New National Maternity Hospital plans ‘shockingly inadequate’

Published by Niall Sargent on

December 18th, 2018

The current design of the new National Maternity Hospital shows a near complete oversight of energy efficiency measures required from 2019 onwards, housing experts warned this morning.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to seek Cabinet approval today for the first phase of construction to proceed on the site of St Vincent’s Hospital, Co Dublin.

However, Jeff Colley, the editor of Passive House Plus magazine, said that current plans for the new hospital would see the Government in breach of yet another European Directive.

Speaking at an event at Buswell’s Hotel this morning, Mr Colley said the hospital must be a nearly zero energy building (NZEB) in line with the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

Under the Directive, all new buildings owned and occupied by public authorities must be NZEB from 2019 onwards and all new buildings in the State must be NZEB from 2021.

The Minister for Health said earlier this month that his understanding was that the project would be given leeway under a transitional provision in the legislation as planning was obtained two years ago.

Mr Colley, however, said that the date on which a project obtained planning is “irrelevant” and that, as the new hospital is unlikely to be completed before the end of 2020, “it must be an NZEB”.

“[The Minister] has been misinformed by illegal building regulations,” Mr Colley said. “There is no excuse for this oversight. The state has known about these deadlines since 2010.”

Shockingly inadequate

Architect and EcoEye presenter, Duncan Stewart, told the event that Ireland’s existing standard for new public and commercial buildings is “shockingly inadequate” and “out of line to meet our climate change targets”.

He said that the current hospital plans will generation unnecessary and costly annual heating costs and carbon emissions that could be avoided with a more energy efficient build.

Last week, The Irish Times revealed that the cost of the project has jumped to €1.4 billion from the original estimate of €650 million. This would make it the most expensive medical facility in the world. Mr Stewart warned that the current plans leave the door open to more costs as a large-scale retrofit may be required in the near future to meet EU standards.

“Deep energy upgrades to existing buildings are most likely to cost at least 10 times what they would have if efficient and clean performance was built into the initial design and construction,” he said.

“It also means huge disruptions for occupants who are required to temporarily vacate their building, something that is particularly difficult to undertake for maternity hospitals.”

Climate and health impacts

Also speaking at the event, climate activist Donna Cooney said that mothers and newborn babies “deserve the best in building standards”. Hospitals pose particular risks to their occupants who are “among the most vulnerable people in society”, she said.

Ms Cooney said that the hospital should guarantee constant filtered fresh air supply to “reduce the risk of spread of infection”. She also called for a guarantee that newborn babies are “not subject to the health risks that overheating can pose”.

Ms Cooney said that she is contemplating taking legal action to seek an injunction to restrict the construction of this building “until its design is upgraded to achieve a certified ‘Passive House’ standard”.

“We need to get this building to the highest standards that will not only be a huge saving in public funds in the longer term but also provide the best environment to hospital users and staff.”

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London