It gives me great pleasure to address this House on the occasion of the Second Stage of the Building Control Bill 2005. The Bill was amended on both Committee Stage and Report Stage in the Dáil and has benefitted from a detailed examination in the other House. I believe it will be seen in years to come as one of the most progressive pieces of consumer law to be brought forward in recent decades and I hope it will win cross party support.
The Bill achieves good consumer protection on a number of levels. It will assure the public that people calling themselves architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors are properly qualified. Perhaps more importantly, it strengthens the enforcement of building control law to ensure that Ireland's high building standards are fully adhered to.
The Bill also makes a further move in implementing the Government's commitment to persons with disabilities by requiring commercial buildings and apartment blocks to be certified as being compliant with the disability access requirements of the building regulations at design stage. It will be an offence to open or occupy a building without this certificate, where required. This provision has serious economic and legal implications for the owner or developer of a building. I am particularly pleased to introduce the measure because it is foolhardy for people to build without providing proper access and shows scant regard for the rights of citizens.
The Bill, as published, had provided for energy rating of houses and commercial buildings as required under the EU energy performance of buildings directive. However, as the Bill had not been enacted on time, I made the European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006 on 19 December 2006 and they have been operative since 1 January 2007. Accordingly, these sections were deleted on Report Stage. Ironically, criticism was made of my decision to introduce the regulations early.
The issue of Ireland's building energy rating has been topical recently and was debated in this House before Christmas. For this reason, I wish to correct some misconceptions and misstatements about Ireland's performance in this area. A campaign by one player in the construction sector alleges that Ireland is behind the game in energy performance and the Government has shown bias towards the concrete sector. I expect politicians to be sensible enough not to listen to lobbyists but there is always scope for disappointment. Both assertions are wrong. The first is nonsense while the second is at variance with the facts. Ireland has among the highest standards in the European Union, a point independently verified by the European Insulation Manufacturers Association.
My Department does not discriminate in favour of particular sectors of the construction industry. We introduce standards and it is up to all sectors to respond and meet those standards in the flexible manner allowed under the building control system. The issue is not the building medium but the standard.
We have increased energy conservation standards on three separate occasions since 1997 alone. It should be noted that Ireland's building energy standards compare very well internationally. Data produced by the European Insulation Manufacturers Association showed that Ireland's insulation standards are among the highest in the European Union. We have the second lowest energy loss through walls, behind Sweden, and the lowest loss of energy through roofs. These facts will come as a surprise to those who believe every lobbyist who crosses their path. Furthermore, I will shortly commence a review to increase the energy efficiency of new homes by 40% or more as part of our new national climate change strategy.
It has been also asserted by the same lobbyist source that Ireland is behind the game in introducing the new building energy rating system. This is not the case. Prior to the new EU directive on the energy performance of buildings, Denmark was the only country in the European Union which had a building energy rating system. Four member states introduced the system last year and Ireland is one of seven countries introducing it this year. The suggestion that Ireland somehow lags behind is false, at variance with the facts and a self-serving misstatement by a lobbyist. To illustrate the point, the European Commission has sent a formal legal reasoned opinion to 16 member states, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain, for their failure to notify sufficient implementation measures. Ireland does not have such proceedings pending.
It has been asserted that my Department has opposed the introduction by local authorities of higher energy standards. This assertion, which is also made by a particular lobbyist source, is at variance with the facts. In the most recent case involving Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council my Department commended the council on seeking to promote more sustainable development in energy performance of the built environment. I have left papers on this matter with the Ceann Comhairle in the other House.
The Building Control Act 1990 provides the statutory basis for the making of our national building regulations which have been operative since 1992. The regulations specify the statutory requirements for the construction of new buildings and material alteration-material change of use of existing buildings. They comprise 12 Parts, A to M, covering areas such as structure, fire safety, materials and workmanship, sound insulation, conservation of fuel and energy and access for people with disabilities.
The related technical guidance documents provide guidance to designers and builders on how to comply with the various Parts of the regulations. While use of guidance documents is optional, they are in practice treated as the "bibles of building" and used almost universally by the construction industry. They are a best seller, at a modest price, in the Government Publications Sales Office but are also available to view or download, free of charge, on my Department's website at www.environ.ie. I understand the technical guidance documents are among the top “hits” on the website.
Changes are made in accordance with best practice for modern regulation. Draft building regulations are prepared, in consultation with the broadly based building regulations advisory body, and are subject to widespread public consultation. The net result is that the definitive building regulations generally win widespread support within the industry.
It is now timely to review and update the Building Control Act to meet the challenges of construction today. In particular, there are four areas with which the Bill is concerned. Part 2 is the amendment of the Building Control Act 1990. The Bill provides for changes in the fire safety certificate regime, as recommended by the building regulations advisory body. The changes include the introduction of a seven-day notice or fast track procedure which must be accompanied by a valid fire safety certificate application and a declaration that the applicant will carry out any modification works required by the fire safety certificate, when granted. This will cater for builders who are anxious to commence work on urgent projects without waiting for up to two months for the application to be processed.
