Making sure Priory Hall doesn't happen again…

Making sure Priory Hall doesn't happen again…

The Priory Hall development in Dublin

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is looking for submissions to help improve the quality and safety of buildings. Currently the proposal is to have a compulsory set of certificates issued by architects along with supporting documentation.

Is this really a ‘solution’ or just a political answer to the symptoms?

Who do you think should be responsible? What is the best solution? Have your say….

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The plan seems simple enough on the face of it, require architects to fill in various compulsory certificates throughout the build. This is really breaking down the final ‘Architects certificate of compliance’ issued at the end of a build into different stages. Within that certificate there are various caveats that cover off work that was not seen or inspected.

On that basis it may not be a ‘solution’ at all, there will always be work that is not inspected. At the same time, you could have a developer who wants something done a certain way, the architect views it and it looks okay but in fact it isn’t. Imagine going to a site where concrete was poured and asking the people if there was enough re-enforcing steel bars in it and they assured you that a certain amount was used. You can’t unpour the concrete to check, equally, saying you can’t pour until the architect or engineer is there could cause unnecessary and costly delays.

Which leads to another question: what about the cross over between architects and engineers? People seem to confuse what an architect does, their job is mixture of design, compliance with building codes, outlay/ergonomic considerations and the like; what they don’t do is gauge sheer forces or determine the loads a wall will carry that may be the difference between laying blocks on their flat side or on their edge.

Local authorities have building inspectors, they are also the beneficiary of contributions – which are a lump sum payment to the local authority in return for the planning permission with certain amounts added on or reduced for connections to water and sewage. Is it fair for them to be in a situation where they get paid but are not responsible?

If we do ‘blame’ architects then it will embed cost into building, because you won’t have the choice but to have a comprehensive architecture package in the outlay, and the architect may not be fire-savvy (often it is fire engineers who undertake this work). The builder may not know that some of his sheet-rock crew put blue gypsum where green gypsum was required or other such considerations.

Building is really about good people doing the right things at the right time, and thankfully that is how it works almost all of the time. Except for when it doesn’t, and you get something like Priory Hall where hundreds of honest buyers paid their money in good faith for something that was a fire-risk.

Falling back on architects means you are really going after their professional indemnity insurance – which may or may not be in force or may have exclusion clauses. This means that the we are narrowing the field down. Developers and builders may be rightfully blamed but they don’t carry insurance that covers this type of issue and as we have already seen, they may opt to go ‘bang’ rather than face the alternative consequences.

I can’t help but think it is the local authority who grant the permission to ensure that it is complied with – they are paid in the granting of permission and they are the ones who are the ongoing service providers, who already have building inspectors who do the inspection jobs.

It would be better if Phil Hogan ensured that Councils sent inspectors along regularly as is common in the UK. I don’t like the idea that an architect can sign a cert of compliance on a building that isn’t compliant, breaking down this process further doesn’t give any guarantee that specific needs are met. What about the circumstance where an architect is hard up and a builder might say ‘sign off on this stage or you don’t get paid’? That is a predicament which implies that whoever takes responsibility should be beyond reproach (at least in terms of being Shanghai’d financially).

Some people are upset with the banks on this. They do have some cause, but the banks offered finance secured on the asset after the buildings were completed. A solution here might be that banks should give a contribution to the local authority if they are lending on a development to supplement their work in ensuring codes are met.

What can’t happen is for the people living there to take the brunt, or to seek to have ultimate liability with those who can’t be effectively chased down or made to compensate, these things are naturally indicating that a local authority would be the best placed to solve this in the future, not multiple architect certificates.





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There are 21 comments for this article
  1. Dhfproperty at 2:07 pm

    In Spain a building act brought into law in 1999 considers all parties involved in the construction of a building to carry some responsibility. Without prejudice to their contractual responsibilities, the individuals or legal entities who assist in the building process are liable to the owners and third party buyers of the building or any parts thereof, should the building be divided.

