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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Mar 1993

Vol. 135 No. 6

Adjournment Matters. - Farm Building Regulations.

I welcome the Minister with whom I had some good times in the other House. I hope to rejoin him there in the not too distant future. I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment; I know he will fulfill his role with great distinction. The Minister will remember that one of the first functions he had to attend as Minister in the previous Government was in Cavan-Monaghan where he launched the Leader programme. The Minister had, as usual, a prepared script with him, but he dispensed with it in favour of a heart warming speech which was well received by everybody there. He showed a deep knowledge of the objectives of the Leader programme and his stature increased enormously after that incident.

My motion concerns the building regulations adopted by the Department in 1992. I compliment the Department on the regulations applying to dwellings for humans which provide an important modicum of protection — and may help to avert accidents.

I disagree, however, with the requirement for a fire certificate when making a grant application for cattle housing, not because cattle should not be protected from fire but because of the nature of the housing in question.

In order to get a fire certificate for cattle housing one has to make a separate application, exactly like an application for planning permission, costing either £1.75 per square metre or £100 — whichever sum is the greater. That is a large amount of money given that cattle houses are between 500 and 700 square metres in area; the cost of a certificate for a reasonably sized cattle house could be in excess of £1,000, a remarkable amount of money for an unnecessary certificate. The Minister will agree that the materials used in the construction of cattle housing, namely, mass concrete, steel and iron, are relatively fire proof compared with the materials and furniture found in houses, hotels and guesthouses.

I wish to point out that before determining a planning application the planning authority requires its fire officer to make a report. In the case of a grant application for cattle housing the fire officer having sent specifications to the applicant should write a fire certificate on demand and free of charge. Alternatively, the requirement that a fire certificate be supplied when applying for a grant for cattle housing should be dispensed with entirely.

I know that the Minister will respond in a constructive and realistic manner.

I would like to thank Senator Cotter for his kind comments regarding my reappointment. I am glad also to respond to the question he has tabled out of concern for farmers.

Grant aid is available from my Department under the farm improvement programme and the scheme for the control of farmyard pollution for capital investment in farm structures. The objective of these schemes is to assist farmers to develop the structure of their farms in order to improve farm efficiency and reduce production costs, improve living and working conditions on the farm, provide improved animal welfare and farm hygiene conditions and to protect and improve the environment through the control of farmyard pollution.

My Department, through its farm development service, must ensure that all grant-aided structures are built to acceptably high standards. In this regard we have prepared some 30 detailed specifications for all types of farm structures. These are provided free to all applicants. While responsibility for the soundness of the construction lies with the applicant every project is surveyed by my Department's staff to ensure that the relevant specifications have been complied with.

My Department must ensure that all approved buildings have complied with all the relevant laws and mandatory codes. Again the onus for ensuring compliance with these is a matter for the applicant. Therefore, in relation to the planning Acts my Department does not grant-aid those farm buildings that come within the ambit of these Acts without ensuring that permission has been obtained.

In general, only the larger farm complexes are affected by planning controls. Even for these cases specially low rates of charges are applied. For example, each separate building has a maximum fee of only £40 for a planning application, and the maximum possible fee per development is £150.

With regard to safety legislation and codes — electrical standards for example —we must also ensure that the Electro-Technical Council of Ireland rules have been followed before grant-aid is paid. On the matter of fire certificates, these are required under new building regulations introduced in 1992. Detached farm buildings with a floor area not exceeding 300 square metres are exempted from the requirements of the building regulations. The requirement to provide a fire safety certificate therefore applies to farm buildings in excess of 300 square metres whether new or by extension.

For the reasons already outlined, my Department requires a fire certificate as evidence of compliance with these regulations in respect of buildings which come within the remit of the Building Control Act. With regard to charges for this certificate, when the building regulations were first introduced in the summer of 1992, the standard charge of £1.75 per square metre applied to agricultural buildings and non-agricultural buildings alike. However, following consultations between my Department and the Department of the Environment, the charges were reduced for agricultural buildings to exactly the level charged for planning permission i.e. £40 per building with a maximum possible charge of £150 per development.

In direct response to Senator Cotter's question I can inform the House that I have this evening discussed the matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh. We agree that there are certain livestock buildings which, because of their structure, do not constitute a fire hazard and should be excluded from the fire certificate requirement. I have asked the Minister for the Environment to have his Department officials urgently investigate the possibility of such exclusion.

I thank Deputy Cotter for tabling the question because I know that it is a matter of great concern to farmers who are involved in the provision of livestock buildings on their farms.

May I briefly reply to the Minister to say that this response is no more than I expected from him and my introductory remarks about him were appropriate. I know that farmers will be happy with this sensible solution.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 11 March 1993.