I thank the Minister for coming to the House. This issue relates to the new 2013 regulations introduced under the Building Control Act, and they relate to certification of building works. There seems to be much concern among architects, engineers and surveyors regarding the exclusion of large numbers of competent engineers and architects who currently do a job in applying for planning permission and supervising construction works. It now seems that those who have been deemed competent for decades and who have been in the industry for years will not be able to certify works under these regulations. Will the Minister outline what is being done to allay their fears? People’s lives and livelihoods – their ability to earn a living – are being put at risk.
Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
I am glad of the opportunity to outline the position for Senator Daly. The new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013 will strengthen the arrangements currently in place for the control of building activity by requiring greater accountability in compliance with building regulations in the form of statutory certification of design and construction, lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates. The new regulations are necessary following widespread instances of failure by owners, designers and builders to comply with their statutory obligations under the Building Control Act 1990 to design and construct buildings in accordance with the building regulations.
An extensive public consultation process was undertaken in 2012 to inform the development of the revised building control regulations, which will come into effect on 1 March 2014. Comprehensive consultation documents were published, including Strengthening the Building Control System, a document to inform public consultation on draft building control (amendment) regulations 2012 which sets out the context in which the reforms – which are now signed into law in the form of SI No. 9 of 2014, which supersedes SI No. 80 of 2013 – will operate and the regulatory impact of these for building owners and industry stakeholders. This document remains on my Department’s website.
In the two years since public consultation began, my Department has worked in close consultation with key industry stakeholders and local authorities through the City and County Managers’ Association to prepare for the new regulatory environment. In this regard, a new online building control management system will provide a common platform for clear and consistent administration of building control matters across the local authority sector. It will also undertake a risk analysis of all projects for which commencement notices are received, which will inform each building control authority’s own inspection arrangements, thus ensuring that available inspection resources are used to optimum effect. Briefing and guidance for local authority staff on the new system has begun in recent weeks and arrangements are being made to brief industry stakeholders in early February 2014 before the system is made publicly available in advance of 1 March 2014.
A new code of practice for inspecting and certifying works will guide and assist construction professionals in particular in dealing with their new obligations with regard to inspecting work during construction, lodging documentation to demonstrate compliance and certifying the design and construction. Professionals who comply with the code of practice will be deemed to have fulfilled their obligations. This code of practice has been prepared in close collaboration with industry stakeholders and circulated widely within the industry. Standard forms of contracts used for both private and public sector projects will need to be revised to reflect the new regulatory environment. I understand that the Government construction contracts committee is currently reviewing arrangements in this regard with public works projects. My Department also understands from its ongoing liaison with the key construction professional bodies representing architects, engineers and surveyors that this work is advancing well. My Department officials are available to advise and assist the professional bodies in this regard as necessary.
Concerns that the new regulations prevent self-building are unfounded, although all house builders must comply with the new regulations. An owner who intends to self-build will, as before, assume legal responsibility for ensuring that building or works concerned are compliant. The new regulations now require all owners to assign a competent, registered professional to certify the design and to inspect and certify the works. Confidence in the builder will be a key factor influencing a professional’s decision to accept these roles and owners who intend to self-build will need to be aware of this. I am satisfied that arrangements for a smooth transition to the new regulatory environment are well in hand and my Department will continue to work with all parties to ensure they understand their obligations and the steps necessary to meet them.
I understand from representations I have received from the Senator and others that there is some concern about people who are not registered with professional bodies but who are draughtsmen or have carried out work on behalf of architects over the years. I have asked the chairman of the admissions panel of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, Mr. Garrett Fennell, to consider the routes to recognition of those people in respect of professional bodies. A report should be on the Department’s website that clearly indicates the recommendations for changes to be made, and I have accepted Mr. Fennell’s report in full. I hope to be in a position to implement those changes as quickly as possible, and that will provide an opportunity for people who are worried about their future, as there will be new rules regarding technical assessment. For example, there is a short and inexpensive course in UCD that will help these people. I have asked the RIAI to examine how we can assist people in becoming fully registered and in any other way in achieving that goal. This applies, as the Senator correctly suggests, to people who have been working in the system for many years.
I hope that by implementing the recommendations in Mr. Fennell’s report we will be in a position to drive down costs and improve opportunities for recognition for professionals who have been involved in building and construction for many years.
I thank the Minister for the reply and for the further information he supplied.