    The following property damages affecting the building within a specified time, starting on the date of the commencement of the works without reservation or starting on the date of the correction of such reservations:

    Responsibility is assigned for faults in the building in the time frames specified as follows.

    For a ten year period, any structural damage caused to the building due to faults or defects affecting the foundations, supports, beams, framework, load-bearing walls, or other structural elements which directly jeopardise the building’s mechanical resistance and stability.
    For a period of three years, damages caused to the building by faults or defects in the constructive elements or services which result in the building failing to meet habitability requirements.
    The builder will likewise be liable for damages due to construction faults or defects affecting elements of the finish work for a period of one year.
    Each agent is individually liable for their own acts or omission and for those of the persons for whom they are legally responsible according to law.

    Notwithstanding this, when the liability for the damages cannot be assigned to an individual or group, those involved will be held jointly responsible. In any event, the developer will be jointly liable with all other agents involved to the buyers for the property damages to the building caused by construction errors or defects.

    Responsibility of the builder
    The builder is directly liable for damages caused to the building due to faults or defects derived from lack of skill, lack of professional or technical qualification, negligence or non-compliance with the obligations of the Construction Manager and the other individuals or legal entities reporting to them.

    When a builder subcontracts to other individuals or legal entities for the performance of certain tasks or services, they will be directly liable for the damages, due to faults or defects in the execution of such works, without prejudice to the recourse he might have against subcontractors.

    The following property damage or surety policies are required as guarantees:

    A property damage or surety insurance policy to guarantee for one year compensation of the damages caused by execution faults or defects which affect the finished work
    A property damage or surety insurance policy to guarantee for a period of three years, compensation of damages due to faults or defects in constructive elements or services which result in the non-compliance of the habitability requirements
    A property damage or surety insurance policy which guarantees compensation of damages caused to the building by faults or defects originating in, or directly affecting the building’s mechanical resistance and stability.

    In my estimation I believe the local authority should have to grant a number of licences to build. A licence should only be considered when the names of the builder/developer, their contractors and sub contractors, their insurance policies and their build responsibilities are submitted with the build project.

    A fee of 5% of the build cost should apply and the local authority should make at least 3 inspections during the build where they would meet with builder and architect and issue the first, second and third licence as the project develops. With a checks and balances system in place and a local authority officer insuring that the build is going to plan by site visits and inspections this would elivate most of the problems associated with Priory hall.

  2. Gary at 8:46 am

    I ve been following these conversations for a while now pointing fingers gets us no where the thing we all want to know is how can WE stop this in the future.

    Let’s start local Authority inspections are a must and the cost should be in the famous donation that has been made to get the planning granted.

    Architects, Engineers, Building Surveyors, need to work together off the same page they work in the built Enviroment. No more pointing the finger

    Builders need propper training and graded for different levels of construction and if they don t have the grade they simply cannot do the work. This obviously can’t be brought in ove night but we re in a slump make dates start. Bring in builder Apprentiships 4 yrs for 1st level and like the rest CPDs and grades to advance to the higher levels.

    Products having better certification even hardcore and all Certs kept on site in a portfolio for each job whether single residents or apartment blocks even for products the subbies use. And in the case of quarries have insurance equivilant to amount sold,

    Come up with a built enviroment team from all main societies and solve the problem now while things are quite

    These are just my thoughts on it no more band aids

  3. Norman Campbell at 12:16 am

    Hi Karl,
    Please send me an email and I shall send you a report I did on the Fire Stopping in Belmayne in Jan. You need to look a little deeper. Cheers, Norm.

  4. mick lydon at 5:41 pm

    If you put yourself forward as a developer / Builder and you can not build or do not make money ,do not worry the Irish tax payers will bail you out.You can then get a relative or friend to buy back your development at a reduced price sell it and move to tax haven,and because you have done it in a country where from top to bottom nobody takes responsibility you can teach your children how to do the same

  5. George Finglas at 3:20 pm

    This infuriates me. A Backward Monkey would see the responsibility for all building controls should be with the Local Authority. They award the planning permission, they are 100% responsible for fire safety. They operate the fire safety authority to involve any other third parties at this stage is suicidal. Human nature will dictate that individuals will always look to line their own pockets. Let Priory Hall be an expensive lesson.

