Permits for use give no reassurance that local authorities have checked the safety of buildings
Eestlased Eestis 28 Jan 2015  EWR
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Toomas Mattson
TALLINN, 26 January 2015 – The National Audit Office found that local authorities don’t set themselves the objective of checking the safety of buildings before issuing permits for use and don’t feel responsible for the possible consequences of this.

The National Audit Office analysed whether local authorities have checked that buildings have been built according to regulations before issuing permits for use. The buildings selected for the analysis were mostly situated in cities and occupied by many people at the same time, such as shopping centres, nursery schools, schools, cultural establishments and welfare institutions.

As a result of the audit the National Audit Office found that the present system of construction supervision does not guarantee inspection by local authorities that would be effective from the viewpoint of the safety of buildings either in terms of design solutions or construction activities. Local authorities usually start inspecting the construction documents of a building only after the application for the permit for use is submitted.

The National Audit Office reviewed nine buildings and there wasn’t a single one among them whereby the documents submitted to the local authority allowed the reader to understand exactly how the building had been built, or a single one whereby construction had started in compliance with all requirements. As the structures had been covered up, it was impossible to ascertain in most cases how they had been constructed. In no case had the local authority been presented with sufficient documents to allow it to issue the permit for use of the building. Also, the documents that the local authorities themselves considered the most important were also either missing or deficient. For example, a change made in the building design during the construction of the Selver at Läänemere tee, Tallinn, was so significant that it would have required the issue of new planning permission, but the local authority went ahead and issued the permit for use on the basis of deficient documents.

The other key observations made by the National Audit Office are as follows:
The levers at the disposal of local authorities that could be used to make builders and the persons exercising owner supervision do their work properly are inefficient. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications understands the present situation, but hasn’t considered it necessary to make any changes.

The local authorities have not guaranteed that only the buildings to which permits for use have been issued are taken in use. Two buildings that had been taken in use before the issue of the permit for use were ascertained during the audit. They were buildings whereby the local authority was the person exercising both owner supervision and construction supervision at the same time. For example, a nursery school was opened in Paide that received its permit for use more than six months after the school opened.

As a result of the audit, the National Audit Office advised the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications to furnish the term ‘public building’ and specify the requirements set for public buildings in the Building Act. The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications should thoroughly process the opinions of local authorities obtained in the course of this audit and in cooperation with the local authorities develop options for how the latter could participate more efficiently in guaranteeing the safety of public buildings both before and during the construction process.

The National Audit Office audited the public buildings built in the cities of Tallinn, Tartu, Valga, Haapsalu and Paide and in Rapla Municipality from 2008-2013, which were the kind of buildings that are occupied by many people at the same time. The selected buildings were located in county centres, as the majority of public buildings are constructed in larger urban areas. Local authorities issued more than 800 permits for use to such buildings from 2008 to 2013.

Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service, National Audit Office
 
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