By Kevin McLoughlin
“Fifty people died when fire ripped through an apartment complex in Dublin city centre last night. The fire started accidentally in a flat but wasn’t contained because the building had serious deficiencies in relation to fire safety”.
The statement above is fiction. But, incredibly, it is something that could easily happen as the ongoing crisis at the Longboat Quay apartment complex on the southern banks of the Liffey illustrates.
Tip of the iceberg
There are just under 300 units in the complex and a random check on an apartment which was due to be sold revealed very major deficiencies in the building regarding fire safety. Now over €4 million must be found to make the building safe or residents and tenants will be forced to leave.
This and the case at Priory Hall are only the tip of the iceberg. Many buildings that went up during the property bubble are substandard.
“It is widespread, and it’s not just down to a couple of rogue developers. I’ve been in developments that have been excellent but they are the exception rather than the rule.”
That is the chilling assessment of a former chairman of the Society of Chartered Surveyors. With local authorities buying homes on the open market because of the housing crisis, it is likely that more buildings that are fire traps will be exposed by pre-purchase inspections.
Lack of regulation
While regulations have improved, there are still major issues regarding enforcement and whether regular inspections of new buildings during the building process are taking place.
The Dublin Docklands Development Authority and receivers who own some of the apartments say they will pay some of the cost of rectifying the building. In effect this means the taxpayer will pay this portion but then it is up to the residents to pay the rest, which is estimated at €18,000 each.
Once again the victims of a crisis have to pay the price rather than those who caused it. The professional who signed off on Longboat Quay is no longer in the country and the company that built it, Gendsong, went into receivership and so isn’t liable.
However, the owner of that company is developer Bernard McNamara. He recently availed of a quick bankruptcy in London and is now back in business and has new projects in Dublin. McNamara should be made pay, not only for the costs for rectifying the building but for such criminal negligence and the danger he put people in.
This debacle and current housing crisis both show that the building of homes can’t be left to private profiteers. Both make a very strong argument for the state to take over the building industry and to build the homes and infrastructure that we need rather than relying on the spivs and chancers who dominate that industry.