  6. Madge Mcnamara at 9:26 am

    An Taoiseach and the Government are the ones who legislate . Thats where the problem is .

  7. Tony at 10:59 pm

    I worked in Australia for ten years mostly in Mechanical constuction, every job i completed had to conform to Austalian standards and everything was inspected, it did keep people on their toes, not only that anyone who worked with me from crain drivers, welders to riggers had to be properly trained and hold tickets to show they were licensed to do their job, safety was the number one priority.
    I came back to Ireland in 2003 i worked on sites here i was shocked by how jobs were run and the lack of safety on site, i had been home at christmas 2000 and i guy i knew was selling Christmas decoration on the streets in Dublin when i came back in 2003 he was working as a builder with a Master Craftsmen badge on his van.
    I think the problem in this country is the total lack of accountability from anyone from the Goverment right down to the builder, we had a great oppurtunity to make something of this country in the last fifteen years and we blew it.

  8. Patrick at 7:44 pm

    Failure yet again, to legislate and regulate the the BUILDERS. Standards must never be abandoned, as clearly is the case,and as a consequence we are left yet again to foot the bill. Why is it we just seem totally unable to govern this little three quarter Island ? and why is it that long after the thing is truly cocked up,we start firefighting with who done it, or didn’t do it???.The natural process is invoked and we have another inquiry or a series of them, and we are left to carry on, yes until the next time. But alas standards are standards and as we fail to implement them,we must carry on in the hope one day we the public will accept responsibility for our actions at the ballot box, and act accordingly in voting into office those with the knowledge,expertise and ability to lead and maintain their portfolio in what they are appointed to manage to the highest standard . (Nothing else is Acceptable} Enough Waffle, Lets do the job correctly or not at all.Yes we Can,, Cant we ? Bob.

  9. Lennie at 7:33 pm

    The system of self regulation has not worked because as you’ve said an Architect/Engineer does not get paid until he issues a cert of compliance. There held over barrell and if they refuse, the developer/builder would just get some other professional to provide Certification.

    The quality of supervision can vary between the meticulous multi stage inspecting professional to those who were willing to certify buildings that they have never inspected (and I’m speaking from experience here).

    The system you refer to in the Uk of staged inspections by the Building Control dept is payed for by developers who have to pay significant fees maybe 100 times greater than the 30euro per unit they are paid here. To put it in context (and as far as I’m aware) there is 70 odd Building control staff in the Belfast city area compared to 3 or 4 in the Dublin City area. If we want a sure fire system of independent local Authority inspections, then it has to be paid for by the developer. This however is never going to happen as the government needs to reduce public service numbers not increase.

    Builders should be required to apply for registration to be “fit to practice”. This should be based on competency to build in accordance with approved layouts and building regulations. Contractors that are not registered should not be allowed to be part of the process.

    Bottom line is that The Local Authority is not to blame for incompetent or dishonest Building professionals or cowboy builders who are prepared to cut corners to line their own pockets. The system is wrong and a knee jerk cert of compliance process is not going to change anything.

  10. Dermot Kearns at 4:27 pm

    The responsibility lies with a number of bodies
    1. The individual who produced the insulation specification.Fire Stopping is insulation in the case of the cavity wall at priory hall.
    2. The builder for not knowing the correct product to apply when firestoping the cavity. The site foreman for not inspecting the application of the firestopping materials. The architect for not discussing the firestopping with the builder to ensure everyone is aware of the dangers of getting it wrong. Trust me I know how bad it is out there when it comes to knowledge of insulation and associated building products.The insulation is the single most important building product to go into any building project and yet it gets the least respect. Priory hall is nothing compaired to the real problems out there at this present time.If you live in a semi detach or terraced house and your home was built within the last 10 years or so the chances are there is no fire stop between you and your neighbour. 80% chance. Please send this to Mr Phil Hogan as the government has no idea how bad it realy is. This is the way insulation is sold typically in Ireland, the manufacturer sells to a distributor or retailer. the retailer sells to the builder. The education and training for the insulation products is hit and miss so for this reason alone it is not possible for everyone involved to understand or know what are the correct products to choose for each application to ensure fire safety.
    (some content removed as it was of a commercial advertising nature)

