Residents sent to hotel after judge warns developers

 

MORE THAN 240 residents of a Dublin apartment complex are to be moved into emergency hotel accommodation for five weeks after a High Court judge directed that the evacuation of the complex must proceed on Thursday while works are carried out to address serious fire safety risks.

Developer Thomas McFeely, a director of Coalport Building Company Ltd, which developed the Priory Hall complex of 187 apartments at Donaghmede, Dublin, yesterday publicly apologised to tenants and told the court he would put resources in place for the works.

Mr McFeely did not have resources to fund both emergency accommodation and the works, his counsel said.

President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who made the evacuation order after hearing last Friday of serious concerns from a Dublin City Council fire safety inspector, said yesterday he would “police” the situation on a weekly basis and described it as a “very upsetting experience” for all the residents.

The judge, after being told the council was not responsible for the cost of emergency accommodation, said he would not leave residents “in limbo” over who would pay.

He directed both Mr McFeely and another developer – Larry O’Mahony – to provide a statement of their means to the court by Friday.

The judge also warned that if works were not completed on time, a contempt of court and a committal to prison could result.

In a worst-case scenario, the council would pay the costs of the alternative accommodation, he said.

Ross Aylward, for Mr O’Mahony, said his client was not a director, shareholder or officer of Coalport and not the developer of the property, but had owned half of the lands where the complex was developed.

Mr O’Mahony had been declared bankrupt under English law and was not involved in the agreement to carry out the phased works at Priory Hall, counsel added.

Mr Justice Kearns said he would address outstanding issues on Friday.

The court heard a programme of works to rectify non-compliance with fire safety certificates had been agreed between a fire safety consultant, on behalf of Coalport, with Donal Casey, a fire safety inspector with the council who has inspected Priory Hall.

Mr Casey told the court last Friday that any fire could swiftly spread through the entire complex due to defects with fire safety barriers in the external walls.

He also expressed concern about alleged structural deficiencies. Yesterday, the court heard residents are to be evacuated for the first phase of the works programme, to involve removing external walls and upgrading the fire alarm system before the deadline of November 28th.

Residents will then be relocated within the complex as works are carried out on each apartment until next February. The agreed programme also involves a fortnightly meeting with the council’s fire department.

Mr Justice Kearns said the “real scandal” was a situation where fire safety breaches were ongoing since 2009.

Conleth Bradley SC, for the council, said emergency accommodation had been organised at the Regency Hotel in north Dublin. The accommodation would cost about €200,000 and it would cost an additional €42,500 to have a fire engine staffed by four officers at the complex for a week, that is, until Thursday.

The court heard 249 people, including 96 elderly people and children, were to be moved but that number might increase.

Earlier, Mr Bradley said the council was not responsible for the carrying out of the works and not in a position to pay for the temporary accommodation.

Mr McFeely told the court he learned about the problem with the external walls only on Wednesday and his own consulting engineers had certified the building as structurally sound. He would have a civil engineer on site to deal with the remedial works and his firm would be carrying them out.

Mr Bradley queried whether Mr McFeely had the money for the works and whether he was prepared to lodge it in court. Mr McFeely said he was paying for the works personally, had “enough” money to do the work and already had men on the payroll and had scaffolding.

When Mr Bradley said: “We don’t believe you, sir”, Mr McFeely replied: “I will get the work done. I am prepared to work night and day at it.”

Mr Casey last week told the court that three fire safety notices were served in September 2009 and a programme to address serious breaches was agreed but not all of the works were carried out. A solicitor speaking on behalf of about 30 residents told the judge “certain intimidating remarks” had been made by Mr McFeely to residents outside court.

The residents were “very concerned” about accommodation for families as a hotel might be unsuitable, he added. Mr Justice Kearns said it was an “unprecedented situation” and he could understand how “strong feelings are” but urged the many residents to remain calm in the courtroom as gardaí maintained a presence.

The judge requested the council to open five dedicated phone lines for residents.