Thursday, 15 December 2011
Dublin City Council didn't want stronger fire regulations
Dublin City Council is currently embroiled in a dispute with builder Tom McFeely over the enforcement of fire safety regulations in the Priory Hall apartments. The apartments are virtual death traps due to the fact that they were not built according to fire safety regulations.
The council moved its tenants out of Priory Hall in 2009 and got a High Court order in October to remove private residents. The High Court ordered the council to pay for the residents' emergency accommodation but DCC is trying to overturn the ruling.
The lack of building regulation is causing major problems for the council, but it turns out that they and other local authorities didn't want stronger rules during the Celtic Tiger years.
Local authorities give buildings fire certificates based on architectural plans, not on inspections carried out following completion. The Competition Authority proposed a full inspection regime for construction projects as part of a consultation document on the architectural sector in 2003, but this was rejected by Dublin City Council and other local authorities.
The City and County Managers' Association wrote to the Authority saying that they did not have the resources to implement such a regime. They acknowledged that the cost could be covered by charging construction companies a fee, but rejected this option as it would increase the cost of building projects.
“We feel that monitored self-certification by suitably qualified persons should continue,” the Association said.
The Department of Environment recommends that 12-15% of completed buildings are inspected by fire brigade officers, but there is no way at present to verify that the remaining buildings were built according to plans.
Construction industry insiders say that plans are not always implemented as outlined to fire brigade officers due to pressure to cut costs.
The Chartered Institute of Building also wrote to the Competition Authority in 2004 saying there was an urgent need to introduce an inspection regime. The group condemned the self-certification system claiming that developers were discouraging building professionals from monitoring construction projects.
“It has become normal practice on large and medium-sized housing developments (and in some cases small developments) to refuse to allow work-in-progress inspections by client's professional representatives.”
“Self-certification by architects, building surveyors and appropriately qualified engineers etc should only be considered in conjunction with a combination of an increase in Local Authority inspections and resources, where necessary, in addition to the introduction of an approval system...in the interests of public health and safety.”
The recommendation to introduce a full inspection regime was not included in the final report on architects published by the Competition Authority in 2006, the year Priory Hall was built.
John Kidd from the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association told me that Priory Hall is the “tip of the iceberg.” The trade union estimates that fire regulations were not complied with in 10% of Celtic Tiger-era buildings.
“It's only a matter of time before we have a major fire tragedy. Fixing the problems now could end up costing the council more than it would have to enforce a proper inspection regime during the boom, and lives would not have been put at risk either.”
Amen to that.
By the way Dublin City Council has not said why they didn't move private tenants out of Priory Hall when they moved their own tenants in 2009 due to fire safety concerns. It's unclear who would have been liable if a fire had occured there in the meantime.