Sunday 12 November 2006

The role of building control within Irish planning

The role of building control within Irish planning

Building regulations have a long colourful history, dating back to the 1878 Public Health (Ireland) Act which controlled the construction of buildings in the interest of health, safety and welfare. The most recent, consolidated building regulations came into force on 1 July 1998 (the first ones date from 1991) – Parts L and M came later, in 2003. The building control regulations prescribe the procedures to be followed in order to comply with the Building Control Act 1990. They are a set of requirements for the design and construction of new buildings, extensions and material alterations to and certain changes of use of existing buildings.

The regulations comprise a set of legal requirements, expressed in simple functional statements. They address: Structure; fire safety; site preparation and resistance to moisture; sound; ventilation; Hygiene; Drainage and waste water disposal; heat producing appliances; stairways, ladders, ramps and guards; Conservation of fuel and energy; and, Access for people with disabilities. They go from Part A to Part M and are clearly exciting stuff. They are 12 separate technical documents.

All construction work must comply with the regulations. The responsibility for compliance rests with designers, builders and building owners. Building control authorities have powers to inspect design documents and buildings as well as powers of enforcement and prosecution where breaches of the regulations occur. There are heavy fines and imprisonment penalties. Selling a property can be difficult if a purchaser’s solicitor finds out the building does not comply with the regulations.

There are two important control arrangements in the system:

Firstly, Commencement Notices: these notify a building control authority that a person intends to carry out either works or a material change of use to which the building regulations apply. This notice must be given to the authority not more than 28 days and not less than 14 days before commencement. A fee is payable with the notice. Its size depends on the number of buildings. They are required for: (1) erecting ad building, (2) a material alteration or extension of a building, (3) a material change of use of a building or works in connection with this change. Exempted development under the planning code does not require a notice.

Secondly, a Fire Safety Certificate: this is a certificate granted by a building control authority which certifies that if a building or works is constructed in accordance with plans submitted, it would comply with the regulations (part B – fire safety). With few exemptions (agricultural buildings and houses), one is required for all new buildings (including flats and apartments), as well as material changes of use and certain alterations and extensions to buildings. It must be obtained before work starts. A fee is required and there is an application procedure. It takes two months but this can be extended on written agreement, e.g. if more information is required. An appeal to the Board is possible within one month if refused.

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