I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue concerning Carrickmines, where a new but fully inhabited apartment block had its roof blown off this morning. The Minster of State will be familiar with it because it was formerly in his constituency and is now in mine. I am sure, like myself, he must wonder what it is like to have the roof of one's home blown off.
It is too early at this stage to know how the unfortunate homeowners' problems will be addressed in the longer term but, for the present, I know that those who need it are accommodated in a local hotel. I contacted the builder who assured me he is putting procedures in place to replace the roof. I intend to keep an eye on that.
I want to raise with the Minister of State the wider problem of safety and standards and the ability of modern high-rise apartment blocks, particularly in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, to withstand high winds. I live very close to this area and know it was windy this morning but it was not what one would call an extreme weather event — it was not a 200-year event or even a ten-year event, and we have had similar weather in recent weeks and months.
High winds are a feature of elevated areas and building standards reflect the need to design to accommodate wind loading at different locations because wind speeds vary due to location, geography, varying elevations and topographical conditions. For example, it is much windier and higher standards are required in the west than in the east. However, the height of the building has an impact. All of this information is available from wind speed maps which are published by Met Éireann. The building regulations therefore require designs to accommodate the expected wind speeds for the area and then to apply a factor of safety on top of that, as per the British guidelines and codes of practice.
Today, I am not interesting in apportioning blame. A whole variety of factors could be responsible for this, including design failure, construction failure, materials failure or an extreme event, for example, a particularly high gust of wind that was well beyond what might have been expected in the 50-year cycle. It is a miracle that a roof came off a huge building yet nobody was killed. I want to ensure there are no more such incidents because we could not be as lucky again with a similar incident. The frightening aspect is that it is not the first incident in the area. This is the second roof to be blown off an apartment block in the general area as a similar incident took place on the Blackglen Road in October of last year. It is not normal to have roofs blowing off buildings so it has to be more than a coincidence when it happens twice.
What is required is an audit by the Health and Safety Authority of all the high-rise buildings in the area. This area around Stepaside, Leopardstown and Carrickmines is elevated and exposed, being in the foothills of the mountains, and there is no room for error or for the assumption that all of the other buildings will somehow be okay. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should ensure this happens and I ask the Minister of State who is present to communicate this to the Minister.
There is a further issue in this general area of south County Dublin, which I am sure applies elsewhere, namely, the safety of the half-completed and unoccupied high-rise buildings, many of which are in this general area, as the Minister of State will be aware. All of these buildings are victims of the property market collapse. In at least some cases, the building companies are now in receivership and others are or will shortly be on the books of NAMA, and nobody knows what the ultimate fate of all of these buildings will be. Meanwhile, they are lying idle, half finished with building equipment lying around, and they are completely uninhabited. If these uncompleted buildings lose a roof, who knows what kind of hazard they pose not just to their neighbours but to passers by. The Sandyford industrial estate is full of such abandoned buildings. Wind damage by hoardings, scaffolding and by the buildings themselves present obvious dangers. If there are accidents, we have no idea who will is responsible, who is maintaining the buildings and who, ultimately, is monitoring their safety.
If these buildings are not completed, their planning permissions will die and the owners will be in breach of the planning Acts because they have not completed the buildings according to their planning permissions. Clearly, for financial reasons, they are not in a position to do so. This is a planning issue that will apply throughout the country. We have had a graphic demonstration today of what can happen but this could happen to many of the high-rise buildings throughout the country, particularly in the Dublin area and in my constituency and that of the Minister of State. It is a planning issue that has to be addressed and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must take the lead.
Today, however, it is the immediate safety issue that cannot be ignored. Two examples of roof loss in high-rise buildings in the same general area must ring alarm bells for all such buildings in the area.