Building laws ‘still open to abuse' 10 years after safety fiasco at Priory Hall

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South Dublin County Council will not prosecute a property developer who bypassed planning and building regulations brought in after the Priory Hall debacle and filled an apartment complex with tenants without proper certification.

Now Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin has said local authorities should be more assertive when it comes to holding developers to account when they break the rules.

He cites the example of Larkfield House in Dublin’s Clondalkin as a scheme where a developer bypassed regulations and put tenants in an uncertified building but did not face sanctions, thus sending a message to developers that cutting corners won’t be punished.

Larkfield House is a former Ben Dunne gym that was bought by a company run by developer Vincent Cosgrave, who applied for planning permission in 2016 to convert it into a block of 27 apartments, which was granted.

He then tried to increase the number of apartments to 48 but failed, and appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

“While that appeal was being heard, the old gym was turned into 44 apartments,” Mr Ó Broin said.

“The original architect on the project was not registered with the Royal Institute of Architects register,” he said, adding that it is an offence not to be registered if you are an architect seeking certification in building and planning matters.

“Not only did the developers breach the planning permission, but they also at no stage lodged any valid certificates of compliance with the local authority.

“They then lost their appeal with the board, but by that stage they had the property fully tenanted.

“Building control compliance isn’t some minor affair.

“The act states very clearly that if you allow a building to be occupied without a completion certificate, under the new building regulations brought in after Priory Hall, you can be subject to criminal proceedings, and a hefty fine of up to €10,000 and up to six months in jail.”

In 2018, Mr Cosgrave applied to SDCC to retain 37 of the 44 apartments they had built, but the matter of finalising certification is still ongoing.

When contacted, Mr Cosgrave accepted that he did not have planning permission for the number of apartments he constructed at Larkfield House, he had no commencement notice or completion certificate, and the architect he first used was not registered, meaning any certification he submitted was not valid.

“I wasn’t building a new building. I was converting one that was already there, so I didn’t think we’d have any problems [with planning ­permission],” he said.

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Asked about using an unregistered architect, Mr Cosgrave said he had been using the man for years and didn’t know he was not registered.

“Building is bogged down with paperwork these days,” he said. “I don’t think he was up to speed on it all. He’s retired now and I’m using another architect.

“I accept things were done wrong but I didn’t set out to break any rules. Whatever is needed is getting done and sorted now. It was an oversight and we got slapped on the hand for that.”

However Mr Ó Broin says the worry is that “if this one developer, in a very public way, can breach not only planning law, but every single aspect of the building control amendment regulations, that sends out a signal to builders and developers that says, ‘do you know what, these reforms that were put in place in 2014 aren’t worth a damn’”.

In response to questions from the Irish Independent, SDCC said additional works requested by Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) had been carried out at Larkfield House by the developer, and the fire consultant was awaiting a final sign-off by the ancillary certifiers.

SDCC confirmed no commencement notice was submitted to it in relation to the change of use of the premises from gym to apartments prior to the work starting.

“It was not obvious from the street that any works were being undertaken as they were being carried out within the shell of an existing building,” a council spokesman said.

“SDCC carried out a site inspection as soon as it became aware of the works ­following an anonymous phone call.

“SDCC issued a letter to the developer on May 11, 2017, instructing him to cease all works forthwith because a commencement notice had not been submitted.”

The SDCC spokesman said the developer continued with the works and proceeded to occupy the building, and that Dublin Fire Brigade inspected the building in February 2018 and reported the premises was found to be broadly compliant and no enforcement action was deemed to be necessary under that legislation.

“No enforcement proceedings were brought under building control legislation,” the SDCC spokesman confirmed.

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