(this article originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post on the 20th of September 2015)
Want to hear vested interests squeal and throw tantrums? Easy, just threaten their secured position. This is what Paudie Coffey, Alan Kelly and the Department of Environment have done with their revision of the Building Control Amendment Regulations part 2 (called SI365 as of 1st of September 2015).
They did the right thing, you can almost be certain of that when so many in white collar Ireland are livid about it.
First, let us look at the implications, the main one being that people engaged in building a single house or an extension to a house of more than 40 square metres in area may opt out of the full S.I.9 process (SI9 is last years building codes which we wrote about before showing how they could add almost €40,000 onto a building cost) by submitting a declaration of Intention to Opt Out of Statutory Certification.
They also removed the Statutory Certificate of Compliance on Completion for one-off houses and extensions, which means home-owners may occupy their home before it is 100% complete. Under SI9 you have to have every last thing done before moving in, so you couldn’t (for instance) have two rooms unfinished and move in with a view to doing the remaining bit later.
Hardly the end of the world as we know it?
This will be welcome news for many given that self-builders are about half the market at present, in any case the regulations were most likely stifling activity, only 5,625 houses and apartments completed so far this year – that’s less than half of what we are told by the Housing Agency that we require (21,000 annually) and most dire in the cities where the compression is most obvious.
They also took away any requirement to employ a contractor from the Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI), again, sensible if you are using multiple local contractors rather than one general contractor.
The professionals were quick to come out with a negative view, it would seem that the unconscious bias is that self-builders are bog-men and women employing half qualified people and paying them in cash to build trash, which just isn’t true.
This view only reflects a trumped up self-importance of some facets of industry opinion. Non-architect designed buildings have a longer record in world history than not, some of our greatest buildings in antiquity didn’t have a formal architect, buildings like the Great Pyramids – the ‘architect’ there was Imhotep who was first and foremost (at least in title) a doctor.
Then you had architect lead buildings like the Temple of Solomon built under the great master Hiram Afbif, which is, as we know, nowhere to be found, quite literally, as there is no archaeological evidence the temple ever existed.
Obviously I actually like architects, but the belief that we’d perish without following their advice is wrong.
To think that you can’t build right without last year’s over-burdensome rules is not logical. Georgian Dublin which is still standing and operational didn’t have the 2014 regulations, and yet the same people who admire and call to protect Georgian Dublin seem to think that anything built without last year’s rules will either not stand up or turn into Priory Hall.
Three hundred and more years’ worth of building stock in our Capital city says otherwise.
That the ‘Kelly-Coffey Axis’ dropped the ball in other ways is obvious. There was no increase in commencement fee and this means no additional resources for local authority building control sections.
One would think that in return for the ability to avoid the €30,000 and more in fees they could have sought ‘inspection fees’ which could likely be achieved for about €1,500.
An opportunity was missed to beef up the local authority building controls mechanism, because of this Local Authority inspections will remain at the current 12-15% level. This was easily avoidable, nobody thinks ‘no inspections’ is good, it’s just that SI9 wasn’t fit for purpose for many people who it affected.
We should still consider upfront fees for inspections this has worked in the UK where you can opt for a panel of inspectors who do the work on behalf of the local authority, the payment is made to the local authority, not to the person who walks onto the site. Obviously they can still be bribed, as can anybody in the world at the right price.
But with SI9 the client was paying the certifier directly and that definitely makes the environment more ripe for ‘honest graft’ payments (that’s ‘workplace bribes’ to you and me).
Guess who isn’t upset?
Consumers, self-builders and many construction professionals (including those that lost their livelihoods over SI.9). Outside of white-collar rent seekers the response to SI.365 has been overwhelmingly positive.
This includes two former presidents of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.
The end of any gravy train is unpleasant, I know this, I still work in financial services, the industry that set (and in many cases continues to set) the gold standard in terms of being the best gravy train of all, but that doesn’t mean you become blind to the truth.
That truth is that last years building codes are needed to avoid Priory Hall’s, but one off houses are not multi-unit homes, the people building them tend to live in them and while there are building errors, even as there were under SI9, there was never a strong argument in favour of imposing large commercial building regulations and costs onto people building their own house.