  11. Conor at 2:27 pm

    I work in North America, certifying construction loan draw-downs on very lage complex buildings. I also worked for many years in Dublin so know both approaches well. In America, the local building inspectors carry out regular detailed inspections and if deficiencies are found they must be corrected immediately by the builder. In most US/Canadian juristructions the final inspection results in a ‘Certificate of Occupancy’ which is required before insurance can be placed or sales of units can close. However responsibility for compliance with building regulations ultimately rests with the builder and the whole industry recognizes this. The Local Authority Building Department inspections are just a checking mechanism – but they function to keep all trades ‘on their toes’.
    Regarding cost – Richard is correct – the developer ultimatley foots all bills (albeit partly funded by the lenders).
    In short responsibility for design compliance rests with the Designer of Record (Architect) and responsibility for construction compliance rest with the General Contractor (most forms of contract already make this clear!)
    In Ireland builders/sub-contractors should be responsbile for construction compliance – surely they cannot feign ignorance of good standards and regulation compliance? (The Architcet told me to put my finger in the fire, so…..)

  12. Tom Brophy at 2:10 pm

    There has always been a large cowboy element in the building industry in Ireland. When it’s combined with high levels of political corruption and croney capitalism the results for consumers are all too predictable.

    It is impossible for the end buyer to verify that building regulations have been properly followed, to a proper standard. A warranty or guarantee from a developer or a builder is meaningless – they essentially setup a company per job and wind it down as soon as they can after the job. There is potentially professional indemnity insurance from architects and engineers, both both of these are employed by the developer (if they’re employed at all. IIRC, Liam Carroll was proud of the fact that he never used architects for his matchbox apartment schemes.) So we’re left with the “regulating” authority.

    The developer has (allegedly) paid a bond to the local authority when planning permission was granted; the regulating authority has (allegedly) sent inspectors round to the site on a regular basis to inspect and certify the work. Anecdotally, we all know how that worked. There was a house built to regulations and a proper standard for the inspector, should he materialise, and whatever you could get away with for the other units in the development.

    So, we need to put manners on developers/builders and local authorities. End buyers should have the right to sue the local authority if substantive defects are found in the property within 10-15 years. This would encourage local authorites to make sure that they were indemnified against such liabilities by forcing the developer to buy an insurance policy which would pay out to the local authority. This would also encourage builders/developers to hire appropriately insured professional architects and engineers.

    Local authorities in Ireland are an accountability-free zone. This needs to change. We need to decide what it is we want local authorities to do and then fund them to do it. There needs to be a means for getting rid of corrupt/incompetent staff/management in local authorities. There needs to be a means whereby a local authority electorate can demand accountability from local authority management. Enhanced accountability will also mean pain both to local politicaians and residents. Politicians need to be debarred from all planning permission decisions. There needs to be a local council tax.

  13. Damien at 12:44 pm

    It seems to me that local authorities should carry the brunt of the responsibility to ensure the work is of acceptable standard. However, what if it was made a criminal offense with the possibility of a mandatory jail term for builders and developers in particular but also for anyone found complicit in building sub-standard or unsafe buildings? It might just be what’s needed to ensure that builders do their job properly. Any thoughts on this?

  14. Karl Deeter Author at 11:03 am

    @Richard The rationale of who should be responsible in terms of implementation (and who should be hit financially as far as is possible) is correct in the builder/developer. But to have deep enough pockets to provide an ultimate backstop the only party that qualifies is the local authority.

