Re: Defective Building Regulations
Thank you for raising the consumer and environmental protection issues.
The Ministerial responses to questions raised confirm that the Minister is being misled and poorly advised. It also suggests that his Department has no plans to amend the defective Building Regulations to provide for proper protection of consumers.
You are aware the design and installation of wastewater treatment systems for single houses is addressed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Code of Practice……….
- The EPA Code of Practice contains some questionable criteria for the design of filters / disposal areas only. Furthermore, these “designs” are hedged by a caveat insofar that the document contains a very strongly-worded disclaimer at the outset. The installation of an on-site wastewater treatment system requires a professional with competencies that encompass many different fields (e.g. wastewater hydraulics, microbiology, civil and mechanical engineering, health and safety, electrical works, etc.) – the shortcomings of the Code of Practice in this area of installation are too many to mention. Also there is no provision for safety or durability of wastewater treatment systems. In a sense, the Code of Practice purely deals with disposal of effluent following a presumption of treatment in some form of system.
- The EPA document is seriously flawed and exposes homeowners and designers, who are forced to adopt its “guidance”, and local authorities, who are “obliged to have regard” to its “guidance”, even where such guidance is obviously not appropriate.
Part H- Drainage and Wastewater Disposal-of the Building Regulations has recently been amended to reflect relevant parts of the EPA’s Code of Practice.
- The failure by the Department to acknowledge the serious misleading statements and questionable practices outlined in the EPA Code of Practice has resulted in many consumers installing defective and unsafe systems.
- The amended Building Regulations document is riddled with misleading statements and uses the words “should” rather than “shall” or “must” throughout the document. In contravention of the Consumer and General Product Safety legislation the document fails to alert users of health hazards and risks associated with the use of septic tanks, filter systems and wastewater treatment products. Also the document fails to require essential fail- safe product criteria for the protection of the consumer and the environment.
- There is no provision in the amended regulations that enables consumers, purchasers to report and effectively obtain a remedy for breaches of these regulations. Also they provide no information for the design of wastewater treatment systems or give any guidance on essential health and safety or criteria which will provide the necessary protection for consumer and the environment.
A robust system of building control exists as is demonstrated by the Priory Hall situation where the Local Authority is successfully using its powers to make the appropriate party responsible.
- Priory Hall is a typical example of how the Building Regulations and Local Authority have failed to protect consumers. The content and operation of the law is widely viewed as protecting the construction industry. It is generally accepted that Priory Hall is merely the tip of the iceberg.
I attach high priority to consumer protection in the area of quality construction of new dwellings. That is why, in July 2011, I announced a number of measures to be advanced by my Department and Local Authorities with a view to improving compliance with, and oversight of, the requirements of the Building Regulations.
In broad terms the measures will involve:-
The introduction of mandatory certificates of compliance by builders and designers of buildings confirming that the statutory requirements of the Buildings have been met;
- It is acknowledged that Building Regulations are deficient as regards consumer protection and are drafted to provide protection of the construction industry including professional certifiers. Unless the regulations are amended to require legally positive certification, the introduction of mandatory certification will continue to be meaningless and benefit the construction industry at the expense of the consumer.
- A report prepared for the National Consumer Agency in 2008, by Mason, Hayes & Curran, Grant Thornton and Fitzpatrick Associates set out some 25 major recommendations in relation to such matters as: weakness in structural guarantee agreements, building control enforcement, fire safety certificates, professional indemnity insurance and regulations of building trades. No significant action has been taken on any of these.
More efficient pooling of building control staff and resources across the local authority sector to ensure more effective and meaningful oversight of buildings activity
- Local Authority inspectors may not be prepared to take responsibility and liability for certifying the works “fit for purpose” so this could be a meaningless exercise.
- The solution is to make each project manager responsible to ensure that all in the supply and construction chain certify that their materials and workmanship are fit for purpose and that they are covered by appropriate insurance indemnification.
The Building Regulations are prepared by my Department, receive relevant advice and recommendations from Building Regulations Advisory Body (BRAB) a statutory body established under the Building Control Act1990 Membership of the BRAB is comprised of nominees from both the public and private sectors, several of whom are qualified engineers, and a member of which is nominated by the National Consumer Agency.
- Membership of BRAB is dominated by nominees of producer/suppliers, corporate construction and professional interests rather than consumers. The member nominated by the National Consumer Agency acts in an individual capacity and does not represent the Agency. This would explain why the recommendations of the Grant Thornton report have been sidelined. There is no representation from the institutional engineering bodies.
We would be very pleased to comment any further matters regarding these issues and take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year.
Managing Director, MSI Group/ BioCycle Ltd.