Alan Baldwin says that: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy has left many involved in the Irish construction and property sectors asking: “Can a similar situation happen here?” At this stage with the UK investigation ongoing, we simply do not have the specifics to answer that question. However, we can take stock of Ireland’s building controls present and past while we wait for those answers.
“Recent mass media coverage has merged the issues of present and past building controls in a way that has left the public confused. The SCSI believes there are two distinct questions – (1) Are the current building controls fit for purpose? And (2) Are there legacy issues that need to be addressed?
“The current Building Control Amendment Regulations (BCAR) mark a massive improvement on the pre-2014 controls. In the post-2014 era, a statutory certification system is in place that provides a robust framework of inspection and certification for key components of a building. This framework spreads the onus of compliance requirements through appropriate inspection and documentation with certification from specialist contractors, suppliers, sub-contractors, sub-sub-contractors, builders, and designers. Each provider certifies compliance for all aspects of the build that they are involved in. This first hand certification is overseen by the two most important professionals in BCAR process – the Assigned Certifier and the Builder.
“A more robust system of controls under BCAR has improved consumer protection. Therefore, the SCSI is supportive of retaining BCAR while possibly strengthening it in some areas. This includes the additional resourcing of independent oversight by local authority inspection staff to support a culture of transparency, traceability and accountability, as well as to assist in deterring cases of non-compliance with appropriate standards of buildings. It also includes the setting up of the Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) for builders and related specialist providers, which adds to the system’s transparency and demonstrates competence on an ongoing basis. Such initiatives are important for Government as early detection and prevention of problems should save money and provide piece of mind to families.
“The pre-2014 legacy issue is more challenging to address but one that the government needs to resource. The robustness that the current system provides was apparently lacking prior to 2014, as evidenced by multi-occupancy units constructed in the decade prior to 2008. This does not mean that there is a wide spread problem, but our Chartered Building Surveyor members believe that identifying buildings at high risk to safety should be a priority. A high-level study should be undertaken to examine the extent to which high risk residential buildings exists, which would develop a methodology for risk rating to direct the targeted investigation of properties if necessary. The Government should enter this process having established an emergency fund to tackle the most urgent and serious building defects were they to exist. While the scale and type of multi-unit developments such as Grenfell Tower does not exist in Ireland, the SCSI believes such an approach would help to allay concerns of residents.