    @Aidan you say that the responsibility for the construction is with the banks? That doesn’t make any sense – the architect issued the cert of compliance, that is still required to draw down the loan – the issue arose because that cert was done but it wasn’t compliant because the architect was kept off site in order to reduce call out costs.

  15. Michael O’Neill at 11:00 am

    There is a degree of naivety in some of the comments which prefer to see the architect as all powerful. When you are retained by a builder developer all you have is the power to withhold certs against their power not to pay your fees.

    I was often in that situation during the nineties and the only thing you had to fall back on was the fact that you were scrupulously honest and fair with them so they knew you were not playing a game for advantage or seeking a bribe when you said “no” to signing a cert. You had to explain matters in detail, explain what they had to do to bring matters into compliance and then act with integrity.

    In Priory Hall we didn’t see any sign of the architect being coerced into signing certs. We saw evidence that the building was certified in a non-compliant state. There were two issues arising:

    (i) What seems to be the apparent lack of adequate inspection and certification during the build and at completion. How could the inspecting professional have missed the presence of a bedroom we are led to believe required to be removed by condition of a Fire Cert? There may be mitigating reasons for this, but bedrooms are not part of the common areas, they are integral to the apartment.

    (ii) Work covered up by the builder which was subsequently found to be not compliant. These works were apparently not inspected by the architect during the building work. With dry wall construction, a team of slabbers can do a block in a week, so its entirely possibly that work could occur between say fortnightly inspection dates.

    However, it is important for any inspecting professional to ensure that he at least has a representative look at work as it is carried out, otherwise he is hiding behind a fig leaf of “visual inspection”. Again, during the nineties, the obvious way to do that was to arrive on site unexpectedly and see what was going on.

    All site visits should be accompanied by a set of record photos and/or followed up by a written snag lists or list of defects for the builder to action. The absence of intermediate site visits compromises the quality of the certificate whether its visual inspection or not. The presence of record photos and minutes supports the quality of the built work regardless of whether the cert is visual inspection or not. Where there is good governance and regular inspections by the building professionals during the building programme, the quality benefits.

    This is sometimes at the expense of time coming to market and some builder developers are loath to have regular inspections because of this. A good way to accommodate them is with unannounced spot checks – if they are building well, there will be no problem. If they intend to build sloppily they will resist and the building professional should walk away. Walking away during the Toger years was difficult for many, with the market flooded with competitors from Europe and Britain.

    Even with proper inspections in place however, the architect certifies only the design and must rely on the quality of most of the built work on the competence and integrity of the builder. We all do this. Does anyone get a mechanical engineer to check a new car for meeting production tolerances before they buy it? No, there is a degree of trust and then there are legal actions for delivery of shoddy goods.

    But even where the architect relies on the builder, there should be a battery of certificates and guarantees from all the sub-contractors and the builder certifying the built work is compliant – the subbies covering their specialist trades and components and the builder covering everything else. There should be an unbroken quilt of certification on all the components and systems including follow up fire sealing for services penetrations.

    Where the system failed in the Celtic Tiger was that people bought off the plans and then didn’t retain a competent professional to inspect on their behalf. How many owners in Priory Hall retained an architect or a building surveyor to inspect the apartment and building before handing over the money or taking up residence? Because under the current system of certification that was the check and balance that protected the purchaser.

    Replacing the privately retained professional with a council inspector is trading places not necessarily improving monitoring. There should be co-monitoring and certification, where each can work with the other to ensure that the contractor is building compliantly. This is still open to abuse by corruption, but at least with several different professionals dealing with one official, the corruption when it occurs will be easy to spot.

    So long as the professionals act with competence, honesty and integrity – that’s what it boils down to.