In addition, new applications for a revised fire safety certificate will be required where a building design is changed to comply with conditions attached to a planning permission. A further change will be the making of applications for regularisation certificates where buildings have commenced or been completed without the necessary fire safety certificate, subject to the necessary documentation and declaration that the works comply with the fire safety requirements of the regulations. The 1990 Act contained no provision to remedy such cases, although authorities dealt with such problems on a pragmatic basis locally. It was important that we should have an option to do this variation in law.
Part 2 also provides for the introduction of a disability access certificate. Part M of the building regulations, which has been operative since June 1992, sets out the legal requirements for access to and within non-domestic buildings for people with disabilities. This was extended to new dwellings from 1 January 2001. It is often too late to seek to remedy disabled access deficiencies once construction is in progress or when a building is finished. For this reason, the Government has decided to introduce a disability access certificate system, along the lines of the fire safety certificate system, for new non-domestic dwellings. This provision implements a core recommendation of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.
Once enacted, the legislation will prohibit of the opening, operation or occupation of a building until such time as a fire safety certificate, disability access certificate or revised certificate is granted.
On enforcement, to have a credible building code we must have in place proper compliance with the code and strong enforcement measures. The local building control authorities are at the heart of our building control enforcement process. The Bill will enhance the enforcement powers of the authorities in a number of ways. The powers of building control authorities to seek High Court injunctions will be extended to remove works or stop work on buildings or projects which do not have fire safety certificates, disability access certificates or regularisation certificates, or where there is non-compliance with enforcement notices served by the authorities.
The prosecution process will be simplified by providing local building control authorities with the option to institute summary prosecutions for all building code offences in the District Court, as an alternative to prosecution, on indictment, by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Circuit Court. In the recent past, householders have in good faith engaged unqualified persons who pass themselves off as building professionals to undertake the design and planning of new buildings or extensions. That is unacceptable. Under this Bill, only qualified persons whose names are entered on relevant national registers will be entitled lawfully to use the title of architect, building surveyor or quantity surveyor.
Parts 3 to 5, inclusive, provide for statutory protection of the titles of architect, quantity surveyor and building surveyor by restricting their lawful use to qualified persons whose names are entered on a statutory register to be established in accordance with the provisions of this Part. The Bill provides that the registration system for architects will be administered by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, RIAI, and that the registration system for building surveyors and quantity surveyors will be administered by the Society of Chartered Surveyors, SCS.
The various Parts specify the eligibility criteria for automatic admission to registers. They also set out processes and procedures designed to ensure all applications are treated fairly and in a transparent way. The Bill provides for the setting up of independent admissions boards; technical assessment boards, together with procedures for assessment of applicants who are ineligible for automatic registration; professional conduct committees to deal with disciplinary matters; and appeals boards to determine appeals against decisions of any of the aforementioned boards or committees. There will be an ultimate right of appeal against decisions of the appeals board to the High Court. It is proposed that the majority of members of the various boards will be non-building professionals and that each board will be independently chaired by a retired judge or a lawyer.
The Bill also provides for the payment of registration fees, appointment of registrars to deal with administrative matters and penalties for misuse of the professional titles. There will be considerable benefit for consumers when seeking to engage architects or surveyors following the enactment of this Bill. They will have access to a statutory register with the assurance that all names registered are those of professionals with proper qualifications. Parts 3 to 5, inclusive, also take account of the recently adopted EU directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which will be relevant in the case of qualified building professionals coming from other EU member states.
Part 6 provides for the preparation of codes of professional conduct and standards by the two registration bodies for registered members of both the architectural and surveying professions. This Part also sets out procedures for the examination of complaints made to the professional conduct committee regarding alleged misconduct or poor professional performance of registered professionals, for a mediation process if considered appropriate, for the conduct of an inquiry into such complaints and for the attendance and examination of witnesses under oath. It further details the procedures to be adhered to following such inquiry and the measures the committee may take where a registrant is found guilty of proessional misconduct.
The professional conduct committee will have the powers, rights or privileges vested in the High Court or a judge of the High Court in enforcing the attendance of witnesses, examining witnesses under oath or compelling the production of documents. Witnesses will have the same immunities and privileges as witnesses before the High Court. There is a right of appeal to the appeals board against decisions of the professional conduct committee, with the ultimate right of appeal to the High Court. In addition, the name of a registrant may not be removed from a register unless confirmed by the High Court. The processes and procedures under this Part are designed to ensure that all professionals against whom a complaint of alleged professional misconduct is made are treated in a fair and impartial manner.
Part 7 provides for various miscellaneous measures for the effective administration of the registration scheme, including provisions regarding the procedures of the registration bodies, terms of office, payments and so on. It also provides for the prosecution of offences.
This is positive legislation which I trust will be welcomed by all parties in the House. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and I commend the Bill to the House.