Letter to Minister Re: REVISION OF BUILDING REGULATIONS (PART H) DRAINAGE AND WASTEWATER DISPOSAL

22nd July 2010

 

Mr. John Gormley T.D.

Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government

Custom House

Dublin 1.

 

REVISION OF BUILDING REGULATIONS (PART H) DRAINAGE AND WASTEWATER DISPOSAL

 

Dear Minister,

Our previous correspondence directed to you relating to this subject, and copies of information letters which we circulated to all members of the Oireachtas and others, see attached.

For your further information I would like to expand as follows:-

Firstly it is widely accepted that:-

The primary purpose of Building Regulations is to provide for the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings.

The Building Regulations are currently undergoing revision by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Building Regulations Advisory Body (BRAB), with a requirement to engage in public consultation.

In this context it should be noted that:-

The OIREACHTAS JOINT COMMITTEE on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government held an enquiry into the ongoing environmental pollution and danger to drinking water caused by domestic sewage from septic tanks and other effluent treatment systems, and the ongoing failure of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government to take effective action to deal with the situation.

In its report, dated May 2009, the Committee stated that its members “were genuinely surprised at the absence of regulation in this area and how strongly this impacted on rural communities and industry players”.

The Joint Committee called on the Minister to provide for –

* Effective standards;

* Joined-up regulation;

* Guarantees as to performance and durability of systems, and credible certification;

* Effective policing of the industry.

 

The NATIONAL CONSUMER AGENCY commissioned Grant Thornton International to investigate the Building Regulations and their Enforcement in relation to the Home Construction Industry in Ireland.

In the course of their extensively researched and extremely detailed report (published November 2008) Grant Thornton noted (inter alia):-

 

2.2                                 Enforcement of the Building Regulations

Page 3-

We found a strongly held view among professionals in the industry that the system of enforcement of the regulations in Ireland is weak… The level of assurance… provided to the consumer… is not considered reasonable or adequate; the submission of certificates of compliance … by a competent person; or an application for certification of a dwelling, backed by an inspection carried out by the Building Control Authority… have not been implemented to date.

The Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government issued guidelines for an inspection level… which mean, in effect that up to 85% of newly constructed homes is not required to be inspected.

 

Page 4-

a “Opinions of Compliance” do not provide a comprehensive form of assurance to consumers….need  not  be based on inspection…

 

Page 5-

Building Control… is funded through payment of “Commencement Notice” fees… the consumer receives no effective benefit from this expenditure.

 

  1. Conclusions and recommendations.

 

Page 34 –

Iv Should a consumer purchase a dwelling and become aware of non-compliance with building regulations, and bring the issue to the notice of the relevant Building Control Authority, the legislation allows the consumer to be designated as the part  responsible for bringing the dwelling into a state of compliance.

 

Page 36 –

  1. Consideration should be given to providing means by which responsibility for bringing a building up to a compliant state rests with the party responsible for the non-compliance in the first place.

 

The release by your office of a draft of the proposed Part H of the Building Regulations makes it abundantly clear that the deficiencies identified and remedies recommended by the Oireachtas Joint Committee, the National Consumer Agency and others are to be ignored and that the “revised” Part H will simply be a re-hash of the existing one.

 

The Department has also released what purports to be a précis of submissions received from Public Consultation, and their responses.

 

In their submissions;-

 

EPS Pumping & Treatment, the Domestic Effluent Treatment Association, John M Molloy, DETA, Frank Cavanagh of BioCycle and the Green Water Group all proposed that compliance with the standard I.S. EN 12566 be included in the regulation. 1.S. EN 12566-1, covering septic tanks, became law in Ireland in 2000, I.S. EN 12566-3, covering other treatment systems, became law in 2005.

These proposals are summarily dismissed with the comment that they are “too prescriptive”.

Instead, it is intended that the “guidance” section will contain anodyne and legally meaningless statements such as “wastewater treatment systems for single houses should comply with the EPA Code of Practice” and “these systems should conform to 1.S. EN 12566-3 and its National Annex”.

Compliance with the Harmonised Standards EN 12566-1 and 12566-3, as required in the implementation of the Construction Products Directive 89/106/EEC, also means that both septic tanks and other treatment systems must bear the CE marking on the basis of the said standards.

The proposed amended Part H bears no mention of CE marking, either in the proposed regulation or the proposed guidance.

It would seem an extraordinary situation that, where virtually the entire wastewater treatment industry is pressing for the law protecting the environment and the public to be applied, the Public Body responsible for protection of the environment and the public is refusing to implement it.

This raises the question – In whose interest is the Building Regulations Advisory Body making its recommendations? – It certainly does not appear to be in accord with “The primary purpose of Building Regulations is to provide for the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings”.

Perhaps the composition of the quango may suggest an answer. While it contains heavy representation from the construction industry, government bodies and other special interests, there is little Environmental Engineering or Consumer influence. In fact, in the entire corpus of Building Regulation, the word “consumer” does not appear.

In view of the facts-

  1. that in October of 2009 the European Court of Justice ruled against Ireland over its approach to regulation and inspection of septic tanks and other wastewater treatment systems, and found that the approach taken in Ireland did not properly conform with the provisions of various EU directives which require national governments to ensure that waste is properly disposed without damaging human health or the environment, and that measures are taken to prohibit the uncontrolled disposal of waste;

 

  1. that Ireland has until October 2010 to demonstrate to the Court adequate measures to redress the situation, and

 

  1. that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated that it would launch a public consultation into the management, licensing and inspection of septic tanks and onsite sewage treatment systems;

 

We accept that it is not in the remit of Part H to address these issues.  However, any revision to the Regulations must be future-proofed in order to continually provide protection for the environment and for the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings.  It would appear that BRAB and the drafters of the amended Regulations within the Department are either unaware of, or determined to overlook both the appalling situating that presently exists and the ruling of the European Court of Justice.

 

A number of local authority officials have expressed to us their frustration at the attitude of the Department in refusing to frame specific and authoritative regulations, at the EPA in coercing enforcement of their non-statutory “guidance”, for which they disclaim responsibility, and in the consequent devolution of responsibility for interpretation and application of Irish and European law to local building control authorities.

Several local authority personnel also stated that they had no expectation that the problems incurred in wastewater treatment would be resolved at national level, and they assumed that solutions would have to be imposed by the EU. As this would indeed appear to be the case, I now propose to submit the above, with other documentation, to the EU Commission and the European Court of Justice for consideration in relation to Ireland’s failure to comply with Directive 75/442/EEC.

 

I regard this as a very regrettable situation, and if you have any views on the matter, I would greatly appreciate a meeting with you to discuss.

 

Yours sincerely

 

___________

Frank Cavanagh

Managing Director, MSI Group Incorporating BioCycle Ltd.

 

c.c Mr. Jay Stuart, Chairperson, BRAB

c.c Committee on Petitions European Parliament

c.c Dr. Mary Kelly CEO EPA

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