New building regulations aim to set down a minimum standard of acceptability

Opinion: Measures should significantly strengthen protection for consumers

Priory Hall: the interests of builders and speculators were put ahead of those of home owners. Photograph: PA

Priory Hall: the interests of builders and speculators were put ahead of those of home owners. Photograph: PA

Wed, Dec 11, 2013, 00:01

For most people, the purchase of a new home is the most significant investment they will make during their lifetime. It is important, therefore, that this investment will bring security rather than trauma.

When I became Minister I inherited an appalling mess of shoddily built homes like Priory Hall, developments with pyrite problems and with dangerous breaches of fire regulations. The interests of speculators and developers were, in some cases, allowed to take precedence over those of families and individuals.

I am acutely aware of the distressing situation faced by many homeowners who, through no fault of their own, are now living with the consequences of the poor practices that prevailed. Earlier this year I signed into law building control regulations to provide the consumer with better protection.

Campaign

However, a

campaign led by several past presidents of the Royal Institut

e of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has recently sought to postpone and prevent implementation of the new regulations.

The new regulations do not actually change the existing legal responsibility placed on architects, designers and builders; rather they provide for greater clarity on the minimum requirements that must be achieved in bringing a building to completion. Their main aim to protect consumers and restore confidence in the construction industry.

They will require the submission of compliance drawings to local authorities; the development of an inspection plan and inspections by an assigned certifier, who can be a registered architect, an engineer or building surveyor; the signing of mandatory certificates of compliance by the designer prior to construction and by the assigned certifier and the builder when a building is complete.

Since I signed the regulations, my department has continued to liaise closely with key industry stakeholders to ensure that the new requirements are fully understood and will work well in practice. The executive and the council of the RIAI, in common with the other professional bodies and the Construction Industry Federation, has engaged with the department at all stages of the process. In a letter to members earlier this month, the president of the RIAI noted that “architects providing a full service . . . should have nothing to fear from the new system”.

What has led to the current catalogue of defective buildings is a failure to act responsibly. Building regulations represent only the minimum legally acceptable standard. Professionals can be expected to strive to achieve more than that, indeed to achieve best practice in their work. Mandatory certification, in tandem with increased inspection activity, will significantly strengthen our system and give consumers the protection they deserve.

Package of reforms

The new regulations on their own will not provide a panacea, but they are a critical platform to a wider package of reforms. Other key elements are an electronic administration system for building control, consideration of latent defects insurance as an ultimate form of redress for consumers and registration of builders and contractors.

In essence, the regulations aim to provide an integrated system of design, inspection and construction that will give homeowners traceability and accountability at all stages of the building process, and ultimately help deliver the high-quality homes they both expect and deserve.

Phil Hogan is Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government

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