  16. Aidan at 10:58 am

    Architects are paid to draw up building plans that comply with building regulation ie. No bedrooms coming off kitchens seems bit obvious.
    Local authority’s levy huge charges but have no interest in inspecting said developments as to whether they comply or not.
    Which is quite inexplicable as there officials are running around the country inspecting farms duplicating the work of the department of agriculture, but then that’s probably because there’s no developments to not inspect anymore!.
    Central government does just about everything except govern mish mash policy abound with no accountability.
    Builders and developers did what they do maximise profits to plough into the next big development and are now bust.
    But the true responsibility lies with the lenders that financed the mortgages of the poor unfortunate people that bought these properties the reason being that once upon a time no mortgage was issued without a certificate of compliance from a chartered surveyor.
    There is no reason why these properties could not have being found deficient before any were sold instead of after they were all sold.

  17. Richard at 10:54 am

    From a practical point of view, if something goes wrong, the party responsible for rectification must have pockets deep enough to repair it – without recourse to insurance. This leaves but two options – the developer or the builder. I am not aware of the details of the sitiuation but to the best of my knowledge, the Priory Hall problems did not arise out of poor design by architects but by breaches of building regulations by those who should have known better. While these would probably have been identified earlier if building inspectors were on site at all times, this is not a practicable or cost effective proposition. Moreover if they had identified those problems at the time, who would have paid to implement the correct ones? Obviously the builder would have done so and charged the developer – again supporting the view that ultimately the cost of building to comply with regulations is the responsibility of the developer/builder. Essentially a builder should be required to know the regulations he is supposed to comply with and must be held accountable for doing so. This leads to the conclusion that the builder is responsible for complying with regulations (and that the new guidelines include jail sentences for cases where willful breaches occur) whereas the costs must be borne by the developer. This separation of roles takes away the incentive for builders to cut costs as the cost is borne by the developer.
    In the same way as an employer has a duty of care for the safety of staff, a developer should have the same duty of care for the quality of the product he sells. Costs must be borne by the developer.

  18. Andrew Kiely at 10:22 am

    Look its quite simple, we have a building control department in each local government, its time to use & maximize it to its full potential. That may mean actually employing people in it who know what they are doing, architects, technician, engineers etc.
    But it is the sole responsibility of that department to make sure all buildings that have been granted permission are constructed in compliance with the current building regulations.
    Consultant architects, engineers etc, cannot be on site every day to ensure compliance so more paperwork is not a solution.

  19. Karl Deeter Author at 10:20 am

    @Rita I agree with you, they are paid to grant the planning, they should ensure it is in line with what they granted.

    @JJ Architects can take responsibility for what they design, but they lack an ability to ‘enforce’ other than to damage their own cashflow and withdraw from the project. It would be far better to have a non-compromised party (local authority) in that position. Pyrite is something that the best architect wouldn’t catch, the problems require testing that they are unable to carry out. It may be worth requiring some further quality testing on infill/aggregate/concrete but this again doesn’t put the architect in pole position of responsibility. Very messy to find any solution.

  20. JJ Toner at 10:10 am

    Overseeing the quality of a build from the ground up is the job of a qualified architect or civil engineer. As professionals they must fulfil their role to the highest level and take responsibility for what they do. IMO, the pyrite issue is much worse than the fire safety issue and reflects badly on everyone involved from the quarry company through the builder and all those involved in certifying the build. The idea that a builder could blackmail an architect/engineer into signing a cert for shoddy work is ludicrous. The opposite situation would apply, where the engineer would refuse to certify (say) the foundations, effectively preventing the builder from proceeding to the next stage. If these safeguards add delays and cost to building projects, surely that would be infinitely better than the situation we have at Priory Hall.

  21. Rita McCabe at 9:42 am

    The local authorities should be made responsible because they gave the planning permission and it is up to them to ensure that the planning permission granted complies fully with the building regulations in place. Only in Ireland would you find “self regulation”. Imagine thinking that this would work. Whatever happened to the Clerk of Works who’s responsibility it was to inspect construction at each phase and sign off on it. Punters who buy property only see the finished product, they assume what they are buying is safe!!!!

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