Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Questions (607, 614)

Bríd Smith

Question:

607. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of apartments and houses known to his Department to have substandard fire safety standards; the person or body responsible for taking action to correct the defects; his plans to ensure such homes meet the safety standards required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49807/19]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

614. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if consideration has been given to setting up a redress scheme for homeowners who find their properties have substandard fire safety standards and in which the developer and builder is no longer solvent; the responsibility and role of State agencies including local authorities and planning regulators in enforcing the original regulations regarding safety standards in such developments; if he has a role in ensuring breaches are pursued and corrected if clear breaches of existing regulations have been committed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49977/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 607 and 614 together.

While my Department is aware of dwellings where concerns over fire safety issues have arisen, it is a matter for local authorities, who have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the Fire Services Acts, the Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Acts, to deal with such cases.

Fire services inspect buildings in cases of defects or complaints in respect of fire safety. They work with building owners to ensure that immediate risks are addressed and that a plan is put in place, where required, for works to bring buildings into compliance. Local authorities are independent in carrying out these functions.

In relation to legacy issues, in general building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, that is the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme.

The State has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters. It is not possible for the State to take on responsibility/liability for all legacy issues nor would it send the right message to the industry regarding their responsibility for compliance.

The legislative position is very clear in terms of where responsibility of property ownership lies for identifying the need for, arranging of, and funding remedial works where need for such is identified.

When a building is constructed and occupied, statutory responsibility for safety is assigned by section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 & 2003, to the ‘person having control’ of the building. The person having control is required to take reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire and to ensure the safety of persons in the event of fire. In multi-unit developments, the "person having control" is generally the Owner Management Company.

Under the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, (which is under the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality), the owner management company must establish a scheme for annual service charges and a sinking fund for spending on refurbishment, improvement or maintenance of a non-recurring nature of the multi-unit development.

In response to the building failures that have emerged over the past decade, Government has embarked on a three pronged Building Control Reform Agenda – to reduce the risk of similar problems occurring again– centred on:

1. Reform of the Building Control process

2. Establishment of a National Building Control Management Project

3. Putting the Construction Industry Register Ireland on a statutory footing.

It was through the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, known within the industry as BCAR, and accompanying code of practice that the roles and responsibilities of owners, designers, builders, assigned certifiers have been set out and clarified. BCAR requires the owner to assign competent persons to design, build, inspect and certify building works he/she has commissioned. They in turn, must account for their contribution through the lodgement of compliance documentation, inspection plans and statutory certificates. Primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations rests with the owners, designers and builders of buildings.

If and when issues arise whether pre, during or post construction, it is clear who has held the designated roles and who is responsible for addressing the issues. This facilitates and simplifies the inspection, implementation and enforcement role of the Building Control Authority.

The building control function has been strengthened by the establishment of the National Building Control Office, which provides oversight, direction and support for the development, standardisation and implementation of building control in local authorities. The inspections policy is being reviewed and developed to support local authorities identify risk and make the most efficient and effective use of the resources available.

The Government has committed to placing the Construction Industry Register Ireland, or CIRI, on a statutory footing.

The focus will remain firmly on ensuring the full roll out of the Building Control reform agenda, to ensure that all those that engaged in the construction sector take their responsibilities seriously and are appropriately held to account. As part of the reform agenda, consumer protection will continue to a core concern and any proposals in that regard will, of course, be considered.