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Council warns National Children's Hospital contractor about working hour breaches on site

One local councillor says local residents feel “under siege” from the constant construction work near their homes.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL issued a warning to the contractor for the new National Children’s Hospital about multiple breaches of working hours and complaints from residents, internal correspondence has revealed. 

The new children’s hospital is currently under construction by BAM Ireland on the campus of St James’ Hospital in Dublin. The project has been the subject of controversy, mainly due to the significant rise in the anticipated end cost of the build and lengthy delays. 

A figure of €983 million was originally approved for the development and it was expected to be finished by 2020. Now it is believed the cost could rise to €2 billion and the project is not expected to be completed until 2021.

There has also been push back from local residents to the construction work and the impact it has on their lives. 

Council documents obtained under Freedom of Information by Noteworthy, the investigative journalism platform of TheJournal.ie, include numerous complaints from local residents about noise on the site, about the number of work hour exemptions approved by the council and about work that has been carried out outside permitted hours of work. 

In Dublin city, the permissible hours of operation of a building site are 7am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 2pm on Saturdays. No noisy work is allowed on sites on Sundays or bank holidays.

The council can approve extended working hours to facilitate certain work associated with large scale developments. 

Deviation from the normal permissible times is only supposed to be allowed in “exceptional circumstances” with prior written approval from the council. These circumstances include large concrete pours, awkward or unusual demolition and the delivery of or removal of outsized equipment. 

The council does not consult with residents before granting these exemptions, but the developers are required to notify those in the area who will be impacted once they receive approval. 

Breaches

Among documents released to Noteworthy, there were a number of complaints about works outside the normal permissible hours that residents had not received a notification about. 

One local said workers one night were installing Portacabins at 11.15pm. Another reported work started at 5am one morning. 

In May this year the council received a complaint about the delivery of equipment, including cranes, at 6.15am. The council told the resident that the contractor informed them a crane driver “in his enthusiasm to minimise disruption to traffic”, arrived at the site 45 minutes early. 

The crane was brought inside the gate and the lights and engine were turned off. The council said the crane hire company had been contacted and that the contractor had asked for the driver to be replaced. 

This incident was considered a “minor breach” and there were no sanctions for the contractor.

At the end of August the council received a complaint about work taking place late at night that residents had not been given prior notice of. 

In correspondence to the council, BAM wrote that one of the managers was “under extreme pressure” to open the new realigned access to St James’ Hospital and allowed work to continue until 11.45pm. 

“We would welcome leniency for this indiscretion,” the contractor wrote, adding that the manager had been reprimanded. 

One of the council’s planning enforcement managers wrote to the contractor days later, stating that the council had received “many complaints with regard to this breach of planning”. 

“The complaints have also included issues relating to the fact that notifications are not been sent to residents in respect of derogations as would have been done in the past,” he wrote.

“Area residents are also complaining about the number of out of hours derogations granted and overall excessive noise disruption caused by out of hours work.”

He said there was already an enforcement notice in place relating to breaches of working hours on the site and warned BAM to ensure hours of work are respected. 

On foot of this particular breach, the council suspended any out of hours work extensions for one week from 9 to 15 September. 

 High Court action

Residents launched High Court proceedings in 2017 against the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and BAM Civil Limited, the firm which is building the hospital.

They claimed their homes have been damaged as a result of certain works being carried out by the defendants.

They had sought orders including an injunction preventing works being done on the site until steps are taken to remediate and protect their property from sustaining any further damage.

The application was opposed by both BAM and the Hospital Development Board. Following negotiations between the sides, the proceedings were resolved on undisclosed terms.

However last month lawyers for the residents returned to the High Court, where they said their clients were again bringing proceedings over the effects on homes caused by construction work on the new hospital.

Counsel said that engineering reports had been conducted on behalf of his clients. This evidence counsel said has shown that there has been “movement” to their houses. The case has been adjourned. 

Approved working hour extensions

The council documents reveal that over a less than two-month period alone, from 7 February to 29 March, the site’s contractor requested ten derogations from the permissible working hours.

All of these requests related to concrete pours and sought to extend the working hours midweek to start at 6am and finish at 1am. 

In April, a local resident complained that BAM had been granted permission to work “another weekend”. 

“In any week we are subject to 66 hours of construction work and its debilitating effect on our lives,” they wrote.

The granting of yet another permit for weekend working adds a further 20 hours of work in the week at a time when most people can look forward to days of test. These permits are granted in a totally undemocratic and secretive process whereby residents have no say whatsoever in the procedure and there is no one to represent the interests of residents.

Another complaint from a local questioned why so many concrete pours on the site were considered “exceptional circumstances”. 

“If they were to reduce the surface areas of the pours then they could be completed within the 12 hour working day 7am to 7pm,” the resident wrote.

“They don’t even try to do this anymore as they know DCC will grant them an out of hours work permit, this is not right and a big burden on the local community.”

As part of the project, a resident monitoring committee was established to facilitate dialogue between locals and the various bodies involved in the development.

People Before Profit councillor Tina McVeigh, who is one of the representatives on the committee, said residents “feel under siege”. 

“It’s a massive site and especially for those living in the immediate perimeter, it’s an imposition on them,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“Whether it’s the noise or the dust or the pollutants or traffic, the monitoring committee is trying to mitigate some of this. There have been some compromises made around traffic and working hours and other things like the cleaning of people’s windows. But there’s no getting away from it for the residents sometimes.

“Separate to the hospital project there’s other development in the area like roadworks that need to happen, or the fixing of pipes,” she said.

“One arm of the council is not necessarily speaking to the other arm so we’ve been trying to bring those various pieces together so we’re not having a week with lots of evening time extensions and then roadworks all weekend. There have been periods where it’s nearly 24/7.”

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie about the complaints and extended working hours, Dublin City Council said all complaints received by its planning enforcement department relating to alleged breaches have been investigated. 

BAM did not respond to a request for comment about complaints and its attempts to manage disruption for residents.  

Comments are closed due to ongoing court proceedings.

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