Counting the cost of building regulations

 

Sir, – In response to Daragh Cullinan’s letter (Letters, January 22nd) on Priory Hall and the need for a “properly resourced building inspection organisation”, can I point out that Dublin Corporation’s “bylaws with respect to the construction of buildings”, adopted in 1949, provided just such a structure. Up until its effective abolition by the new “self-certification” system established under the Building Control Act 1990 and subsequent building regulations, everyone seeking to build in Dublin city and county had to apply for bylaw approval prior to construction.

On-site inspections were carried out in all cases, large and small, at key stages of the construction by the surveyors, inspectors and engineers of a large building control section. This was, as a matter of interest, located on the site now occupied by The Irish Times on Tara Street. More detailed inspections were carried out in the case of larger constructions.

As we have learned to our cost, it is simply not possible to retrospectively “certify” that a building has been constructed in accordance with requirements once the bulk of the work has been covered up.

Prior to 1990, every builder in Dublin knew that they had to invite inspections at each key stage of the building process before moving on to the next stage. Failure to do so would – and did – result in a demand that such work be uncovered.

Because there was an obvious need for a national system of building regulation, the Government was faced with the alternatives of extending the robust bylaw systems in place in Dublin and some other cities or coming up with a new light-touch, “self-certification” system. Under pressure from the construction lobby groups, which had long-established links with the main political parties, the government of the day and subsequent governments opted for the light-touch option.

The full impact of this disastrous decision may never fully come to light but we have seen enough evidence already to realise that it needs to be reversed. Apart from issues around fire safety (such as Priory Hall) and pyrites, the lack of adequately enforced standards of thermal insulation has resulted in the need for far more expensive retrofitting of such insulation.

Recent attempts to strengthen the building regulations will not work in the absence of a robust system of staged on-site inspections by independent experts. Unfortunately around 50 per cent of all residential units in the country were constructed after the introduction of the “self certification” system so, to a large extent, the damage has been done. – Yours, etc,

ADRIAN CONWAY,

Chartered Engineer,

Kilcloon, Co Meath.

Sir, – The construction industry lobby has a long history of opposing improved building regulations. At the same time it lobbies for financial incentives to retro-fit buildings that could have been built to a higher standard in the first place. Nice work if you can get it. – Yours, etc,

JAMES McCARTHY,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.