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New building codes coming

Published:Sunday | April 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Model of a miniature house. - File

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

THE LONG-promised national building code is now a little closer to reality.

Months after a major earthquake ravaged Haiti and forced the issue of the quality of buildings in Jamaica back on the front burner the Cabinet has issued instruction for the drafting of legislation to establish a national building control framework for the island.

This will include a new building code and a national building act.

The Kingston and St Andrew Building Act (1883) and Parish Councils Building Act (1908) which now provide the rules governing buildings in Jamaica will be repealed.

"There has been no comprehensive revisions to the existing building acts in recent times and this has resulted in a legislative framework which is largely irrelevant to the current needs," Daryl Vaz, the minister with responsibility for information, told a post-cabinet media briefing last week.

"Additionally, the building codes currently in use are not enforceable as they do not have legal authority and the codes contained in the existing legislation are far too out of date to be applied in modern building construction," Vaz added.

The Cabinet decision is welcome news for stockholders in the local construction industry as well as disaster preparedness officials who have long warned about the dangers poised by the absence of a national building code.


"The fact that we have not legislated a national building code led to everybody's interpretation as to how they want to build," executive director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Ronald Jackson, told a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum.

"We are trying at this point to legislate the International Building Code. The engineers have done a lot of work on it since 2005, David Chung, president of the Jamaican Institution of Engineers, told the forum.

But it was Franklin McDonald, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies, who outlined the stark reality facing Jamaicans.

"We have buildings in Kingston that we know are problematic. One very close to us (downtown Kingston) ... is well known as a design that doesn't do well in earthquakes," McDonald said.

Days later, other organisations added their voice to the call for an urgent review of the national building code.

"This is very important in light of the fact that the majority of our construction does not involve the professional input of architects or engineers," said president of the Jamaican Institute of Architects, Christopher Whyms-Stone.

"The public must be made aware that building codes go far beyond regulating the structural integrity of buildings. The codes provide standards to regulate the planning of buildings for adequate ventilation, natural light, sanitation, means of egress, density, flood/hazard mitigation, topography and minimum heights and areas," Whyms-Stone added.

Hundreds of buildings crumbled in Haiti when that country was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12 while the devastation to buildings was less in Chile when that country was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 on February 27.

The quality of the building code enforced in Chile was given as one of the factors why the destruction was less.

- Arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com