Is Longboat Quay the next Priory Hall? That was the question posed by George Hook this evening, the interview can be listened to in full at The Right Hook / 30th September 2015 – (Part 2, first slot).
As reported today, some 600 residents within Longboat Quay face an ultimatum this week to rectify fire safety defects or vacate their apartments. This comes on foot of a fire safety notice issued as a last resort by Dublin Fire Brigade. The issue came to light some time ago following an inspection within the development by a bank receiver. The estimated bill for remedial works on the 268 apartments is expected to exceed €4m in addition to works already carried out and paid for by The Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA).
Built in 2006 by Gendsong (a company subsequently in receivership), the building is reportedly subject to shortcomings in fire walls, service penetrations, smoke vents and ceilings. All works, mainly concealed post completion and which are extremely disruptive and costly to rectify.
So What Went Wrong (again)…
Again, the works were seemingly subject to opinions on compliance based on visual inspection where the architect (certifying professional) was not retained to inspect during the works and in this case was employed by the developing company. Building works require frequent inspections at key stages prior to ‘closing up’ or concealing critical works. To identify such defects post completion often involves invasive opening up works and even this may only expose a very limited portion of work which may exclude defects concealed elsewhere even in the same area. The systematic failure is one of self-certification – the legal acceptance of professionals who are retained by and paid by the developer to sign off and certify upon completion.
Unfortunately the mantra of ‘buyer beware’ applies for owners of such defective apartments. When purchasing they are wholly reliant on the opinions provided by professionals when the building was completed and which forms part of the conveyancing documents. At time of purchase there is very little other than a visual inspection that can be undertaken and this provides little comfort. Again, recourse to those who were negligent is often impossible or at best protracted – meanwhile the defect remains unresolved.
So What is the Solution…
Clearly what is required is a Building Control Authority lead inspection regime which offers independent oversight at key stages. This is what happens in the UK and Northern Ireland and which works well. It may involve an extra fee to resource but one which is surely worthwhile. There is also benefit in mandatory Latent Defects Insurance whereby the building owner automatically has the defect remedied without contest and the underwriter follows up for recourse with the negligent professional(s).
Are There Others Yet to Come?…
Unfortunately yes. Building Regulations are for the most part fit for purpose but the regulations are no good without compliance and independent policing of that compliance. Apartment blocks built during the boom could not go up quick enough and corners were cut – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. They would have all gone through a stringent planning and fire certification process but often the standards specified on these documents were not followed and this is often not fully evident in the completed building.