Longboat Quay issue could exist in hundreds of developments

Analysis: Surveyor says abuse of ‘light touch regulation’ could be widespread in Dublin

 Longboat Quay apartments. Prior to 2014, when the Building Control Amendment Regulations came into effect, all that was required for a developer to sell properties  was a “certificate of compliance”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Longboat Quay apartments. Prior to 2014, when the Building Control Amendment Regulations came into effect, all that was required for a developer to sell properties was a “certificate of compliance”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The situation at the Longboat Quay apartment complex in Dublin’s docklands, where fire safety requirements have apparently been ignored, may be replicated in hundreds of other developments built during the boom.

Prior to 2014, when the Building Control Amendment Regulations came into effect, all that was required for a developer to sell properties was a “certificate of compliance”. This certificate could be signed by an architect, engineer or surveyor after just a visual inspection of the property – and that took place after completion of the works.

This “light touch regulation”, as Kevin Hollingsworth, former chairman of the building surveyors professional group in the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, called it, meant there was no requirement to lift floorboards and examine whether proper safety measures were in place.

“They obviously can’t see the critical safety issues that are under the skin such as foundation, insulation, fire-proofing, all of which is under the visible layer of painted plasterboard,” he said. “That in a nutshell is the problem with the system we had.”

In terms of whether it was certain developers or a certain type of developer that engaged in abusing the system, Mr Hollingsworth said it was more “widespread” and the State was now in a situation where there could be hundreds of properties with fire safety deficiencies.

Widespread

“A lot of them have been identified, whether through innocuous things like bath leaks, and then owners or property managers will try to deal with the issue and keep it out of the headlines so as not to devalue the property,” he says.

“If you can imagine during the boom, there was work being done at such a pace and there was a lack of knowledge of basic fire-proofing techniques. With a lack of professional oversight, these things just got missed.

“It is widespread, and it’s not just down to a couple of rogue developers. I’ve been in developments that have been excellent but they are the exception rather than the rule.”

Since the new regulations were enacted last year, an assigned certifier, which can be a registered architect, a chartered engineer or a registered building surveyor, has been legally required to “sign off” on the building at key stages.

Insurance

The assigned certifier also possesses professional indemnity insurance, which developers did not have, that means residents who find problems in the construction of their property have recourse to make claims.

“That’s the problem now at Longboat Quay,” said Hollingsworth. “Developers don’t have professional indemnity insurance so once they are bankrupt, they’re gone. There is nobody to chase. Building insurance doesn’t cover defective construction.”

John Kidd, chairman of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association, the union for fire officers, said the State needed to check every new development that had been constructed to ensure these issues didn’t apply.“My own view is that eventually some tragedy is going to happen,” Mr Kidd said.

“I think there should be retrofitting of some developments that people paid seemingly good money for, that are now a fire risk, before there is an awful loss of life.

“Self-regulation doesn’t work. We should be checking every new development and fire prevention officers need to be recruited immediately. There is a crisis in terms of buildings being safe for purpose.”

Kidd also said the nature of new developments and a focus on energy conservation had compromised fire safety.

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