Northern Ireland to extend time limit for defective-building claims

Legislation on defective buildings is to be introduced in Northern Ireland to extend the time limit for compensation claims to 30 years, in a move to address an “unfair disparity” with the rest of the UK.

Communities minister Gordon Lyons said the new bill would ensure residents of Northern Ireland benefited from the same protections with regard to building defects as those introduced in England and Wales following the June 2017 Grenfell Tower blaze in London.

Recent controversy over structural faults in the Victoria Square residential development in Belfast highlighted the inconsistency under which claims must be made within six years of a building’s completion in Northern Ireland, compared with up to 30 years elsewhere in the UK.

Lyons told members of the Stormont Assembly on Monday (15 April) that he would introduce the legislation under an accelerated process to “address the unfair disparity that currently exists and disadvantages our people”.

He added: “It places people in Northern Ireland at a clear disadvantage compared with their counterparts in other regions of the UK.

“It is clear that there is an urgent need for fit-for-purpose legislation that provides improved protection to all those who live in Northern Ireland.”

Asked about the impact on the construction sector of the proposed change, Lyons said many Northern Irish construction companies were already working in the rest of the UK under the increased responsibility that had been placed upon them under mainland jurisdictions.

“I believe that our local industry is incredibly resilient and has a history of adapting well to new challenges, and I have faith and confidence that it will be able to work to the standards that we hope to achieve through the legislation,” he said.

Five years ago, residents were forced to evacuate 91 apartments in Victoria Square in central Belfast after a structural column in one of the flats failed.

They sought compensation from contractors Farrans and Gilbert-Ash, along with architects Building Design Partnership (BDP), but the case was thrown out of the High Court in Belfast last month on the ground that the scheme was completed in 2008.

The publicity over the case fuelled calls for the time limit to be extended from six to 30 years, bringing the Northern Irish system into line with that of England and Wales.

The outcome of the case “highlighted a range of issues that adversely impact on our people”, Lyons noted, adding that the proposed bill would establish a retrospective period of up to 30 years and a prospective period of up to 15 years in which a party could take action for defective premises.

It would also allow a building containing two or more dwellings to be treated as a single dwelling for the purpose of the legislation.

However, Lyons refused to answer questions on whether the residents of Victoria Square would be able to reopen legal action, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing civil matters.

Farrans and BDP declined to comment when contacted by Construction News. Gilbert-Ash was also approached for a response.

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