Affordable housing scheme in Lucan a ‘death trap’, say residents

Homeowners move out after inspectors find council-approved homes lack fire safety features

Foxford Court residents in Lucan, Dublin, from left,  Denise Murphy, Paul Kavanagh and  Paul Coleman. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Foxford Court residents in Lucan, Dublin, from left, Denise Murphy, Paul Kavanagh and Paul Coleman. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Mon, Apr 15, 2013, 09:34

Homes in a Lucan housing development, built on behalf of South Dublin County Council nine years ago, have been found to have no fire-stopping between them and to lack essential fire safety protections.

Fearing for their safety, some residents have moved out of their homes at Foxford Court, which they bought as affordable housing from the council.

However, the council is refusing to take action to address their concerns, saying the dwellings are privately owned and safety issues are not its responsibility.

The residents argue the council signed off on the certificate of compliance for the development and granted its fire safety certificate.

Purpose-built

Foxford Court comprises 52 apartments and duplexes, and were purpose-built by Newlyn Developments for the council in 2004. The residents bought their homes from the council; their mortgages are with the council. The council also established the management company which ran the development for the first year. The freehold title was transferred to a private management company in June 2006.

Concerns about fire safety at Foxford Court were first raised with the council by resident Paul Coleman in 2005. He had found pipes in the bathroom were not appropriately fire-sealed to stop fire or smoke passing through.

The council’s housing department contacted Newlyn Developments which inspected Mr Coleman’s and another dwelling.

In a letter to Breda Fogarty in the housing department, dated May 31st, 2006, and seen by The Irish Times, Christy Dowling of Newlyn Developments states he is “satisfied” the dwellings are “compliant with regulations”.

Concerns raised

Concerns were again raised last November, by another resident, Paul Kavanagh. He was carrying out work in his son’s bedroom which entailed lifting the floorboards. The bedroom is divided by a wall from the neighbouring duplex, owned by Sinead O’Flaherty.

The dividing wall should extend down beneath the floorboards to act as a barrier against fire-spreading.

However, the wall stops at the floor, leaving an open route under the boards for smoke and fire. Visiting Mr Kavanagh’s home last week, it was possible to reach under the wall and touch Ms O’Flaherty’s floorboards.

Mr Kavanagh and his partner, Denise Murphy, have moved out with their two children. Ms Murphy says she felt “ill” when she says she realised she had “been keeping our children in a death trap”.

The management company now in charge of Foxford Court commissioned a safety review of Mr Coleman’s, Mr Kavanagh’s and Ms O’Flaherty’s apartments . It was carried out on February 11th by Health and Safety Services, Training and Consultancy Ltd.

‘Hidden voids’

A draft copy of its report, seen by The Irish Times , draws attention to the lack of fire-stopping between the duplexes, adding there is also no fire-stopping between Mr Kavanagh’s duplex and the apartment below. The “hidden voids” “provide a ready route for smoke and flame spread”, it says.

Referring to the bathroom pipes, the report says: “The pipe penetrating the floor slab did not appear to be appropriately fire-stopped with appropriate material”. It calls for “immediate remedial works to install fire-stopping where required”.

Residents, through their management company, have been in correspondence with South Dublin County Council since December, asking that it send an engineer to investigate their safety concerns. Given that it signed off on the development, they argue the council has a key role in remedying their safety concerns.

The council did not provide a statement to The Irish Times . However, in a letter dated February 26th to Eoin O’Broin, a Sinn Féin member and local activist, who has been advocating for the residents, the county architect Eddie Conroy states the houses “were purchased under the affordable housing initiative and are all privately owned”.

Mr Conroy says the developer is “responsible for constructing the development in accordance with approved plans and conditions attached to the grant of planning permission.

“In relation to building control this is regulated through a self-certification process, in which the local authority has no direct involvement . . . I strongly recommend that the owners or management company deal with the chief fire officer to agree a strategy to address the issue.”

‘Unsafe houses’

In an email to residents dated February 15th, the management company says it is “looking into engaging a solicitor to try and get the council to play ball”.

A spokesman for the management company said he did not want to “get into the details of this” with The Irish Times as it was an ongoing situation.

Newlyn Developments did not respond to phone messages.

Mr O’Broin said: “The attempt by the council to wash their hands of the problem is unacceptable.

“They sold unsafe houses and flats to unsuspecting buyers. Equally, Newlands built these unsafe units.”

He said the council and the developer “must step in and rectify the problems. Residents must not be left to pick up the bill for a problem which they did not create”.

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