Adjournment Matters Building Regulations Amendments

Mark Daly:

I raised a matter previously on the Building Control Act regulations and related statutory instruments of 2013. Was a regulatory impact assessment carried out on the impact of the changes to the regulations which will result in job losses for many architects, structural engineers and architectural technicians who no longer will be able to certify works from 1 March 2014?

Fergus O’Dowd:

I thank the Senator Daly for bringing this issue before the House. I take this debate on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan.

The new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations will greatly strengthen the arrangements currently in place for the control of building activity by requiring greater accountability in relation to 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 the widespread instances of failure by owners, designers and builders to comply with their legal 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 9 of 2014 which supersedes SI 80 of 2013, will operate and the regulatory impact of these for building owners and industry stakeholders. This document is available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

In summary, it can be said that the arrangements being put in place for the control of building activity may result in additional design, inspection, certification and, possibly insurance costs which must ultimately be borne by the building owner-contracting authority. Such additional costs would be justified by the enhanced quality and standard of design and construction of the building project concerned in light of several notable instances of non-compliant buildings which failed to meet minimum building standards. We all know of instances of this in the past year or so.

It is anticipated that the statutory inspection process will reduce the incidences of defective works on site and the resultant associated costs of carrying out remedial works will reduce accordingly. Owners will now be required to assign a competent person to inspect and certify the works. For buildings where this would not previously have been the case, industry sources suggest this requirement could add between €1,000 to €3,000 per housing unit to the overall building costs, although in reality this actual cost will be decided by market forces.

The Government is acutely aware of the employment and competition consequences that may result. Overall the new regulations will have a positive effect on employment in the sector. The regulations will serve to ensure the involvement of competent registered professionals in the design, inspection and certification of buildings generally and competent builders in the execution and certification of works. In this way, owners, designers and builders will meet and account for their legal obligations under the Building Control Act 1990 which recent experience has shown to have been widely flouted. The cost of this, which must be borne by the responsible parties, will be justified by safer, compliant buildings in keeping with the legitimate expectations of consumers.

There have been wild exaggerations in circulation of the increased costs the regulations will impose on the self-build home sector. There has been no change in the technical performance standards. Any person who intended meeting their statutory obligations to design and build in accordance with the building regulations will face the additional design and certification costs referred to, but any additional building costs will be negligible.

The construction industry, in particular the residential sector, includes an unusually high number of SMEs. A large proportion of the work of such firms would involve repair, renewal and renovation work or extensions to existing dwellings. Such works would not come within the scope of the proposed Building Control (Amendment) Regulations. In addition such firms would operate as subcontractors on larger projects. In such cases the impact and the administrative burden would fall on the principal contractor. The impact of the proposed regulations on SMEs has thus been kept to a minimum.

Mark Daly:

I thank the Minister of State for taking my question. I know he is not the Minister in charge of this. The question I asked was whether a regulatory impact assessment was carried out on the Building Control Act regulations of 2013. The Minister of State knows that this question was not answered in the reply. In fact, my questions could have been answered by a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

The Minister of State has had to take matters on the Adjournment for other Ministers and Members have argued that the question they asked was never answered in the course of the reply. I will take the matter up with the Cathaoirleach and the Minister. It is important the reply from the relevant Department answers the matter that was raised on the Adjournment. One of the proposals in the programme for Government is that regulatory impact assessments would be conducted continually. I believe that fewer than three have been done in some Departments in the past three years.

Fergus O’Dowd:

I thank Senator Daly for his comments. I assure him that I agree that the question asked must be answered. I regret that this has not been the case. I will take it up as a matter of urgency with the Department. It takes time and effort to raise a matter on the Adjournment and it should be answered in a direct way.

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