The Expert Panel on concrete blocks was established by my Department in 2016, to investigate problems that have emerged in the concrete blockwork of certain dwellings in Counties Donegal and Mayo.
The panel had the following terms of reference:
(i) To identify, insofar as it is possible, the numbers of private dwellings which appear to be affected by defects in the blockwork in the Counties of Donegal and Mayo;
(ii) To carry out a desktop study, which would include a consultation process with affected homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, testing laboratories, industry stakeholders and other relevant parties, to establish the nature of the problem in the affected dwellings;
(iii) To outline a range of technical options for remediation and the means by which those technical options could be applied; and
(iv) To submit a report within six months.
On 13 June 2017, the report of the Expert Panel was published and included eight recommendations which my Department are actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders.
The panel's report concludes that the nature of the problem is manifested primarily by the disintegration of the concrete blocks used in the construction of the affected dwellings in Donegal and Mayo. The deleterious material in Donegal was primarily muscovite mica. The deleterious material in Mayo was primarily reactive pyrite.
A total of 5 engineering solutions have been proposed by the panel, as remedial solutions to address the problem ranging from removal and replacement of the outer leaf of affected walls only to complete rebuild of the dwelling.
The panel found that it is mainly private homes that are affected; however, there are also problems within the social housing stock in both counties which continue to be investigated.
My Department is prioritising the implementation of Recommendations 1 and 2.
With regard to Recommendation 1, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) Technical Committee, established to scope and fast track the development of a standardised protocol, held its inaugural meeting on 11 September 2017 and has held several further meetings since. The standardised protocol will inform the course of action in relation to remedial works for all affected householders. My Department understands from the NSAI that the Technical Committee is in the process of finalising the standardised protocol, which will be available for public consultation shortly. The public consultation will run for a period of six weeks.
In relation to the pilot remediation project in North County Mayo referred to, this is in respect of one unit of Mayo County Council social housing stock. The project was proposed to ascertain in more detail the extent of damage and the scope of works which will be necessary to carry out effective remediation for all of the remaining social housing units affected. It is expected that the experience gained on this remediation project will also assist the development of remedial solutions for all affected householders.
It should be noted that construction projects progressing through the 4-stage approval process are reviewed at each stage by my Department’s Social Housing Delivery team, including architectural and quantity surveyor advisors. The 4 stages are:
Stage 1 - Capital Appraisal submission to establish the business case;
Stage 2 - Pre-planning submission and cost check;
Stage 3 - Pre-tender approval and cost check;
Stage 4 - Tender approval.
My Department is currently awaiting a Stage 3 Application from Mayo County Council for the pilot remediation project in north County Mayo.
In addition, and in light of the information contained in the Expert Panel's report, I am currently considering what further actions may be required to assist the parties directly involved in reaching a satisfactory resolution to the problems that have emerged in the two counties.