Tuesday 25 October 2011

‘Highly unlikely’ Priory Hall would happen in Britain

TOUGHER inspection laws in Britain make it "highly unlikely" that a situation could arise like Priory Hall in Dublin, where residents had to evacuate the development because of serious fire safety concerns, a building expert has claimed.

A leading British authority on building defect recognition, Prof Malcolm Hollis, said a key issue in Ireland appeared to be the lack of independent assessment of the design, together with detailed checking of the building work.

Asked if a situation like Priory Hall could emerge in Britain, he replied: "You can’t rule anything out in terms of defects in buildings but it would be highly unlikely and it is certainly not something you would expect to see repeated in more than one building."

Prof Hollis, who spoke at the annual conference of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland conference in Dublin, said the British model of independent inspections, where developments are examined before, during and after construction, protected occupants and ensured the value of new properties.

The professor of building pathology at the University of Reading said it appeared that the lack of legislation requiring mandatory inspections and enforcement in Ireland had resulted in cases where new construction did not achieve the required standards.

"We have already seen the result of this in relation to fire safety. But the health and well-being of occupants can also be put at risk through failures to achieve required standards for ventilation, water-proofing, drainage, heating and energy conservation," he said.

"In the UK, approved independent inspectors work with the developer before, during and after construction to ensure a stringent approach to ensuring compliance in accordance with the building regulations. A similar system could work in Ireland," he said.

The president of the society, John Curtin, said they wanted tighter building control. He said local authorities were only inspecting between 10% and 15% of developments in their area. He also said the buildings inspected by the councils were only visited once during the building process.

Mr Curtin said all developments should be visited on a "blanket basis" and the society would favour the British model, where there were constant building inspections on all sites.

The society has also called on the Government to clarify the issue of retrospective banning of upward-only rent reviews in commercial leases, a situation severely impacting on Ireland’s ability to attract foreign investment. It pointed to figures suggesting that investment levels have dropped to about €180 million so far this year, compared to over €3 billion in 2006.

Meanwhile, the country’s planners could be tied up in red tape for years as a result of more un-coordinated rules and restrictions.

Planning expert Conor Skehan, who addressed a conference of the Irish Planning Institute in Dublin yesterday, said "a plethora of environmental restrictions threatens to engulf and overwhelm rural areas, with potentially disastrous results for their future".

Irish Examiner


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