
Penalties for offences are set out in section 17 of the Bill and are generally similar to those under the Fire Services Act, 1981. Penalties will depend on whether an offence is of a summary or indictable nature which, in turn, will depend on the circumstances of each particular case. Indictable offences will carry severe penalties — a maximum fine of £10,000 and/or two years imprisonment. Summary offences will be liable to a maximum fine of £800 and/or six months imprisonment and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a fine of not more than £150 for each day on which the offence is continued after conviction; there is a five year time limit on summary proceedings. This limit is in response to the industry's concern that they would otherwise be open to prosecution for an unlimited period in respect of even minor breaches of the regulations.
In addition to monetary penalties and possible terms of imprisonment, section 17 provides for the disqualification of approved certifiers from signing and submitting certificates of compliance under section 6.
Section 21 of the Bill provides that a contravention of any of the provisions of the Bill will not of itself confer a right of action in civil proceedings. I feel that the House may wish me to address the liability question. Liability is determined by the Courts having regard to the law of contract and of tort as these apply in the particular circumstances of the case in question. Nothing in this Bill, or in regulations to be made under it, will alter this. Liability and related matters, such as insuring against it, are really extraneous to the subject matter of the Bill. Section 21 of the Bill intended to allay the fears of professional bodies and others who are concerned that the Bill might have the effect of extending their liability beyond that which exists at present. I am advised that those fears are probably groundless but this provision should settle any doubt. I might add that a person's right to sue for damages on grounds of negligence will not be interfered with.
Because of the existence of building by-laws in some areas, it is necessary to provide for transitional arrangements as in subsection (2) of section 22. Section 22 is the general transition section but there is one provision, subsection (7), to which I would like to refer. Senators are probably aware that, in areas where building by-laws are operated, small building works, particularly house extensions, may have been carried out in the past without by-laws approval. The fact that by-laws approval cannot be obtained in retrospect under existing law has caused problems in house sales as evidence of compliance with by-laws may have to be shown to intending purchasers. Delays in the completion of house sales have occurred, very often though no fault of the vendor, who may have bought the house at a time when evidence of by-law approval was not demanded by lending agencies. This has caused hardship in a number of cases. I consider that it is reasonable, therefore, to use this opportunity to provide that, where work carried out prior to 13 December 1989 did not comply with by-laws or any relevant statutory requirement, no proceedings shall be taken in respect of such noncompliance, and that approval to the carrying out of the work shall be deemed to have been granted, unless a building control authority considers the work to be a danger to public health or safety and serves a notice to this effect on the owner within six months of the date on which the building regulations come into operation. Senators will note that this "amnesty" only operates in respect of work carried out prior to the date the Bill was passed by the Dáil.
I have outlined to the House the purpose and main provisions of this Bill. I consider that it provides a suitable framework for the introduction of a comprehensive up-to-date and flexible system of building regulations and building controls. I commend the Bill to the House.