Homes and defective concrete blocks

 

Sir, – I am a chartered engineer with 30 years of experience working in the construction industry. I am listed on the IS 398 (Pyrite) register and IS 465 (Concrete Blocks and Mica) register.

With respect to “Costs of repairing mica-damaged homes to escalate as councils seek public funding” (News, September 16th), I must advise that the article is confusing.

The article starts by saying homes were damaged by faulty mica blocks. There is no such thing as a mica block! Blocks contain the mica, which renders them defective, depending on the percentage of mica content. The same for blocks rendered defective by the content of pyrite. These two minerals are separate and cause different issues – either crumbling or cracking of the blocks.

The article in paragraph seven describes pyrite as a building material. It is not a building material.

Furthermore, it does not cause the flooring to expand. Flooring experiences what is called heave or upwards displacement of the floor slab caused by pressure below the flooring due to the expansion of the stone infill from the presence of pyrite in the stone.

The houses in Donegal and elsewhere do not suffer from this issue as far as I am aware. It has been a significant issue in approximately 35,000 homes built in north Dublin, Louth, Meath and Westmeath.

These issues are currently being redressed by the pyrite remediation scheme which has been in place since 2014 and continues to date. It is 100 per cent fully funded by the State.

A ridiculous part of the application process for the mica redress scheme in its current format is the payment of fees to an engineer and a testing laboratory to have the houses surveyed and the blocks tested.

The fees are typically €7,000 for these services and are mandatory as part of the application process. A total of 23 per cent of this cost is VAT! Both the engineer and the testing laboratory, as service providers, would typically be registered for VAT at 23 per cent.

As part of the rebuilding, many homes will have to be fully demolished. This will require planning permission, and a typical planning application is €1,500.

We have seen with the Covid legislation how quickly laws and regulations can be brought into force by our Government – sometimes in a matter of days. The financial rules on VAT payments could be excluded to suit this situation by the Minister for Finance by a simple change in the current tax laws. The requirements to have planning permission to demolish a house could also be excluded from planning laws to suit this specific situation.

In terms of the cost to the state of 100 per cent redress, there are many positives. The redress scheme if it is implemented at 100 per cent would provide much-needed job creation as these homes are typically in rural parts of Ireland.

Apprenticeships in carpentry, plumbing, for electricians, blocklayers, painters, etc, could give a huge boost in job opportunities to local youth and even those living in direct provision. Jobs for engineers and site managers also would be created.

Local suppliers could get a huge boost in sales, employing more people to assist in supplying the building materials.

A large part of the cost to the State would be recovered in income tax on the wages and salaries of these workers and VAT on sales of the materials, etc. The scheme would be a massive and much-needed direct investment in a previously ignored part of the country when it comes to rural investment.

On top of this, of course, homeowners would get to live in homes that are fit for habitation. – Yours, etc,

RORY O’CONNOR,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.